The Link Between Smoking and Eczema

Including the risks of switching to vaping

Atopic dermatitis (eczema) is associated with active smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke. The harmful effects of tobacco on the immune system may be to blame for impairing skin-barrier function.

Healthcare providers and dermatologists also believe that skin damage from smoking may result from the breakdown of elastic fibers in the skin, narrowing blood vessels, free radicals, and reduced vitamin A.

This article explains the link between smoking and eczema, whether vaping causes eczema, and signs of cigarette allergy.

A young woman smoking an electronic cigarette

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Other skin diseases associated with smoking include palmoplantar pustulosis (a skin condition that creates open sores on the hands and feet), psoriasis, hidradenitis suppurativa (skin disease of the sweat glands), lupus, and skin, oral, and lip cancers.

The Link Between Tobacco and Eczema

In one study, researchers found that exposure to cigarette smoke was associated with a higher prevalence of eczema in adults and kids.

Researchers believe skin barrier damage caused by toxic substances in nicotine and carbon monoxide disturbs the skin's blood flow and oxygenation. This allows allergens to permeate the skin, resulting in eczema.

Realistic Ways to Stop Smoking

There are several things you can do to increase your chances of quitting smoking, including:

  • Setting a quit date
  • Listing your reasons for quitting
  • Coming up with alternate activities for cravings
  • Considering nicotine replacement therapy for nicotine withdrawal
  • Getting support through apps, a quitline, or a counselor
  • Getting help from friends and family

Alcohol Is Another Eczema Risk Factor

Though there is a known association between psoriasis and alcohol, more recent research has evaluated the connection between alcohol and other inflammatory skin disorders, like eczema.

One study found that hospital clinic participants with eczema had high levels of alcohol use disorder. These levels were similar to those with psoriasis and higher than those with other inflammatory skin disorders.

Secondhand Smoke Risks

Some studies have found a connection between secondhand smoke exposure and eczema.

A study evaluated the relationship between secondhand smoke and wheezing, rhinitis (hay fever), and eczema symptoms in kids living without smokers in multiunit housing. The prevalence of eczema in children was 28%. Additionally, more than half of the kids living in multiunit housing without smokers in their immediate household still incurred secondhand smoke from neighboring units.

Another study examined the relationship between eczema and exposure to environmental tobacco smoke. Researchers found a positive association between eczema symptoms in children exposed to secondhand smoke at home and school.

Exposure During Pregnancy

Research indicates secondhand smoke exposure in pregnancy can increase a child's odds of developing eczema as a child. A study found that prenatal exposure to secondhand smoke increased the prevalence of eczema diagnosis in children.

However, studies have not found similar results with maternal smoking during pregnancy, with some finding no correlation between eczema in offspring and smoking. Researchers found that smoking during pregnancy and longer breastfeeding duration was associated with a lower risk of eczema.

Baby Eczema

Most research has found that the connection between smoking and eczema is most prevalent in adults and older children. This could mean that smoking and eczema have a dose-dependent quality, which means you may be more likely to develop eczema over time the more you are exposed to cigarette smoke.

Does Vaping Cause Eczema?

There has been an increase in reports of eczema associated with vaping. Healthcare providers and dermatologists are encouraged to inquire about vaping when anyone presents with eczema.

In addition to tobacco and nicotine, vaping liquid contains other chemicals, including propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, and flavoring additives. It may be these substances that are responsible for cell toxicity.

Signs You're Allergic to Cigarette Smoke

Cigarette smoke contains numerous irritants, including formaldehyde, lead, tar, and nicotine, that could cause a reaction in some people. These symptoms are usually worse in people with allergies and asthma.

Smoke irritation symptoms include:

Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke are associated with hay fever and sinus infections. Smoking may also decrease the effectiveness of asthma inhalers.


Research has found a positive association between smoking, secondhand smoke, and eczema. Reports of skin conditions, like eczema, have also increased in people who vape. The correlation appears dose-dependent, with more prolonged exposure increasing the risk. The toxic chemicals in cigarettes and e-cigarettes likely contribute to changes in the immune system and skin barrier, leading to eczema.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What happens to your skin when you quit smoking?

    When you quit smoking, your skin reaps benefits. In one study, researchers found that participants had improved skin smoothness, brightness, coloring, and elasticity during nine months of smoking cessation, and biological skin age decreased from 53 to 40 years.

  • How long does it take for your skin to clear up after you quit smoking?

    Skin age improves quickly after you quit smoking. Researchers hypothesize that skin bounces back within a month of quitting smoking.

  • Can you develop eczema later in life?

    Eczema can develop at any time in life. However, it is called adult-onset atopic dermatitis when it occurs after you are 18. A peak time to develop adult-onset eczema is in your 50s.

13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Smoking and its effects on skin.

  3. Kim SY, Sim S, Choi HG. Atopic dermatitis is associated with active and passive cigarette smoking in adolescentsPLoS One. 2017;12(11):e0187453. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0187453

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Take steps to quit.

  5. Al-Jefri K, Newbury-Birch D, Muirhead CR, et al. High prevalence of alcohol use disorders in patients with inflammatory skin diseasesBr J Dermatol. 2017;177(3):837-844. doi:10.1111/bjd.15497

  6. Kim J, Lee E, Lee K, Kim K. Relationships between secondhand smoke incursion and wheeze, rhinitis, and eczema symptoms in children living in homes without smokers in multi-unit housingNicotine Tob Res. 2019;21(4):424-429. doi:10.1093/ntr/nty027

  7. Shirinde J, Wichmann J, Voyi K. Environmental tobacco smoke and the risk of eczema symptoms among school children in South Africa: a cross-sectional study [published correction appears in BMJ Open. 2015;5(11):e008234]BMJ Open. 2015;5(8):e008234. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2015-008234

  8. Choi KY, Yang SI, Lee E, et al. Environment tobacco smoke exposure affect childhood atopic dermatitis modified by TNF-α and TLR4 polymorphisms. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2015;135(2). doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2014.12.1292

  9. Mukherjee N, Sutter TR, Arshad SH, et al. Breastfeeding duration modifies the effect of smoking during pregnancy on eczema from early childhood to adolescenceClin Exp Allergy. 2018;48(12):1688-1697. doi:10.1111/cea.13294

  10. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Getting steamed over vaping.

  11. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Smoking and vaping.

  12. Cho YH, Jeong DW, Seo SH, et al. Changes in skin color after smoking cessationKorean J Fam Med. 2012;33(2):105-109. doi:10.4082/kjfm.2012.33.2.105

  13. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Can you get eczema as an adult?

By Kathi Valeii
As a freelance writer, Kathi has experience writing both reported features and essays for national publications on the topics of healthcare, advocacy, and education. The bulk of her work centers on parenting, education, health, and social justice.