Air Pollution Effects on The Skin
It is always easy to forget the dangers that we cannot see. You may think that these intangible things cannot possibly be more dangerous than physical threats, but it is the ones that sneak up on you that will get you. An example is air pollution. Air pollution is considered the “contamination of the indoor or outdoor environment by any chemical, physical or biological agent that modifies the natural characteristics of the atmosphere” (“Air Pollution”). Unfortunately, there is no escaping air pollution as it is literally everywhere in the air, and we cannot see it so we cannot just simply avoid it or wipe it off. Air pollution affects everyone equally. It is important to learn more about this subject though so we may be able to better understand how to protect our skin.
Skin Conditions Linked to Air Pollution
So, exactly what kind of damage to the skin caused by air pollution are we talking about? The most common skin conditions found caused by air pollution are early signs of wrinkling, uneven/irregular skin pigmentation, skin cancers, and other skin conditions. As we know, the skin is the largest organ in the human body. As our skin protects our body from many different things, it also has a limit. Everyday, as we continuously expose ourselves to the air pollution, we sometimes exceed that limit that our bodies can protect us from the damage.
Eight Categories of Air Pollutants
There are around eight main types of air pollution that affect the skin and our health that we should look out for.
- The first most common is ultraviolet radiation. UV radiation is considered a physical pollutant, and most of us have heard of UV radiation and how it affects the skin many times before, but for a quick summary, the three kinds of UV radiation, UV A, UV B, and UV C can cause premature aging/wrinkling, pigment irregularities, and skin cancers with too much exposure. Also, when we talk about aging, we are talking about the effects from something called intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Intrinsic aging is the aging process that happens naturally over time to everyone. Extrinsic aging is the aging process that occurs by other external environmental factors.
- Another of the kinds of air pollution that affects the skin is cigarette smoke. The chemicals and smoke released from cigarette fumes can cause premature aging shown in wrinkles and skin discoloration. It also has been studied that not only do cigarette smokers reap these effects, people who are constantly exposed to and inhaling secondhand smoke could also get some of these effects as well. Also, there are other skin diseases that have been studied and linked with cigarette smoke. For example, a relation between psoriasis and cigarette smoke and acne and cigarette smoke have been found in many studies. This goes for those who smoke themselves, or just have been repeatedly and highly exposed to cigarette smoke.
- Next, a very dangerous air pollutant are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons seems like a difficult concept to understand, but to put it simply, some examples of them are just “residual wood burning, automobile exhaust, diesel fumes, production of plastics, pesticides, dyes” (“Effects of air pollution on the skin: A review”). So, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are related to premature aging, irregular skin pigmentation, skin cancers, and acne. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons as air pollutants become very dangerous because they are very difficult to avoid, especially with so many different and common ways they are formed in today’s world which is constantly creating and exuding more of these types of fumes.
- In the bigger cities, ground-level ozone is a kind of air pollutant that is literally everywhere. The effect of this ground-level ozone is that it causes damage to the barrier function of the epidermis, the outermost layer of skin which protects your body, and causes inflammation in the skin. Another effect is that it can also oxidize squalene which can irritate the skin/acne, cause wrinkles, premature skin aging, eczema, dermatitis, and other rashes.
- Some sources of another category of air pollutants, particulate matter, are factories, power plants, cars, construction materials, etc. that can actually penetrate the pore of the skin which can cause damage to the skin. The effects of too much of these particulate matters can cause wrinkling, pigmentation spots on the skin, atopic dermatitis, and more.
- Volatile organic compounds commonly found in paints, car paints, fuels, car exhaust, etc., frequently found indoors, are air pollutants that affect our skin in ways such as higher risk for atopic dermatitis, eczema, and premature aging.
- Oxides, coming from traffic sources mainly, tend to damage the skin in causing skin conditions such as atopic eczema.
- Finally, another common air pollutant is heavy metals such as cadmium, lead, and mercury which can cause many different risks to our health, including skin health.
How to Protect Yourself
Now, the question is, how do we even protect ourselves from the many sources of air pollution that we encounter everyday, multiple times a day? First, the most obvious is that we probably cannot just make air pollution go away, but we can pick up habits that will help lessen the pollution that we contribute to society. Once many people begin to pick up these habits, a difference could possibly be made. Second, we can try to better our air quality for ourselves indoors by improvements such as enhancing ventilation rates, filtering, and source controlling. Some other personal protection strategies include wearing sunscreen, avoiding smoking or areas of smoking, wearing masks (now more common and important either way), including vitamin C or E with sunscreen, moisturizing, and continuing a clean skincare routine. It is important to protect our skin health in order to protect our overall health, since if our skin is supposed to protect our body, we should make sure to protect the skin as well. We know that intrinsic aging is bound to happen as it is the natural process of life, but we can try to prevent and protect ourselves from extrinsic aging as much as possible.
You can check out our products on our website for how to protect your skin from the air pollutants with Uzza Skincare.