There is a long history of doubt concerning the link between smoking and acne. While some will tell you that it definitely causes acne, others, by their own personal example and otherwise, prove that wrong. We all know smokers and nonsmokers, and it’s fairly easy to notice that a good chunk of smokers don’t have acne, while a lot of the nonsmokers have to deal with pimples nonetheless.
Smoking, of course, is a serious problem - If I dare say, it’s a more serious problem than acne. But as science and technology progress, people come up with novel inventions meant to solve old problems.
One of those is the invention of the e-cig (the electronic cigarette) which gave rise to a phenomenon we all know as vaping. The noble idea behind this was to make people quit smoking cigarettes, or at least, offer them a familiar, but safer alternative - vapers still ‘smoke’, but the difference is that their e-cigarettes and vape pens contain a lot less harmful components. (Or so the major e-cig companies claim.)
And as more and more people transition to a hopefully safer replacement for cigarettes, they wonder, more and more, how this transition affects their skin and acne. Thousands of reports and testimonials about vaping and acne have flooded the internet, making millions of people wonder if vaping causes acne.
People report wildly different accounts of their experience with vaping.
Some claim that as they transitioned over to vaping, they observed a gradual decrease in their acne. Acne breakouts, once frequent, were now few and far in between and their skin began to heal more easily. Even scarring and discoloration seemed to be reduced, and even completely absent. These reports go so far as to claim that vaping actually healed acne and that the only change these people made was to simply ditch smokes and start vaping.
Yeah, I wouldn’t blame you if you had trouble believing that.
But the internet being the internet, other accounts go completely against these reports of the acne healing power of vaping. Some vapers have reported an increase in acne flare-ups after they picked up vaping, and even getting acne for the first time. Breakouts around the area of the mouth are a frequent staple of these reports, which has made other people suspect that these unexpected acne outbursts had something to do with the person touching their mouth.
This appears true, as vapers who experienced this bout of acne admit to touching their faces more frequently due to the moist effect of the water vapor. Eventually, most vapers who tried refraining from touching their faces saw the acne go away. So, again, these cases of acne inflammation don’t appear to be caused by vaping itself.
Others had experienced the so-called “quit zits” - pimples that appear soon after a person makes a sudden change in their habits.
You know, you hit the gym after a year of being a potato, and boom, zits. Or you quit smoking, and you have a bout of acne. Or, you pick up smoking again, and boom, acne. However, this is a temporary phenomenon that merely reflects the sudden changes your metabolism is experiencing. Their cause is the workings of the body, not the gym, cigarettes, e-cigs or whatnot. Soon after “quit zits” occur, the body returns back to normal and they disappear.
Granted, if you pick up vaping, maybe you will see at least one of these symptoms. But neither of these types of accounts should be believed, because neither seems to have detected the root cause. Sure, vaping may be causing them, but what else is there?
A lot, really.
What makes things even more complicated is the vast sea of people who report that vaping didn’t change anything regarding their acne. It didn’t even improve their skin. However, it did make them happier because they managed to give up smoking, which, in turn, helped them deal with their acne depression more easily. So, while the physical effects of vaping on acne are unclear, the psychological effects are certainly beneficial.
But what does science say?
E-cig companies love to boast that their product is 99% water vapor and 100% harmless. Of course, I’m just engaging in a little bit of hyperbole, but electronic cigarette ads will seriously make you reconsider your smoking habit. Or, it may even appeal to non-smokers - that’s the power of marketing.
But the ads are largely true. Electronic cigarettes do produce a lot of water vapor, emitted by the so-called e-liquid that makes up the bulk of the vape pen. This e-liquid contains nicotine, and as the electronic cigarette heats it up, it produces vapor which is inhaled and exhaled by vapers. The advantage of electronic cigarettes over your ordinary “cancer stick” is that e-cigs aren’t made of tobacco, so they don’t contain tar. At all. Which is a huge benefit, since it’s exactly the buildup of tar in the lungs of smokers that eventually leads to lung cancer.
But besides nicotine, electronic cigarettes also contain a number of other ingredients. These include water, propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, nicotine, and depending on the flavoring, different chemicals.
