According to a research conducted by the University of California, Riverside, published in the Atmosphere Journal, cutaneous exposure to nicotine amounts observed in thirdhand smoke, or THS, and electronic cigarette spillage may cause skin damage.
THS, which contains nicotine, is produced when inhaled smoke and smoke from the tip of burning cigarettes settle on surfaces such as clothes, hair, furniture, and automobiles. THS refers to the leftovers left behind by smoking and is not purely smoke. E-liquid spills caused by leaky electronic cigarette devices or when users and vendors mix e-liquids for refillable electronic cigarettes are referred to as “electronic cigarette spills.”
“We found dermal contact with nicotine may impair wound healing, increase susceptibility to skin infections due to a decrease in immune response, and cause oxidative stress in skin cells,” said Giovanna Pozuelos, who graduated earlier this year from UC Riverside with a doctoral degree in cell, molecular, and developmental biology.
According to Pozuelos, the most susceptible individuals include those with skin conditions such as diabetic-related ulcers or arterial ulcers.
“Dermal contact with nicotine residue may impair wound healing of such skin lesions and increase susceptibility to pathogenic skin infections,” she said. “Toddlers and infants, who tend to crawl on contaminated surfaces or have frequent contact with indoor surfaces, are particularly susceptible to high dermal exposure. Employers who work in heavily THS-contaminated environments, such as casinos where indoor smoking is permitted, can be exposed for months or even years.”
Fortunately, the changes in the mitochondria of human keratinocytes exposed to nicotine for 24 hours are reversible.
“Skin may recover by avoiding continual dermal exposure to THS-contaminated environments and properly handling electronic cigarettes e-liquid,” said coauthor Prue Talbot, a professor of cell biology who advised Pozuelos on the study. “It’s important to note that a relatively short exposure — 24 hours in our study — is sufficient to cause skin damage.”
Severity due to duration of smoke
Pozuelos stressed that the severity of skin damage depends on both exposure duration and nicotine concentration.
“Both THS and electronic cigarette spills and leaks can be damaging,” she said. “THS exposure may be chronic for someone living in a THS-contaminated household, which can lead to persistent dermal exposure. Vendors and consumers who handle or use electronic cigarettes that contain high nicotine concentrations could also become highly exposed.”
Pozuelos advises consumers and vendors dealing with electronic cigarettes to minimize dermal contact by wearing adequate protective gear and properly cleaning contaminated areas.
“Restrictions on indoor smoking and vaping, and policies for remediating contaminated environments need to be implemented,” she said.
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