Every vaper accidently gets e-liquid on his or her skin or clothes at some point, but unless you spill a lot of high-strength nicotine on yourself, there is no significant risk. However, nicotine is poisonous, and can be absorbed through the skin, so you should rinse it off as quickly as possible to avoid unpleasant symptoms.
Am I Going to Die? Let’s Do the Math
Nicotine’s toxic dose is frequently quoted as 60 mg for an adult, but this figure has been strongly called into question. Based on case reports of people surviving large doses of nicotine and the quantities present in the blood of people who did die, the toxic dose for adult humans is estimated to be 500 to 1000 mg. However, researcher Bernd Mayer estimates the toxic dose for skin exposure to be 100 to 200 mg.
The rate at which nicotine is absorbed depends on the chemical it’s in a solution with and its concentration. Testing with a nicotine and alcohol solution (this used ethanol, not PG or VG as in e-liquid) shows that around 0.006 mg of nicotine is absorbed per square centimeter of exposed skin per hour for an 8 percent solution (which is much stronger than any e-liquids). In this case, around 17,000 square centimeters (1.7 square meters) of skin would need to be exposed to nicotine for an hour to approach the minimum estimated toxic dose.
For the worst-case scenario (a 50/50 mix of nicotine and water – meaning 500 mg/ml – much more than you’d ever find in an e-liquid), you’d need to expose around 74.5 square cm of skin to the solution for one hour to absorb a toxic dose. This is about the area of your palm.
What to Do if You Spill E-Liquid on Your Skin or Clothes
It’s clear that you’re highly unlikely to spill strong enough e-liquid on yourself and leave it there long enough to absorb a lethal amount, but unpleasant symptoms (like nausea) start much sooner, so if you spill e-liquid on your skin you should clean it off as soon as possible. Soapy water (or even just plain water) is suitable, and as long as you clean your skin immediately you’re unlikely to experience anything other than minor symptoms (like you may get when you vape a little too much).
Spilling on your clothes is obviously less of a concern than spilling directly onto your skin, but it’s recommended that you remove the item of clothing and wash it thoroughly before wearing it again – and clean the skin underneath too!