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Vape Face: Does Vaping Cause Premature Aging?

Key Takeaways

  • The skin is our body’s largest major organ and certainly the largest organ on partial public display. Numerous lifestyle choices can have an effect on skin health and appearance, including smoking tobacco and vaping.
  • Nicotine has been shown to cause skin damage that can lead to a premature aging effect. It can accelerate apoptosis (cell death) in skin layers, and damage calls called fibroblasts that produce collagen.
  • Vaping is known to cause minor dehydration, particularly in the mouth and throat. Dehydration can lead to skin damage if allowed to become severe, but is easily remedied and will rarely lead to aging or long-term damage.
  • When average smoking habits and average vaping habits are compared, it is clear that vaping introduces far less nicotine and other skin-harming chemicals into the body. Smoking is likely far more aging than vaping.

Vaping has several known side effects, from the much-experienced dry mouth to less common things like stomach cramps and nausea. Most of these are short-term or easy to prevent with simple lifestyle changes such as drinking more fluids. Stories of the more serious harm that vaping can cause pop up all the time though, with some that are justified and others that are more dubious.

Several recent news stories have highlighted the problem of “vape face”, or premature skin aging caused by vaping. This problem has been said to be caused by nicotine and, if these news stories are to be believed, it’s particularly affecting younger vapers. But while the stories often quote dermatologists, references or links to specific scientific studies are largely absent.

We decided to take a closer look at the scientific evidence to see if the “vape face” name is justified and just how big of a problem premature aging is among young vapers.

How Nicotine Affects Your Skin

The skin is the largest of our body’s organs and, apart from helping to keep all the other bits inside, it’s key to many of the body’s inflammatory and immunological processes. When nicotine is inhaled, it is absorbed directly into the bloodstream, where it has the potential to travel to and affect nearly every part of the body, including the skin.

Studies have shown that nicotine can accelerate the death of cells in the skin, particularly keratinocytes and other cells that form the skin barrier and work to bolster immune functions and attack pathogens. It is also known to reduce blood flow and damage blood vessels in the skin layers.

Additionally, nicotine is known to damage fibroblasts, the cells that contain collagen proteins. These cells are essential for maintaining the elasticity of skin, as well as for efficient wound healing.

While skin damage can have many contributing factors, including sun exposure, fluid intake, and alcohol consumption, comparison of pairs of identical twins with largely similar lifestyles, aside from the fact that one smokes and the other never smoked, show a stark difference in skin health.

The more nicotine that is introduced into the body, the more likely it is that damage will occur. The unfortunate fact is that the type of long-term damage nicotine can do to the skin is essentially irreversible, not matter how much expensive skin cream you buy.

Does Vaping Dehydration Cause Premature Aging?

When you vape, dehydration is usually caused by the two main e-liquid ingredients; propylene glycol (or PG) and vegetable glycerin (VG). Both of these substances are hygroscopic, which means that they attract water molecules. When you exhale vapor you also exhale water with it, resulting in a dehydrating effect that isn’t restricted to your mouth or throat.

The dehydrating effect of vaping could potentially contribute to skin damage if allowed to become severe. However, the human body is pretty good at telling us it needs more fluid and (unless you don’t have safe access to enough fluids for long periods) dehydrated skin rarely leads to permanent damage.  

Nicotine Content in Vapes Vs. Cigarettes

Nicotine clearly has the potential to cause skin damage and could lead to premature aging, but how does vaping compare to smoking in terms of the amount of nicotine it introduces into the body? I can’t remember ever seeing a “tobacco face” headline, so it seems unfair to try to hang the cause of this problem solely on vaping by giving it a click-bait name like “vape face”.

Nicotine in Cigarettes

On average, one cigarette contains around 12mg of nicotine, but this may vary from 8mg to 20mg, depending on the brand and type of cigarette. If someone smokes 20 cigarettes per day and each cigarette contains 12mg of nicotine, their daily nicotine intake would be 240mg.

And, of course, that is just the nicotine. Tobacco smoke contains thousands of chemicals, including at least 70 which are known to cause cancer. Some occur naturally in tobacco leaves, and others are formed when the tobacco is processed into cigarettes and when a cigarette is burnt.

