Does Vaping Cause Acne?

By Dr. Annie Macpherson
Updated: 2019-09-17

What is Acne?

Acne is a disorder of the skin caused by infected or inflamed sebaceous glands. It is characterised by uncontrollable breakouts, pimples, spots and cysts, most commonly on the face, neck and shoulders. Although it is most common in teenagers, some people are genetically predisposed to having acne their entire life. 

Genetics plays a huge role in the development of acne [2]. Hormonal imbalance is key to the onset of acne, and some acne sufferers will find that re-balancing hormone levels through diet control, exercise and managing stress, will clear it up entirely.

The effects of acne are not just physical. The disorder often results in reduced confidence, anxiety and problems with self esteem [3].

Can Vaping Cause Acne?

Does vaping cause acne? A 2013 study investigating the reported side effects of vaping suggested that up to 15% of user experience symptoms of acne [4]. This means that for a subset of users, vaping can be associated with acne. At the moment, there is no published research into why vaping can cause you to have breakouts or develop acne, so we do not have a full understanding of this effect.

Nicotine

What we do know is that smoking can make skin conditions like acne worse [5]. This effect is caused by several toxic compounds in cigarette smoke, but the acne-inducing chemical of interest to vapers is nicotine. Nicotine can make the course of acne slower and worse [6], and vaping nicotine is one way that e-cigarettes could make acne worse. However, the effect of nicotine on acne progression is simply not enough to explain the sudden and dramatic acne breakouts that many vapers have documented online [1].

E-Liquid

Many vapers experiencing acne also report that there is no change in their symptoms whether they vape unflavored, with or without nicotine, or with PG or VG based e-liquids. This suggests it is not components of the e-liquid that are causing this phenomenon.

Heavy Metals

Heavy metals are a type of particulate, considered to be toxic contaminants that are harmful to your body. Common heavy metals pollutants are aluminium, cadmium, lead, copper and zinc. Heavy metals can enter your body through contaminated food and water, polluted air, cigarette smoke, and e-cigarettes [7, 8].

Research has shown that exposure to heavy metals can dramatically influence acne [9]. Heavy metals can cause or worsen acne by depleting your antioxidant levels as they are cleared out of your system. Lower antioxidant levels can result in inflamed skin and encourage the development of acne. Research also suggests the heavy metal cadmium can also cause or worsen the skin disorder psoriasis [10]. Although there is no published evidence yet, it is possible that heavy metals leeching from a poor quality, damaged or old e-cigarette coil could invoke an outbreak of acne.

Heavy metals copper and zinc do not seem to affect acne, whereas blood levels of lead and cadmium are higher in people with acne than those without [9]. We don’t know if this is a cause or effect of acne.

What You Can Do About it

There is conflicting research into the volume of heavy metals that are produced by e-cigarettes [11]. It seems like heavy metal contamination whilst vaping arises from metals leeching from the coil of the e-cigarette device, rather than from the e-liquid itself. 

It seems as though some individuals are just more prone to acne than others, and low levels of heavy metal contaminants that are released from some e-cigarette devices could be enough to trigger acne in these people. It’s important to remember that this is a general hypothesis as to why vaping may cause acne, and until there is research done, we will not know the answer for certain.

Heavy metal contaminants arise from a damaged, poor quality or faulty coil within your device. It might be worth changing the coil in your e-cigarette device if you are experiencing a breakout from vaping.

Conclusion

Does vaping cause acne?

There is no published scientific research investigating the relationship between heavy metal-contaminated e-cigarette vapor and acne outbreaks – this article has been an evidence-based discussion on the possible causes of vaping-induced acne. 

The possibility of you having a breakout or acne symptoms when you vape is dependent on your genetics, and possibly on which e-cigarette device you use, particularly the coil. If you are experiencing symptoms of acne after you vape, it’s best to speak to your doctor about interventions, and take a break from vaping until you know the cause of your acne.

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Sources

1. https://www.acne.org/forums/topic/365574-vaping-caused-me-cystic-acne/ Accessed 20/12/2018

2. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2017 Dec;31(12):1978-1990. Genetic architecture of acne vulgaris. Lichtenberger R, Simpson MA, Smith C, Barker J, Navarini AA. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28593717

3. Dermatol Clin. 2012 Apr;30(2):293-300. Quality of life measures for acne patients. Barnes LE, Levender MM, Fleischer AB Jr, Feldman SR. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0733863511001963?via%3Dihub

4. Hua, My et al. “Health-related effects reported by electronic cigarette users in online forums” Journal of medical Internet research vol. 15,4 e59. 8 Apr. 2013, doi:10.2196/jmir.2324 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3636314/

5. Capitanio, Bruno et al. “Acne and smoking” Dermato-endocrinology vol. 1,3 (2009): 129-35. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2835905/

6. Exp Dermatol. 2009 Oct;18(10):821-32. New developments in our understanding of acne pathogenesis and treatment. Kurokawa I, Danby FW, Ju Q, Wang X, Xiang LF, Xia L, Chen W, Nagy I, Picardo M, Suh DH, Ganceviciene R, Schagen S, Tsatsou F, Zouboulis CC. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19555434/

7. Tchounwou, Paul B et al. “Heavy metal toxicity and the environment” Experientia supplementum (2012) vol. 101 (2012): 133-64. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4144270/

8. Williams, Monique et al. “Elements including metals in the atomizer and aerosol of disposable electronic cigarettes and electronic hookahs” PloS one vol. 12,4 e0175430. 17 Apr. 2017, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0175430 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5393578/

9. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2017 Apr;176(2):251-257. The Role of Blood Lead, Cadmium, Zinc and Copper in Development and Severity of Acne Vulgaris in a Nigerian Population. Ikaraoha CI, Mbadiwe NC, Anyanwu CJ, Odekhian J, Nwadike CN, Amah HC. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/27600928/

10. Exploring the link between cadmium and psoriasis in a nationally representative sample; Fang-Yih Liaw, Wei-Liang Chen, Tung-Wei Kao, Yaw-Wen Chang & Ching-Fu Huang; Scientific Reports volume 7, Article number: 1723 (2017)  https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-01827-9

11. Glasser, Allison M et al. “Overview of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems: A Systematic Review” American journal of preventive medicine vol. 52,2 (2016): e33-e66. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5253272/

Dr. Annie Macpherson
Dr. Annie Macpherson

Annie has a PhD in Genome Stability from the University of Sussex. She has first-hand experience in cancer and human disease research. This allows her to provide us with new and unbiased insights into the ongoing research of the public and health effects of vaping. She loves an adventure, and has travelled through South East Asia and Australia working for Vaping Insider.