The health effects of too much drinking and smoking are major. Everything from cancer to heart disease to stroke have been linked to those bad habits. If that’s not enough to make you quit, well, we’ll appeal to your vanity instead: Excessive drinking and smoking can make you look way older than you really are, according to new research published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.
In the study, researchers quizzed more than 11,000 people on their smoking and drinking habits, and then had medical pros perform physical exams on them over the course of 12 years. They were looking for four specific, visible signs of aging: earlobe creases, arcus corneae, (a grayish ring around the corneas in your eye), xanthelasmata (yellowish plaques on your eyelids), and male pattern baldness.
The results? The more cigs guys smoked—and the more years they lit up for—the more likely they were to develop three of those visible signs, including gray rings around their corneas, the creases on their earlobes, and the plaques on their eyelids (There was no consistent link between drinking and smoking and male pattern baldness, probably because your genetic predisposition and male hormone levels play a greater role in that, the researchers say.)
In fact, men who who smoked the most had more than double the odds of getting the yellowish plaques above their peepers than non-smokers did.
Guys who were heavy drinkers—meaning they drank more than 35 drinks a week—were 35 percent more likely to develop the gray rings in their eyes than those who drank fewer than seven. Those who drank 21 to 28 drinks a week were also 26 percent more likely to get earlobe creases than those who limited their booze to seven drinks a week.
There was no consistent link between drinking and smoking and male pattern baldness, probably because your genetic predisposition and male hormone levels play a greater role in that, the researchers say.
So should you worry about these signs—or are they only skin deep?
“These signs have no health implications in themselves—just like wrinkles, they are not harmful,” says study author Janne S. Tolstrup, Ph.D. “The reason we call them aging signs is not because of their cosmetic appearance, but because other research have shown that early appearance of the signs is associated with diseases such as cardiovascular disease, and also mortality.”
Basically, these outward signs might be telling you something's not quite right in your body. Take the yellowish plaques above your eyes, for instance. These are actually cholesterol deposits, Tolstrup says—and they likely signal that your body’s cholesterol metabolism is off.
As a result, you might be more likely to experience atherosclerosis, or the buildup of plaque in your arteries. And that, of course, can raise your risk of heart attack or stroke.
So not only are your bad habits aging you on the outside, but they’re also doing some serious damage to your health on the inside, too. So make this the year you cut back on drinking and stop smoking for good. Had a few cigarettes on a Saturday night? This is the best diet to help protect your lungs.
This article originally appeared on Men's Health