Nicotine in Vape Liquid

The nicotine levels in vape e-liquids are usually measured in milligrams per milliliter (mg/ml). Several studies of vaping habits suggest that 10 mg/mL is the average strength used. In some countries, such as the UK, over 50% of vapers reported using 6mg/ml (or less) liquids in their refillable vapes. In the United States, where the maximum allowed strength is much higher, the average strength used is also likely to be higher.

If someone vapes 5ml of e-liquid per day, and the e-liquid holds 10mg/ml of nicotine, their daily nicotine intake would be 50mg. At the lower 6mg/ml strength, the daily nicotine intake would be 30mg.

5ml a day would be considered heavy vaping. The average number of puffs per day is suggested to be anything between 132 puffs and over 350 puffs, depending on the study you read. 2ml of vape liquid could easily provide 300 puffs (most 2ml disposable vapes are rated to last for around 400 puffs.) An average vaper’s nicotine intake is likely far less than 50mg per day.

Is Tobacco Smoke More or Less Aging Than Vapor?

The effects of tobacco smoke on skin and premature aging has been studied widely. Nicotine is one contributing factor, but tobacco smoke produces thousands of other chemicals. Some of those chemicals also occur during vaping, but even so they are almost always found in higher concentrations in tobacco smoke.

Studies show that tobacco smoke results in oxidative stress, lowering the amount of oxygen being supplied to the skin. This can results in blood vessel damage, which can be visible on the skin’s surface. It can also lead to tissue iscaemia or a reduction in blood flow and oxygen delivery to the underlying tissue.

Tobacco smoke reduces innate and host immune responses and induces metallo-proteinase MMP-1, an enzyme shown specifically to degrade collagen. Analysis of studies into the effects of smoking also found a correlation between tobacco smoking and the circluation of vitamin D. Vitamin D plays an important role in maintaining skin health and in the repair of skin tissue.

These are just a few examples of the skin damaging and aging effects that are specific to smoking tobacco. We could fill an entire article with the potential damage cigarette smoke can do, but even these are enough to show the disparity between the dangers of smoking and vaping, and that’s without touching on things like the direct heat damage from a burning cigarette.

The Problem With These Vape Face Stories

Statements such as “Particularly vaping has been shown to cause premature aging of the skin” and “GenZ is aging like milk” are abound in these news stories. But if you read beyond the click-hungry headline, the dermatologists who have been interviewed point out that nicotine is the main potential cause, not just vaping.

A headline along the lines of ‘Vaping will damage your skin less than smoking’ probably won’t get as many clicks as ‘Have you got VAPE FACE?’ and doesn’t fit the apparent media agenda of never saying anything positive about vaping. While it is understandable to want to cover subjects that are currently being talked about (vaping and, in particular, vaping among young people like GenZ) they often appear to be very one-sided and more concerned with creating a backlash than informing readers.

News stories such as those highlighted above aren’t surprising at this point, yet seeing them regularly appearing is still disappointing.

The Bottom Line

No one has ever suggested that vaping is harmless, and even people who are pro-vaping shouldn’t have a problem with news outlets talking about the potential for nicotine to cause harm if it is done in a balanced way. However, using emotive terms like “Vape Face” and “GenZ is aging like milk” does nothing to advance the discussion around the potential of vaping to prevent harm from smoking and simply seeks to demonize it.

Russ Ware Author Picture 2

Russ Ware

Russ is a UK-based Staff Writer for Versed Vaper who has been in journalism for more than two decades, having previously written for tech publications like Lifewire. He tried vaping in 2015 but the setup that he was using wasn’t quite right and so he didn’t enjoy it at first. However, after going back and forth between vaping and smoking for a couple of years, he started experimenting with different coils, power levels, and mixing his own vape juice. The rest is history and Russ has been a devoted vaper ever since. Russ is a passionate writer and he produces reviews, news, and well-researched informational articles for our site. When Russ is not testing or writing about vapes, he likes to travel, read true crime, and eat anything with lots of chilies.

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