Is It the Nicotine Itself That Constricts Blood Vessels?

2 surgeons referred to nicotine in restricting blood vessels. This confused me, as the popularity for imitation cigarettes is becoming more popular in helping smokers to stop inhaling all the other more dangerous chemicals. Would a surgeon still refuse to perform a facelift on a woman who uses these inhalers but has stopped smoking cigarettes?

Doctor Answers 25

Does the nicotine produce vessel constriction?

Yes, the nicotine does constrict the vessels.  By doing so, less blood gets to the tissues, raising the risks of skin necrosis.  And this is not only by smoking.  If you live or are around people that are smoking, you will become a passive smoker, meaning that you will also suffer the effects of nicotine.  The nicotine gum also produces similar results.  So prior to a facelift, please stop ALL contact with nicotine, in order to prevent unwanted results.


Costa Rica Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 23 reviews

Nicotine and Surgery

Yes, Nicotine will cause constriction in blood vessels but it is not the only problem with smoking cigarettes. Smoking also involves the inhalation of carbon monoxide which interfere with the blood cells ability to carry oxygen to the tissue. Most surgeons want patients to stop smoking before surgery since this reduces the risk of reduced circulation, wound healing problems and in some cases, skin loss due to poor circulation and low oxygen delivery. I think that patients who are having difficulty breaking the cigarette habit before surgery are still better off with a nicotine patch or gum then they are with other substitutes. The smoke inhalation has been shown to be the most harmful factor of cigarettes when it comes to facial plastic surgery.

Steven L. Ringler, MD, FACS
Grand Rapids Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 56 reviews

Nicotine and a facelift

The most important thing to realize is that nicotine in any form - whether through vaping - gum - patches - or cigarettes - will significantly affect wound healing and blood supply.  My strong sentiment is that it is critical to not operate on facelift patients who have utilized any form of nicotine in the past 4 weeks - that being said - it is always possible to "fool" me- but that will only do a significant disservice to the patient - and your best interest is all that I care about.

Best of luck

Nicotine Is a Vasoconstrictor

Smokers are far more likely to experience complications following surgery than non-smokers for various reasons, including the presence of nicotine and carbon monoxide. This is why virtually all qualified plastic surgeons require patients to stop smoking at least 3 weeks prior to a procedure. If by "imitation cigarettes" you are referring to electronic cigarettes, most of those products still include some nicotine, which constricts blood vessels.  If you are committed to doing whatever is needed to get the best possible results of your cosmetic surgery, I recommend stopping all smoking and nicotine intake of any kind, including nicotine patches, before your surgery. I also include in this list all weight-loss pills (many contain ephedrine-type of substance or other vasoconstricting chemicals) and some medications treating ADHD for the same reasons. Good luck to you!  

Marc DuPere, MD
Toronto Plastic Surgeon
4.8 out of 5 stars 57 reviews

Smoking

Yes, the main culprit in smoking is the nicotine.  It takes several weeks for nicotine to wash out of your system and your microvascular circulation to return to normal.  This has big implications for wound healing in certain plastic surgery procedures.  I require all of my cosmetic surgery patients that are having large skin flaps raised to completely stop all forms of nicotine for 6 weeks.  These procedures include facelifts, abdominoplasty, anchor mastopexies, and breast reductions, among others.  Smoking/nicotine can cause major tissue loss in these procedures to the extent that I may not be able to fix them.  

Jeffrey D. Wagner, MD
Indianapolis Plastic Surgeon
4.8 out of 5 stars 11 reviews

Does nicotine constrict blood vessels?

Short answer: yes, nicotine constricts blood vessels. Smoking tobacco is the worst/most unhealthy way to consume nicotine; all forms are bad for you, and any source of nicotine (patch, gum, e-cig, etc) will constrict blood vessels. It is up to the individual surgeon and patient to determine what level of risk s/he is comfortable with.

Smoking and facelifts

 The use of nicotine, whether by conventional cigarettes or electronic, severely compromises bloodflow to the skin which can lead to devastating complications following facelift. Tobacco itself also contains several other toxic substances which damage the small vessels within tissue. This should mean that electric cigarettes are mildly less dangerous than conventional, though there is, as yet, and absence of any real data to support this. If you are considering facelift surgery, you should refrain from using all nicotine based products for at least eight weeks preoperatively and post-operatively. 

