Does vaping cause acne? Here's how it can affect your skin

The chemicals found in vape pens are inevitably going to end up deposited in the skin.

Written by
Lucinda Starr
Medically reviewed by
min read
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You're probably familiar with the small, USB-like devices and plumes of sickly-sweet smoke created by vapes.

Available in flavours like watermelon and bubblegum, it's not hard to see why vapes and e-cigarettes have skyrocketed in popularity among young Australians (with usage more than doubling among Australians aged 14 or older between 2016 and 2019 [1]).

While vaping might seem like a 'less harmful' alternative to traditional cigarettes, these devices contain stacks of toxins and chemicals that can have a detrimental impact on our health.

Plus, there is still a lot that researchers don't know about the long-term impacts of vaping on our well-being.

If you're wondering if vaping can cause acne, keep reading to discover what's actually inside e-cigarettes, the harmful impacts of vaping on your skin and overall health, and whether or not vaping causes breakouts.

What's inside electronic cigarettes?

First up, let's dive into what we do know about electronic cigarettes. Vaping involves smoking e-cigarettes or vapes, both of which are small hand-held battery-powered devices.

Inside each vape, you'll find cartridges packed with liquids that contain everything from nicotine to artificial flavours and a long list of potentially harmful chemicals.

The 'vape' is created when this liquid is heated into an aerosol vapour, which is then inhaled into a user's lungs.

With so many new vape products hitting the market at an affordable price, it's no surprise that Australians aged 18-24 have the highest prevalence of vape use [2].

In fact, nearly 1 in 10 people aged 18 or over have used a vaping device at least once (with 2.2% currently reported to be using a device).

There are 4 key types of vape products currently on the market:

  1. Minis: These devices look like normal cigarettes and are disposable.
  2. Closed pod e-cigs: These are non-disposable vape pens that contain a liquid pod that is replaced once the liquid has run out.
  3. Refillable systems: These newer models are larger in size and offer longer battery life, designed with a tank that can be refilled with vape liquid.
  4. Other closed pod brands: There are other kinds of pod brands (such as JUUL) that offer recharged vape pens that can be charged in a USB slot.

While many people believe e-cigarettes simply contain harmless water vapour, these devices are actually packed with an aerosol that is filled with tiny, toxic chemical particles.

Some of the most harmful chemicals found in e-cigarettes include:

  • Formaldehyde and acrolein: Both of which can cause irreversible lung damage [3].
  • Propylene glycerol: A chemical known to be toxic to human cells.
  • Nicotine: While it's illegal to use, buy or sell nicotine for use in e-cigarettes in Australia (unless recommended by a doctor), it is still possible to purchase this chemical online [4]. This is a highly addictive substance that can cause a range of health complications, including an increase in blood pressure, heart rate, blood flow and even a narrowing of your arteries [5].

The exact ingredients contained in a vape depend on which type of liquid and product you purchase.

A recent Australian study (funded by the Lung Foundation Australia) actually found that 100% of these e-liquids were inaccurately labelled and 100% contained chemicals with unknown effects on our respiratory system (with the potential to cause things like lung cancer with continued use) [4].

But in general terms, you can expect vapes to contain a combination of carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals) and other harmful chemicals (similar to those found in tobacco cigarettes).

Does vaping cause acne?

Many young Australians (and vape users) are asking the same question: does vaping cause acne?

While we don't have a conclusive answer as to the impact of vaping on acne breakouts, we do have a clearer idea of the negative impacts vaping can have on our skin's overall health.

It's important to acknowledge that more research needs to be done to allow dermatologists to fully understand the short and long-term impacts of vaping on our skin.

However, we do know that the skin is our body's largest organ and the chemicals found in vape pens are inevitably going to end up deposited in the skin.

Every time you vape, you're decreasing the oxygen supply to your face (just like when you're smoking cigarettes) [6].

This can cause our skin to 'suffocate' over time and speed up the ageing process, making things like fine lines, wrinkles, textural irregularities, and decreased elasticity more likely.

