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July 11, 20240

Nicotine Pouch Irritation: Why Do ZYNs Burn?

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Jeremy VanOs

For many nicotine pouch and snus users, the exquisite sensation of nicotine first being absorbed into the gum from a pouch is the best moment of the whole experience. Some call that the “burn.”

But the burn we’re discussing today isn’t delightful or sought-after. It’s painful and can even induce minor nausea. While ZYN use poses fewer health risks than using combustible nicotine products, pouches can still create issues for some users. 

Nicotine pouches are parked between the gum and lip—an especially delicate area of the body. Exposing this area to nicotine and other ingredients for extended lengths of time may induce irritation. Some refer to this as a “ZYN burn.”

There are several potential explanations for why nicotine pouches burn some users and not others. The impacts (both positive and negative) of using nicotine will always vary from person to person, but the negatives can often be remedied. If you’re experiencing gum irritation from ZYNs, keep reading to learn why it may be happening and how to avoid it.

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Are ZYNs supposed to burn?

As we noted earlier, the intentional and pleasurable burn of a fresh nicotine pouch connecting with the gums is separate from the burn we’re discussing now. This ZYN burn is not intentional; it’s a side effect. And while it is unpleasant, it’s not dangerous. Although ZYNs are not supposed to burn in this way, it’s also not uncommon, and is often a temporary discomfort.

Why do ZYNs burn?

Let’s explore some of the unique factors that may explain why nicotine pouches burn or irritate the gums. It might not be immediately obvious which ones apply to you, so some experimentation may be required.

pH level

The pH scale ranges from zero to 14, with 7.0 (the pH of pure water) being considered neutral. Anything higher than 7.0 is alkaline, and anything lower than 7.0 is acidic. The pH level of nicotine pouches plays a crucial role in the experience.

  • Alkaline (pH >7.0): The absorption efficiency of nicotine improves as the pH increases. Consequently, higher pH pouches may be harsher because the nicotine is absorbed more quickly, potentially causing a stinging or burning sensation. 
  • Acidic (pH <7.0): Lowering the pH level (increasing the acidity) can reduce the irritation from nicotine pouches, but it will also reduce the absorption of nicotine.

The pH range of most nicotine pouches is 6.86 to 10.1. Ingredients like sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate are often utilized to adjust the pH to a desirable level. The goal is to find a happy medium where the nicotine is more bioavailable, but the pouch is less likely to irritate the soft tissue in the mouth.

The sensation of an unwelcome ZYN burn often fades as your body adapts. If it persists, consider trying a more acidic (lower pH) brand of nicotine pouches. Remember, many people like the tingling or numbing sensation of the regular nicotine “burn” that is simply part of consuming nicotine.

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Nicotine strength & flavorings

Nicotine can cause pain, irritation, and burning sensations when it contacts the skin or the oral mucosa in the mouth. Much like pH irritation, some users may be more sensitive to the sensation than others, and it could fade with time. However, the obvious solution is to use a pouch with less nicotine.

While unlikely, it is also possible that another ingredient—or the pouch itself—is the actual culprit behind your discomfort. Some users may experience adverse (even allergic) reactions to certain flavorings. Flavors such as mint, menthol, and cinnamon are also commonly cited as irritants.

Try another flavor or even another brand, and see if that helps.

Sometimes, nicotine pouch cans contain loose filler from broken pouches or from the factory. If you pop a pouch in your mouth coated with loose nicotine and flavorings, it can be very uncomfortable and even make you feel slightly nauseated. If this happens repeatedly, switch to a different brand.

Oral health conditions

Poor oral health could also explain why ZYNs burn some users. Gum disease and oral infections, such as periodontitis and gingivitis, can cause sensitivity and inflammation in the gums. In such cases, the pH level and nicotine in pouches would be much more likely to cause irritation or burning. This a realistic concern for former or current smokers since cigarette smoking dramatically increases the risk of gum disease.

It's also worth noting that some people just have sensitive teeth and gums. This could be the result of a vitamin deficiency (such as B12, C, or calcium), but there isn’t always a simple explanation. Everyone is different.

Overuse & physical agitation

The frequent use of nicotine pouches in the same location in your mouth may lead to irritation. Extended use (parking them for too long) could have the same effect. There are a couple of reasons why this could happen:

  • Studies involving nicotine pouches are limited, but we do know that regular use of snus can cause oral health issues. “Snus lesions” are commonly found at the site where the pinch (or pouch) is most often parked. These lesions positively correlate with the frequency and duration of use. ZYN is a tobacco-free product, so this is not a perfect equivalent, but it does leave room for speculation.
  • Also, the material casing of a nicotine pouch could become abrasive with excessive use. The frequent chafing may lead to a burning sensation or sensitivity in the gums.

For both reasons, it’s often recommended to regularly alternate the location of the pouch in your mouth.

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How to avoid nicotine pouch burn

Now that we’ve examined several reasons why ZYN may burn, let’s conclude with some tips for avoiding this frustrating side effect.

  • Don’t exceed your unique nicotine limit. If a 6 mg ZYN burns your gums, try a 3 mg pouch and see if things improve.
  • If you find a ripped pouch in your can, toss it. The loose ingredients could directly contact and irritate your gums. For the same reason, chewing on ZYNs is not recommended.
  • Avoid excessive use. Take a break between ZYNs and allow your mouth to recover.
  • Alternate the pouch location—don’t park it in the same spot every time.
  • Avoid irritating flavors, such as mint, menthol, and cinnamon.
  • Take care of your gums. Symptoms of oral health conditions can be exacerbated by nicotine pouches. Get regular dental checkups, and use vitamins if recommended by your physician.
  • Use pouches with lower pH levels (more acidic).
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Jeremy VanOs

Vaping since: 10 years

Favorite products:

Favorite flavors: Tobaccos, fruits, custards

Expertise in: RTAs, RDAs, MTL vapes, coil-building

Jeremy VanOs

Vaping empowered me to kick a lengthy smoking habit in 2014. It changed my life and I never looked back. Although vaping quickly became a hobby, my real passion is helping smokers make the switch and spreading awareness about the potential of these products. I have been writing vape content and working behind the scenes in the industry since 2016.

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