Smoking and surgery

Here are the major points of smoking Tobacco or Marijuana before or after surgery:
1. There is nicotine in tobacco, but not in marijuana. However, most joints are rolled with marijuana and tobacco combination. Nicotine is a vasoconstrictor that decreases blood flow to the tissues. This is the major problems that can cause a very bad outcome in some surgeries. In a breast augmentation, there is not a lot of risk as there are not a lot of incisions which decrease blood flow to the tissues. In a breast lift or tummy tuck, on the other hand, there is much longer and more involved incisions. The decrease in blood flow to the tissues in combination with the decrease in blood flow from the nicotine can cause tissue to die. This can cause part of the breast or nipple, or in the case of a tummy tuck, part of the belly tissue to die, resulting in a very bad outcome. This is especially bad in breast reductions or face lifts. Marijuana without tobacco does not cause this problem, or marijuana in an edible fashion. Vaporizers do not decrease the amount of nicotine in tobacco, only decrease the smoke.
2. There is carbon monoxide in both tobacco smoke and marijuana smoke. Carbon monoxide decreases the oxygen carrying capacity of hemoglobin in the blood. This is different from the vasoconstrictor effect, but has the same result of having the risk of tissue death in conjunction with surgeries that decrease the blood flow to tissues such as breast lifts and tummy tucks, as opposed to an augmentation alone that does not decrease blood flow to as great of an extent. Again, edible forms of marijuana do not have smoke, and thus carbon monoxide poisoning.
3. Coughing. Both tobacco and marijuana smoke disrupt the lining of the lungs and bronchi and can lead to coughing episodes. Coughing episodes can lead to internal bleeding after surgery that can lead to hematomas and complications, and again a bad outcome. Again, edible forms of marijuana does not have this effect.
4. Anesthesia effects. Marijuana can have drug interactions with certain anesthetic drugs. Thus it is important to tell your anesthesiologist about your marijuana use.
In conclusion, Smoking, whether it be tobacco or marijuana, is detrimental to your surgery outcome. Edible marijuana is much less so, but be honest about your use with your surgeon and anesthesiologist so that you can have the best outcome. In general, you should quite smoking many weeks, ideally 6 weeks before surgery, and not smoke for at least 2 weeks after surgery.
Best wishes,
Pablo Prichard, MD

Pablo Prichard, MD
Phoenix Plastic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 39 reviews

Use of Nicotine Increases Chance of Necrosis, Tissue Loss & Severe Scarring Following Facelift

Skin necrosis, tissue loss and severe scarring, following facelift surgery are devastating problems.  The use of nicotine products has been shown to increase the incidence of this complication.  For this reason, all types of nicotine should be avoided before and after facial rejuvenation surgery.

Nicotine causes vasoconstriction of blood vessels which results in decreased blood flow to the skin.  This results in decreased oxygen delivery to the skin.  Any procedure that requires the elevation of skin flaps can be adversely impacted by this phenomenon.  For this reason we generally, recommend that patients not use nicotine products for 4 to 6 weeks prior to surgery.  This includes cigarettes, Nicorette gum, patches and anything else that contains nicotine.

Nicotine and facelifts

When one smokes, or uses tobacco, there is vascular constriction. Nicotine is a major vasoconstrictor.  There are others in tobacco as well.  Good wound healing is all about getting enough blood supply to the area. In a facelift operation the thickness of the flaps are thin, making the bloodflow even more important. The incision will also be put on some tension. Tension is the enemy of good wound healing, and coupled with decreased blood flow in smokers, finds the patient at higher risk of wound problems. The SMAS facelift  technique is excellent, but the surgeon has to work with the tissues given. Our office does not do facelifts on smokers. Some respected colleagues still may do them, but usually the extent of the dissection is less. Please stop smoking, (for dozens of reasons). If the prospect of a facelift is a motivation to quit, then so be it.

Jeffrey J. Roth, MD, FACS
Las Vegas Plastic Surgeon
4.5 out of 5 stars 15 reviews

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.