Our skin is crucial for many vital health functions. Many do not know that the skin is actually an organ like the heart or lungs. The skin is your body’s largest organ, and it is responsible for protecting your body from external harm from exposure to chemicals, temperature, and bacteria. Your skin releases chemicals that kill harmful bacteria, and the pigment melanin defends your skin cells from UV light damage.
The skin also helps your body regulate temperature. When your skin is cold, your blood vessels constrict (get smaller), allowing your body to conserve heat by changing how your blood flows near the surface of your skin. In addition to temperature regulation and protection, your skin is also important for:
- Producing vitamin D
- Your sense of touch
- Excreting sweat and other unwanted waste from your body
- Preventing dehydration
Your skin is crucial to your overall health. When your skin is unhealthy, you are at a greater risk for illness and injury. Unfortunately, it is relatively easy to damage or injure your skin. One such way to harm your skin is substance abuse. Many drugs, including legal and illicit substances, can cause damage to your skin or lead to the development of various skin conditions.
What are Substance Use Factors that Cause Skin Damage?
Chronic substance use can, over time, lead to skin damage. There are several factors that contribute to sores, inflammation, infections, and other skin conditions. They include:
- The drug-the type of drug or drugs used
- Substances used to cut the drug-many substances used to cut drugs include dangerous impurities and other substances
- How the substance is used-snorting, injection, etc.
- Physical and psychological effects stemming from use-unhealthy behaviors, including poor sleep, lack of hygiene, and diet deficiencies, can all lead to skin damage
How Specific Drugs Affect Your Skin
All drugs, including alcohol, have various effects on many organs and body systems. The severity of these impacts is related to how much, how often, and how long you use a particular substance or substances.
Long-term cocaine use can affect many body systems, including your skin. Common examples of skin-related harms of cocaine use include:
- Frequent skin ulcers
- Death of skin cells
- Blood vessel inflammation
- Fibrous tissue patches on the skin
- Pustulosis (small, pus-filled sores on the skin)
In addition to the problems caused by the drug itself, cocaine is also often cut with various substances. Some of these chemicals can have serious side effects as well.
Chronic methamphetamine users often experience skin sores. These sores occur due to consistent “picking” at the skin. Meth users often experience strange and unpleasant sensations of something crawling on or under their skin. This sensation leads them to pick or scratch at their skin to get rid of something that isn’t there. This condition is called parasitosis or “meth mites.” Although the physical bug is not present on their skin, the damage and scarring left behind can be significant. Frequent meth users may also experience excessively dry skin and frequent skin infections.
Many are aware of the challenges chronic alcohol abuse poses to your liver and other internal organs, but did you know alcohol can cause visible harm to your skin as well? The most common side effect of ongoing alcohol abuse is a condition called spider angioma. Spider angiomas are the lacy red patches that form on the chest, face, neck, and hands. They are believed to be caused by dilation of the blood vessels that occurs when you drink alcohol. Other skin conditions doctors believe could be exacerbated by alcohol use include psoriasis, rosacea, eczema, and seborrheic dermatitis.
The most common effect of heroin abuse seen on the skin of users (in those who inject it) is called venous sclerosis or scarring of the veins. These are also called “track marks.” Venous sclerosis can also lead to several skin conditions, including cellulitis, infections, and abscesses. Frequent injection of heroin can also lead to tissue trauma. Heroin itself is also linked to reduced moisture content in the epidermis (the top layer of your skin), which causes itchy and dry skin.
Marijuana use can cause several signs of premature aging, including hair loss, graying hair, and dark circles under your eyes.
Interestingly, however, cannabis can also benefit the skin. CBD (cannabidiol), a compound found in cannabis, may reduce the oiliness of your skin. This can help reduce the formation of blackheads and acne.
Tips for Maintaining Healthy Skin
One of the first steps you can take to heal your skin and maintain skin health is to avoid substance use. Although some skin conditions may require time to heal, getting sober is a key step toward skin health. Your medical or mental health provider in your area can help you embrace healthier coping methods and overcome substance use and addiction.
If you experience dry, itchy skin or a skin condition such as eczema, it is essential to choose hydrating and nourishing skin care products. This is especially true if your skin needs a little extra as it heals from the harm caused by substance use. Be sure to choose a moisturizer with a broad spectrum SPF for protection against the sun’s harmful rays.
Scarring is another challenge faced by people recovering from substance use disorders. There are several side effects of certain drugs that lead to skin damage and, eventually, scarring. Although scars are challenging to heal, certain noninvasive skin care treatments like the DiamondGlow resurface skin and fade scars, making them less visible.
Our skilled skin treatment professionals at BB Aesthetic are here to help you heal and care for your skin. Our wide range of treatment options can help you address various skin concerns, including fine lines, wrinkles, acne scarring, hair loss, cellulite, and more. To learn more about how our treatments, products, and services can help you heal your skin and maintain a healthy, youthful glow, contact us at BB Aesthetic today.