From ageing to acne: Here's what vaping is doing to your skin (2023)

Despite being heralded as a healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes, e-cigarettes - also known as vapes - have been proven to cause a number of negative health effects, including complications that are life-threatening.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an outbreak of vaping-related illnesses last year resulted in 39 deaths and 2000 lung injuries. And that's not to mention nicotine addiction, or the risks associated with unregulated e-cigarettes containing illicit fluids that can cause unforeseen health issues.

But aside from the toll vaping can have on your lung and overall health, it can also have a detrimental effect on your skin, too. We called upon the skincare experts to reveal exactly how smoking e-cigarettes can affect different skin types and skin conditions.


According to Dr Mervyn Patterson, Cosmetic Doctor at Woodford Medical, there are no positive things to say about vaping - or smoking for that matter. "Vaping, just like cigarette smoking, produces a huge surge of chemicals in the body," he explains. "Absorption of gases occurs easily through the delicate lung tissue and a ‘long drag’ produces a marked spike in hundreds of toxins. The potential list of inhaled ingredients will vary dramatically depending on which variety of vape is being smoked. The level of harm is also dictated by the length of inhalation and the number of times the device is used. Some potential chemicals in vaped gas are formaldehyde, nicotine and derivatives of nicotine, propylene glycol, toluene, acetaldehyde and trace metals such as cadmium, nickel and lead."

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Inhalation of these toxic chemicals will inevitably effect the skin; "skin tends to act as reservoir for the body and much of these inhaled materials will end up being deposited in the skin," says Dr Patterson. "Overload the skin cells with toxins and it will impact on their normal functions such as repairing the skin’s essential skin barrier and immune protection role. Skin is more likely to be sensitive and prone to infections. Complex mechanisms exist within the skin to calm down chronic inflammation and the introduction of toxic chemicals will stress this important process. Barrier damage and uncontrolled chronic inflammation leads to unwanted pigmentation, redness, loss of collagen and elastin and an increased risk of abnormal cell division and skin cancers."


According to senior aesthetician, Bianka Michalekova from Young LDN, vaping can exacerbate dryness. "Vaping contains lots of chemicals and nicotine which come in contact with our skin. This may cause the skin to become dry or flaky," she says. "It can also aggravate those with naturally dry skin by making it patchy and sometimes itchy. The chemicals in e-cigarettes can also cause skin sensitivity and irritation which can lead to rashes. The nicotine and chemicals used in vaping can also cause skin ageing as the nicotine can cause the breakdown of collagen which helps to keep our skin firm and plump, which is why smokers and indeed those who vape often develop lines around the lips and have puffiness around their eyes."

Dr Patterson concurs; "Inhalation of toxins whilst vaping will impact on the protective effect of the external skin barrier and make the problem of chronic inflammation worse. Conditions such as acne, rosacea and psoriasis, that are closely linked to barrier abnormalities and inflammation will tend to deteriorate."


As well as the effect vaping can have on existing skin conditions, it also accelerates the formation of fine lines and wrinkles. "Nicotine acts as a vasoconstrictor that causes narrowing of small blood vessels which reduces oxygen supply and the flow of nutrients to the skin. Deprive key skin cells of oxygen and nutrition and the skin starts to sag and wrinkle prematurely. Pigmentation in the form blotchy uneven discolouration and sun spots is also accelerated in smokers."

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