The water, mixed with the propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin compounds holds the nicotine, which is then delivered to the body by way of inhalation. These ingredients have been used by the cosmetic industry for decades, so they appear to be fairly safe.
Here’s what the experts say:
So, while vaping is safer than smoking, it is still not absolutely harmless. At the very least, it does administer nicotine, therefore causing nicotine addiction. But what about vaping and acne?
Scientists have yet to find a definitive answer to this question. And, what with vaping being a fairly recent phenomenon, the scientific studies and research are still underway. It will take a while until the results are in, but meanwhile, we are stuck with contradictory reports.
Some vapers report that their acne healed after they picked up vaping, while others actually blame vaping for their acne flare-ups. What has been proven by science without a doubt, however, is that smoking tobacco (cigarettes) does have deleterious effects on our skin. It dries it up, causes wrinkles, and often makes acne worse. But vaping isn’t smoking.
When it comes to vaping, it pays off to take a closer look at the ingredients found in the typical electronic cigarette. Most e-cigs contain flavorings, commonly made up of diacetyl, which is an artificial flavouring. Thankfully, some scientists got curious and decided to take a good hard look at it. One such study found that diacetyl “caused many respiratory problems by increasing oxidative stress” (Frontiers In Physiology). While this may seem not even remotely connected to acne, oxidative stress is exactly the process that causes the body to lose its antioxidants. Losing antioxidants, in turn, contributes to the clogging of skin pores, which is one of the main causes of acne.
What’s more, the good people at Harvard inspected a total of 51 different flavors of electronic cigarettes, and found that 47 of them contained artificial flavorings. Of those, 39 contained this problematic, diacetyl compound. An interesting detail is that all of the products which contained flavors boosted by diacetyl, targeted young people as their consumers.
So, while diacetyl in electronic cigarettes doesn’t directly cause acne, it can surely contribute to a chain reaction leading to it.
But electronic cigarettes being, you know, electronic, they also contain so-called heavy metals too, such as tin, nickel and silver. Most of these metals are present due to the casing, the electronics and the wiring, but a small portion of these heavy metal molecules still end up in the body. What does that have to do with acne, though? Well, heavy metals deplete antioxidants, which, as we said, can contribute to the body failing to maintain the skin, clog up the pores, and cause acne.
It needs to be said again that vaping is a much better alternative than smoking tobacco and filling your lungs and body with tar and hundreds of other chemicals. After all, our food industries today use a wealth of pesticides and chemicals to make plants more productive, and those plants include tobacco too. So, while it is definitely recommended for smokers to ditch cigarettes and pick up vaping, vaping is still not without consequences.
As we saw, many people report contradictory effects of vaping on their skin. Some claim that vaping has cured them of all acne, forever, while others complain that vaping is the cause behind their acne. At the very least, vaping causes nicotine addiction and prolongs the vice that smokers have, but when it comes to acne, vaping contains chemicals that may make skin health worse.
While science is still out on whether vaping can cause acne, there are a number of factors to consider when picking up vaping. Diacetyl, the artificial flavoring in e-cigarettes, can lead to respiratory problems and also deplete the antioxidants in the body. The heavy metals found in electronic cigarettes (or vape pens), like silver, tin and nickel, can also enter our systems and cause further depletion of our antioxidants. Without them, our skin can’t regenerate and clean itself, which can lead to clogged pores and an open field for acne-inducing bacteria. Of course, one can compensate for this by increasing their intake of antioxidants, either by foods or supplements, but why make simple things more complicated, eh?
But still, congratulations on quitting smoking. At the very least, you will see improved skin health and the reduction of wrinkles after picking up electronic cigarettes. But you know what will improve your health even further? Ditching vaping as well. Until then, good luck and good night.
This information is meant to supplement, not replace advice from your doctor or healthcare provider and is not meant to cover all possible uses, precautions, interactions or adverse effects. This information may not fit your specific health circumstances, and its goal is to offer a general view of the subject. In case you are suffering from a severe case of acne, you should consult with a dermatologist or a certified medical professional.