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Vaping and Psoriasis: Is There a Connection?

Medically reviewed by Steven Devos, M.D., Ph.D.
Written by Joan Grossman
Posted on March 18, 2024

Using vaping devices — also known as vapes or electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) — has become a popular alternative to cigarette smoking. There’s a lot of evidence that smoking is a risk factor for developing psoriasis and that smoking can trigger psoriasis flares. So you may wonder, is vaping a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes? Or is there also a connection between vaping and psoriasis? These are questions that some MyPsoriasisTeam members have been curious about.

“So is vaping also bad for plaque psoriasis?” a member asked.

The short answer is yes. Vaping is risky for people with psoriasis. Here’s why.

What Is Vaping?

Vapes are handheld gadgets that often look like cigarettes, pens, pipes, or small USB thumb drives. They consist of a cartridge or pod with a liquid that typically contains nicotine, flavorings, and various chemicals. A battery-powered heating device vaporizes the liquid into aerosols (tiny liquid droplets that look like smoke). These tiny drops are then inhaled.

Many people use vapes to consume nicotine, an addictive substance found in tobacco. Synthetic nicotine is sometimes used in vaping liquids, allowing these products to be advertised as “tobacco-free.” This label can be misleading to consumers.

Nicotine, Vaping Chemicals, and Skin Health

Nicotine has many health risks, including damaging brain development in teens and young adults. It may also harm pregnant people and their fetuses. Many health experts are concerned about the rise in vaping and exposure to nicotine, particularly among young people. In fact, in the United States, vaping is now the most common form of nicotine use among young people. Refillable vapes (also called open pods) can be refilled with liquids that have higher concentrations of nicotine, which can be even more addictive.

Although research specifically on nicotine and psoriasis is limited, nicotine and other chemicals in vaping cartridges have been shown to age skin prematurely. Nicotine in vaping products has been linked to skin problems such as dry skin and delayed wound healing in skin, which could affect people with psoriasis.

Nicotine causes disorders in skin and inflammatory cells, which can damage skin cells. An analysis showed evidence that nicotine is linked to inflammatory skin diseases such as psoriasis, alopecia, and hidradenitis suppurativa. Infants who have been exposed to nicotine have an increased risk of developing psoriasis.

Another study found that skin contact with certain vaping fluids caused inflammation, burning and itchy skin, rashes, and irritation in some people. These types of reactions could be especially aggravating to psoriasis symptoms. The study focused on chemicals other than nicotine, such as those used as flavors in vaping liquids.

Vaping and Inflammatory Arthritis

Along with damage to skin, vaping has also been linked to inflammatory arthritis. Approximately 30 percent of people with psoriasis also develop psoriatic arthritis (PsA), a type of inflammatory arthritis that causes painful and stiff joints, tendons, and ligaments.

A large study with almost 1 million participants found that people who were current e-cigarette users had an 80 percent greater risk of developing inflammatory arthritis than people who had never used e-cigarettes. People who previously used e-cigarettes had a risk that was almost 50 percent higher than people who never vaped.

Is There a Difference Between Vaping and Smoking?

There is much more research on the effects of smoking than vaping. Researchers have observed clear connections between cigarette smoking and the risk of developing psoriasis. These studies have shown the risk of psoriasis increases for people with high levels of cigarette smoking.

Researchers have long known that tobacco smoke consists of thousands of chemicals, many of which are hazardous to health. Smoking is linked to many health problems including cancer, heart disease, and lung disease. Smoking affects almost every organ in the body and can cause damage all through the body’s organ systems. People with psoriasis are at risk of comorbidities (coinciding conditions) that may be worsened by smoking.

Though there’s less research available on vaping, studies are showing that vaping causes similar damage to cigarettes. While researchers are continuing to learn more, they’ve found that e-cigarettes also contain thousands of toxic chemicals. However, the burning of tobacco produces tar and carbon monoxide, two damaging compounds that haven’t been found in vaping products.

Although many health experts believe smoking cigarettes is more harmful than vaping, evidence is showing that vaping has numerous health risks — including to skin — that could negatively affect people with psoriasis and other skin conditions.

Using Vaping To Quit Smoking

Medical professionals recommend that people with psoriasis quit smoking. People who don’t smoke have a lower risk of flare-ups and may have better treatment outcomes. Vaping has sometimes been recommended as a way to quit smoking because some research has shown that e-cigarettes are less harmful than smoking cigarettes. However, it’s controversial.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has determined that there is not enough evidence to prove vaping helps people quit smoking, and they don’t recommend using vaping for this purpose. FDA officials believe more research is needed to better understand the risks associated with vaping before it can be considered a tool for smoking cessation.

On the other hand, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has cautiously suggested that e-cigarettes may help some adults quit smoking if they completely stop using cigarettes and other tobacco products. The CDC also advises that adults who use vaping to quit smoking should ultimately stop using e-cigarettes.

If you need help to stop smoking, talk to your dermatologist or other health care provider. There are effective strategies for quitting smoking, including counseling and medications.

Find Your Team

MyPsoriasisTeam is the social network for people with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis as well as their loved ones. More than 126,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their experiences with others who understand life with psoriasis or PsA.

Do you have questions about vaping and psoriasis? Share your experiences and questions in the comments below or by posting on your Activities page.

    Posted on March 18, 2024
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    Steven Devos, M.D., Ph.D. received his medical degree and completed residency training in dermatology at the University of Ghent, Belgium. Learn more about him here.
    Joan Grossman is a freelance writer, filmmaker, and consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. Learn more about her here.

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