Human skin can be damaged by exposure to third-hand smoke and electronic cigarette spills: A relatively short exposure is sufficient to cause the damage

A University of California, Riverside, study has found that dermal exposure to nicotine concentrations found in thirdhand smoke, or THS, and electronic cigarette spills may damage the skin.

THS, 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, THS 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.

Study results appear in Atmosphere, a journal.

“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 epidermal 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 THS environments and electronic cigarette spills. The researchers then proceeded to identify processes and pathways altered by the exposure. They investigated nicotine’s effect on cellular organelles, mitochondria, and peroxisomes — organelles containing enzymes involved in many metabolic reactions.

According to Pozuelos, the most susceptible individuals include those with skin conditions such as diabetic-related ulcers or arterial ulcers.

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