Plus, we know smoking cigarettes of any kind (including vape pens) can damage our skin barrier and lead to unwanted conditions like pigmentation, redness, loss of collagen and even heighten our chance of skin cancer.

We do know that vaping can dry out your skin, and cause significant dehydration.

The dryer your skin becomes, the more likely it is to produce oil and sebum (which can clog our pores and potentially lead to acne breakouts [7]).

Plus, the chemicals found in e-cigarettes can slow down your body's natural healing and repair processes so if breakouts do pop up, acne scars and persistent spots are more likely, too.

For those with naturally dry skin, skin sensitivity or a history of acne and other skin problems, vaping can have a raft of unwanted impacts.

Not only does it slow down the skin's renewal processes that flush away dead skin cells, but it can also lead to clogged pores, excessive dryness, rosacea, and even acne breakouts and flare-ups.

While there is still a lot we don't know when it comes to the connection between vaping and acne, we know that quitting smoking (including the use of e-cigarettes) is a wise move to protect the long-term health of your body and your skin.

What are the other side effects of vaping?

Along with the question 'Does vaping cause acne?', you might be wondering what other health impacts or side effects you could encounter when vaping.

Some of the most common side effects of vaping include [8]:

  • Coughing
  • Dry mouth and throat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Mouth and throat irritation
  • Headaches
  • Chest pain and heart palpitations
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

More concerningly, we don't have conclusive evidence about the long-term health impacts and side effects of vaping (such as conditions like popcorn lung [9]).

While some may see vaping as a less harmful or 'technically safer' alternative to smoking (as most Australian vapes don't contain nicotine), there is still a high chance that vaping is unsafe and potentially dangerous to our health.

Does vaping age the skin?

In short, yes.

The nicotine and chemicals you'll find in a vape pen work to constrict your blood vessels, slow blood circulation and even decrease your skin's access to oxygen supply [10].

Nicotine also serves to break down your skin's elasticity and reduce collagen production, both of which are key to preventing premature skin ageing.

Plus, the propylene glycol contained in a range of vape pen products also dehydrates the skin.

That's because this chemical absorbs water molecules and prevents your body from absorbing this important hydration.

Just like with regular cigarettes, research shows that vaping an e-liquid can speed up facial ageing and lead to other harmful skin conditions.

The impact of cigarettes vs vaping on skin health

While anecdotal evidence might suggest that vaping is less harmful than regular nicotine cigarettes, research shows the opposite is true.

In fact, vaping and smoking have similar negative effects on the body (including damage to our lungs, an increased risk of cancer and a negative impact on our skin health) [11].

That's because both types of cigarettes contain harmful chemicals that reduce the skin's ability to absorb oxygen and even cause our skin to produce more oil (heightening the chance of acne breakouts).

While vaping might be positioned as a way to help someone beat a smoking habit or nicotine addiction, it's important to know vaping comes with a similar set of negative health consequences.

In fact, vaping isn't a smart strategy to quit smoking.

Take this stat: former smokers who use e-cigarettes are more likely to relapse [12]. Plus, e-cigarette users are 3 times more likely to smoke tobacco than those who don't use e-cigarettes.

Ultimately, there is a lot we still don't know about the connection between vaping and acne.

While we do know that vaping and smoking can damage our overall health, more research needs to be done to assess how vaping can impact a person's acne breakouts.

The evidence that we do have is clear: most doctors recommend we steer clear of e-cigarettes (or consider quitting vaping) due to the unknowns around its long-term health impacts.

Ways to get rid of acne

If you're looking for ways to treat acne, ditching the vape is a must-do. But there are other acne treatments to consider, that will help banish your breakouts for good.

Software's Acne Kit comes packed with 4 acne-fighting essentials that work together to clear away impurities, repair your skin barrier, and protect against acne triggers:

Or, if you'd like to speak to a skin expert about your concerns, Software's acne treatment is the way to go. Simply take the skin quiz and one of our health practitioners will create a customised medical-grade formula just for you.

Your acne-fighting formula
$54 per month for your custom formula
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