Exposure to Thirdhand Smoke and Electronic Cigarette Spills Can Damage Human Skin

Thirdhand smoke researchers Drs. Prue Talbot and Giovanna Pozuelos, from the University of California, Riverside, found that exposure to nicotine concentrations at the levels found in thirdhand smoke and electronic cigarette spills may damage the skin.

June 8, 2022

Iqbal Pittalwala

Thirdhand smoke, of which nicotine is a major component, is created when exhaled smoke and smoke emanating from the tip of burning cigarettes settles on surfaces such as clothing, hair, furniture, and cars. Not strictly smoke, thirdhand smoke refers to the residues left behind by smoking. Electronic cigarette spills are e-liquid spills that may occur by leaky electronic cigarette products or when consumers and vendors mix e-liquids for refillable electronic cigarettes.

“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.

The study was performed using EpiDermTM, a 3D model of the human epidermis, and cultured human keratinocytes. Keratinocytes are skin cells that produce keratin, the protein found in hair and fingernails. The researchers exposed EpiDermTM for 24 hours to different nicotine concentrations typically found in thirdhand smoke environments and electronic cigarette spills. The researchers then identified processes and pathways altered by the exposure.

According to Pozuelos, the most susceptible individuals include those with skin conditions such as skin ulcers related to diabetes or poor circulation.

“Dermal [skin] 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 [skin] exposure. Employers who work in heavily thirdhand smoke-contaminated environments, such as casinos where indoor smoking is permitted, can be exposed for months or even years.”

Fortunately, the damage to the human skin cells that have been exposed to nicotine for 24 hours are reversible.

 “Skin may recover by avoiding continual dermal exposure to thirdhand smoke-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.”

Pozuelos stressed that the severity of skin damage depends on both exposure duration and nicotine concentration.  

“Both thirdhand smoke and electronic cigarette spills and leaks can be damaging,” she said. “Thirdhand smoke exposure may be chronic for someone living in a thirdhand smoke-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.

Note: Content was edited for style and length – source.

Click here to read the research article.

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