Apr 26, 2022

Does Vaping Cause Acne? + Other Vaping + Skin Concerns

And does vaping cause wrinkles?

Formulate user Ramona has a question about how vaping can affect the skin:

My wife vapes. She always tells me that the so-called "vaping crisis" is overblown and that I should be grateful that she doesn't smoke instead. But even if that's true I SWEAR her skin is looking worse and worse. We're both in our twenties and lately she's been complaining about breaking out. It's a weird combination since she's got acne again, but also she's getting crows feet way faster than anyone should. I know this sounds shallow, but maybe if I get her to see how much her skin is changing she'll ditch the vape. Because if it's affecting her skin this noticeably, it's got to also be doing stuff to the rest of her body. So could it be that her vaping is connected to acne or the wrinkles she's been getting?

Thanks for your question, Ramona! We're sorry to hear that you're in such a tough spot - we'll do our best to help.

Electronic cigarettes were originally intended to be a harm-reduction tool for adults who are addicted to smoking cigarettes. However, their youthful appeal and flavored pods hooked a new generation of Americans on smoking. And unfortunately, they may lead to the same skin problems as cigarettes.

"Evidence reveals similar health implications of smoking caused by vaping on almost all organ systems, including the skin," shares Dr. Elaine Kung, a dermatologist, professor, and the founder of Future Bright Skin Dermatology. "As e-cigarettes do not contain carcinogens or tar, a common misconception is that they are safe to use. However, there is a rapidly growing body of literature questioning the safety of e-cigarettes."

Does vaping cause acne?

Vaping might increase the amount of acne you experience. This is because nicotine inhalation decreases antioxidants, which could alter the composition of sebum, the oil that your skin produces to keep it hydrated. A key cause of acne is the overproduction of sebum - if a pore becomes blocked because of an overproduction of sebum, pimples and blackheads can result.

According to Dr. Kung, the idea that nicotine could be connected to acne is nothing new. "The link between smoking and acne has long been documented," she shares. "Many clinical studies with thousands of participants and experimental data showed a straight correlation between smoking habit and post-pubertal acne. Since nicotine is involved in vaping, we can extrapolate that it will cause acne just as smoking would."

Vaping may also increase the likelihood that acne results in facial scarring. Nicotine has a direct effect on immune cells, which are essential to the skin's ability to recover after being ruptured or otherwise damaged. Nicotine usage delays wound healing, meaning that not only will acne pustules that have burst take longer to heal, but they will also be more likely to leave an unsightly scar. 

Does vaping cause wrinkles?

Nicotine use can cause a person's face to appear prematurely aged and wrinkled. 

Human skin is partially able to retain its youthful appearance through microcirculation, the circulation of blood through the body's smallest blood vessels. Microcirculation allows for human skin cells to receive the oxygen they need to survive. Nicotine compromises the ability of red blood vessels to deliver oxygen and other nutrients to the skin, due to a narrowing of blood vessels. When skin cells are unable to receive these nutrients, they are unable to survive, thereby causing what Dr. Kung refers to as "smoker's face."

Smoker's face is characterized by:

  • Wrinkles near the eyes and lips
  • Deep wrinkles in the cheeks
  • Many shallow wrinkles on the surface of the cheek and lower jaw
  • A worn, rugged, or leathery appearance
  • Red, orange, and purple discolorations
  • Skin conditioners such as psoriasis

Does vaping cause any other skin problems? 

If you vape, acne and wrinkles will not be the last of your skin troubles.

According to Dr. Kung, vaping can cause skin rashes on people who have contact dermatitis to nickel. "The source of nickel in an e-cigarette is the heating coil, which is used to vaporize the liquid into an aerosol for inhalation by the user. The nickel is transmitted through the device, thus frequently irritating the lips and the dominant hand used to hold the e-cigarette."

Vapes also can result in burns to the face. "Thermal injuries can be caused by devices that are in close contact with the skin reaching excessive temperatures, with or without generating a flame.  Poor e-cigarette device design, manufacturing failures, and use of low-quality materials in the production of the lithium-containing batteries can cause poor internal thermal regulation."

Keep in mind that if you sustain either a rash or a burn, the nicotine in your vape is likely to prevent your body from quickly repairing itself, as described above.  

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