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Does Vaping Trigger Eczema?

Medically reviewed by Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D.
Posted on September 15, 2023

People living with eczema often look for ways to ease their symptoms while trying to identify factors in their lifestyle, diet, or environment that trigger itchy, discolored, and dry skin. Surprisingly, one potential trigger is vaping.

Eczema is a complex skin condition with various triggers, and for some people, the chemicals and irritants found in vaping products can make their symptoms worse. The particles produced during vaping can irritate the skin, leading to increased inflammation and itchiness.

Vaping has recently become a popular alternative to cigarette smoking, particularly among young adults. People may take up vaping to manage stress or quit smoking cigarettes, or it may be common in their social circles.

Many people know that electronic cigarettes can harm the lungs and heart. But do you know that vaping can affect skin conditions, including eczema?

This article explores the connection between vaping and eczema, addressing the ingredients in vaping products, their impact on the skin, and potential links to eczema flares.

What Is Vaping?

Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling a vapor produced by a vaping device. These devices go by many different names, such as vapes, electronic cigarettes, vape pens, and e-cigs. Vapes typically contain an e-liquid or vape juice. The liquid, when heated up through battery power, creates a vapor that users inhale.

What Is in Vape Liquid?

Most vapes contain nicotine in a concentration much higher than traditional cigarettes. Nicotine is a highly addictive stimulant drug, which is naturally found in tobacco. Vapes can also come without nicotine. Other drugs that people vape include potentially illicit drugs, such as marijuana (THC) or ketamine, each with their potential risks.

Beyond these drugs, the ingredient list in the vapor is long. The ingredients in e-liquids can vary, but they commonly consist of propylene glycol, flavorings, toxic metals, and other additives. Although many believe vaping to be a safer alternative to smoking, one review of 29 articles about vaping found 22 toxic substances besides nicotine in e-cigarette liquids.

Ingredients in Vaping Products and Their Impact on the Skin

Here are some of the main ingredients in vaping products and how they may affect the skin:

  • Propylene glycol — Contact dermatitis
  • Nicotine — Increased risk of skin cancer
  • Flavorings and additives — Eczema flares

Propylene Glycol

Propylene glycol is a synthetic compound used in e-liquids to create vapor. Although generally recognized as safe for ingestion, propylene glycol has been shown to cause contact dermatitis in many cases. Individuals with eczema may be at additional risk or face more severe contact dermatitis symptoms. You can do a patch test to see if you’re allergic to propylene glycol.

Nicotine

Nicotine is a highly addictive substance found in some e-liquids. Nicotine can increase the already higher risk of skin cancer in people with eczema, especially those with atopic dermatitis, which is the most common type of eczema.

Flavorings and Additives

The flavorings and additives used in e-liquids may vary widely and can include natural and artificial compounds. Some people may have sensitivities to specific flavorings or additives, leading to skin reactions, including eczema flares.

Vaping and Eczema: Is There a Connection?

The American Academy of Dermatology has extensively studied the connections between cigarette smoking and eczema, but there is limited research specifically exploring the link between vaping and eczema.

However, some anecdotal evidence and discussions on online platforms suggest a possible association between vaping and eczema flares. Users have reported experiencing worsened eczema symptoms or new eczema flare-ups after starting or increasing vaping.

Scientific research is needed to establish a definitive link between vaping and eczema. The main reason scientific research is limited at this time is because vaping is so new, and enough time hasn’t passed for research to evaluate the long-term health effects of vaping.

Factors That May Influence Vaping’s Impact on Eczema

Several factors might play a role in how vaping affects your skin and eczema:

  • Individual sensitivities
  • Frequency and duration
  • Environmental factors

Individual Sensitivities

Every person’s body is different, and some may be more prone to skin reactions, including eczema flares, when exposed to certain vaping ingredients.

Frequency and Duration

The frequency and duration of vaping may also play a role. Heavy and prolonged use could increase the likelihood of negative effects on the skin. Plus, the more you vape, the higher the likelihood of burns and other vaping-related skin injuries, which could trigger your eczema.

Environmental Factors

Other environmental factors, such as air pollution and climate, can also affect eczema. Vaping indoors or in polluted areas might make your symptoms worse.

Two of the most common triggers of eczema symptoms are cigarette smoke and allergens. While vaping doesn’t cause the same secondhand smoke that cigarettes do, the airborne chemicals can have an impact on your skin. The ingredients present in e-cigarette vapor include nicotine, propylene glycol, and artificial flavorings that may trigger your eczema symptoms.

Effects of Vaping on Specific Eczema Symptoms

In addition to triggering eczema flares, vaping can negatively affect eczema symptoms in several other ways, by causing:

  • Prolonged wound healing
  • Contact dermatitis
  • Itchiness
  • Skin discoloration and inflammation

Prolonged Wound Healing

Smoking is known to make wound healing slower, increase the risk of infection, and lead to excessive scarring. This effect can harm people with active eczema flares that ooze or peel, or with areas of cracked or open skin.

Contact Dermatitis

The potential allergens in e-cigarette vapor often lead to eczema skin symptoms. It may be hard to conduct a patch test to see which ingredients you are allergic to, as there are so many ingredients in vape liquid that could be potential allergens. For example, if you heat vapor with a coil made of nickel, it may cause contact dermatitis on the hand holding the vape.

Itchiness

Some individuals have reported increased itchiness in their eczema-affected areas after vaping. This could be related to an allergic response to the liquids used in vape products.

Discoloration and Inflammation

Skin discoloration and inflammation may be aggravated in individuals with eczema who vape, potentially due to the skin’s sensitivity to certain e-liquid ingredients.

Impact on Eczema Treatments

Vaping might also affect the effectiveness of eczema treatments. For example, the medications you use to manage eczema symptoms may be less effective if your skin is further irritated by vaping.

Additionally, nicotine interacts with the function of hundreds of medications. Check to see if any of the drugs you’re taking interact with nicotine.

Next Steps if You Want To Learn More or Quit Vaping

Vaping has detrimental health effects on your whole body, not only your skin. If you have eczema and are concerned about vaping’s potential impact on your skin, speak to your primary care doctor or dermatologist. If you wish to quit vaping, there are various resources available, such as support groups, counseling, and nicotine replacement therapies, which can help you.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyEczemaTeam is the social network for people with eczema and their loved ones. On MyEczemaTeam, more than 49,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with eczema.

Has vaping affected your eczema symptoms? What advice do you have for others trying to quit vaping? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

    Posted on September 15, 2023
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    Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D. is a dermatologist at the Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
    Scarlett Bergam, M.P.H. is a medical student at George Washington University and a former Fulbright research scholar in Durban, South Africa. Learn more about her here.

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