The CDC reports that the use of e-cigarettes is growing at an alarming pace, with the numbers surpassing those of all other tobacco products. To find out more about the negative impact smoking this alternative can have on your skin and what you can do to repair the damage, we talked to Omaha-based dermatologist and RealSelf contributor, Dr. Joel Schlessinger and Conneticut-based dermatologist Dr. Karen Soika of the Cosmetic Medic.
Dr. Joel Schlessinger
Q: Can smoking e-cigarettes be harmful to your skin in the same way as cigarettes? If so, would you elaborate?
JS: Any form of smoking leads to premature signs of aging, deep wrinkles, bags under the eyes and dull, dehydrated skin. This bad habit starves your skin of oxygen and constricts blood flow, which affects circulation and breaks down collagen and elastin. Additionally, smoking depletes your body of vitamin C, a necessary nutrient for collagen production. Because smoke is a form of pollution, you're also coming in contact with harmful free radicals.
Q: How can smoking cause premature aging and wrinkles?
JS: We all know smoking takes a toll on skin, but many people don't realize how much. Smoking is the most common cause of wrinkles around the mouth, often called smoker's lines. It's hard on the rest of your skin, as well. Smoking speeds up the natural aging process. It starves your skin of oxygen and impairs blood flow. Without oxygen and healthy circulation, your skin doesn't get the important nutrients it needs to remain healthy. The chemicals in cigarettes and cannabis also break down collagen and elastin much faster, leading to premature wrinkles and sagging skin. There have even been studies of twins that have showed how much damage smoking does to skin in stunning detail.
Q: Can using a vaporizer or e-cigarette be better for your skin?
JS: Since vaporizers are a newer technology, it's difficult to say what the long-term effects of prolonged use might be. Because the chemicals are the same, it's highly likely that using a vaporizer will still do the same amount of damage to your skin. Plus, because you're still puckering your lips, you'll still develop deep lines and wrinkles around the mouth.
Q: If someone has been a long-term smoker and is interested in any treatments to reverse the effects of smoking on their skin, what treatments would you recommend?
JS: First, it's important to quit smoking. The longer you smoke, the more damage you do to your skin and body. No amount of skin care can help minimize signs of aging if you continue to smoke. Applying sunscreen every day will help prevent further damage. It's important to choose a broad spectrum formula like EltaMD UV Clear Broad Spectrum SPF 46 Sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
An antioxidant serum like SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic will help counteract some free radical damage caused by the smoke chemicals coming in contact with your skin. Because smoking depletes your skin of vitamin A, you'll also want to add a retinol like SkinMedica Retinol Complex 1.0 to your skin care routine. This ingredient will help increase cell turnover, smooth wrinkles, regulate oil production and diminish dark spots.
Finally, NeoStrata Skin Active Line Lift can be applied around the mouth area to minimize smoker's lines. This two-step treatment contains Aminofil to plump and volumize skin, as well as NeoGlucosamine (a building block of hyaluronic acid) to support skin structure and restore density.
Dr. Karen Soika, The Cosmetic Medic
Q: How does smoking affect your skin, and what about e-cigarettes?
KS: Beyond its known links to cancer, lung and heart disease, smoking is now thought to be associated with premature skin aging and delayed wound healing, as well as a number of skin disorders, particularly psoriasis, hidradenitis suppurativa and cutaneous lupus erythematosus.
Q: Does smoking e-cigarettes also lead to skin cancer?
KS: If you smoke cigarettes or e-cigs, compared to non-smokers, you have twice the risk of developing a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. There is also an increased risk of oral leukoplakia (precancer) and oral cancer; 75 percent of cases of oral cancer occur in smokers.
Q: Are there other reasons we should be concerned about e-cigs?
KS: Electronic cigarettes are a popular new tobacco product that have still largely unknown public and individual health effects. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that e-cigarettes are entirely unregulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Because of this, there are no safety checks or requirements for what can go into an e-cigarette. Instead of burning tobacco as cigarettes do, they generally contain cartridges filled with nicotine and other chemicals. When the e-cigarette is used, the liquid chemicals in the cartridge are turned into a vapor or steam that is inhaled by the smoker.
Also, e-cigarettes contain other chemicals: among them propylene glycol, glycerol, nicotine and a variety of flavoring substances. Without FDA regulation and review, we simply don't know what is in e-cigarettes. However, in initial lab tests conducted in 2009, the FDA found detectable levels of toxic cancer-causing chemicals—including an ingredient used in antifreeze—in two leading brands of e-cigarettes and 18 various cartridges. A review of studies found that levels of toxins in e-cigarette aerosol varied considerably within and between brands.
So what's the final verdict? E-cigarettes are just as bad for you as regular cigarettes and smoking them on the reg is guaranteed to have negative effects on your skin, especially regarding fine lines and wrinkles. Our advice? If you want great skin, cut the smoking habit for good. (You can thank us later.)
Shop some of their picks:
EltaMD UV Clear Broad Spectrum SPF 46 Sunscreen, $32, DermStore
SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic, $163 DermStore
SkinMedica Retinol Complex 1.0, $93, SkinMedica
NeoStrata Skin Active Line Lift, $75, Lovely Skin