Air pollution has significant impacts on our skin and it is believed that air pollution is responsible for as much as 3.5 million deaths worldwide each year. Its impact on the nervous and cardiovascular system is well known, but it is rarely considered to what extent air pollution can affect our skin’s appearance and health.
And it has a very important impact, directly through the surface of the skin and indirectly by resorption through the lungs or bloodstream.
Effects of air pollution on the skin
Environmental pollution accelerates the aging of the skin, making it more susceptible to allergic and inflammatory reactions, increasing dramatically the possibility skin cancer development.
The skin is a protective barrier of our body against all negative particles and chemicals from the environment. Depending on the type of pollutant, the skin proteins, lipids or DNA are damaged.
According to the European Commission for Air Quality, the most common air pollutants are: UV radiation, particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, arsenic, cadmium, nickel, carbon monoxide, lead, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (benzopyrene).
Ultraviolet radiation consists of UVA, UVB and UVC rays. Most of the radiation is composed of UVA rays that penetrate deeper into the skin. A smaller part, up to 5%, are UVB rays that stay on the skin’s surface, and UVC rays almost do not reach us thanks to the ozone layer (O3). As the thickness of the ozone layer decreases by 1%, the skin’s exposure to UV radiation increases by 2%. With this tendency of UV radiation increase, the number of patients with melanoma, basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma of the skin is augmenting at an incredible rate.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (benzopyrene) result from burning wood, diesel, cigarettes. Benzopyrene causes melanocyte proliferation and the formation of reactive hyperpigmentation, even without exposing the skin to the sun. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons bind to the surface of the skin to form epoxies. Epoxides are responsible for carcinogenesis. Bound benzopyrene, activated by UVA rays, is carcinogenic (Kelfeks et al., 1991; Wei et al, 2003). The half-life of benzopyrene bound to the skin is 5 to 10 years. During this period, it can cause cystic acne, arthritis, neuropathy, and liver diseases.
If inhaled or ingested through the digestive system (barbecue), it is retained in the bloodstream, breast milk, skin of adults and newborns, and is especially concentrated in the hair follicle.
Particulate matter is one of the primary contributors to air pollution. It contains metals, organic particles, reactive gases, ions and carbon. Traffic related nanoparticles are the most harmful among them. Their size makes them extremely reactive with our skin. They intensify nasolabial folds, wrinkles around the eyes and age spots.
Atopic dermatitis in children has increased significantly in recent decades. According to statistics, this rate is highest among children living at large intersections and in cities with a significant road traffic. Nanoparticles, carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide act as irritants and modulators of the skin’s immune response.
Ozone (O3) is primarily found in the stratosphere. In the atmosphere, it is found only in traces as a product of plant metabolism. With the expansion of the industry, the amount of ozone in our environment is increasing. The interaction of ozone and UV radiation reduces the amount of vitamin E and vitamin C, increases the oxidative stress of the skin’s lipid barrier. A study conducted on 70,000 people proved that this is one of the triggers for urticaria, eczema, contact allergies. ( Xu et al., 2011)
Cigarette smoke is a very complex pollutant containing carcinogenic substances, as well as products that cause oxidative tissue stress. The chemical components of tobacco smoke dehydrate the skin by trans-epidermal water loss, connective tissue degeneration. The skin of smokers is dehydrated, wrinkled and darker than the skin of non-smokers.
Prevention of the effect of negative physical and chemical environmental factors will significantly reduce the possibility of progress of:
- Premature skin aging
- Contact and atopic eczema
- Hyperpigmentation, melasma and lentigo
- Skin cancer
Daily skin cleansing reduces the negative effects of air pollution on the skin as well as the quantity of bound pollutants from the skin’s surface. After cleansing, it is necessary to apply products that contain antioxidants, especially vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin B3 (niacin amide), coenzyme Q10, resveratrol (Burke, 2019).
Creams with protective factor reduce the effect of UV radiation on the skin, but also the synergism between UV radiation and pollutants.
The intake of a sufficient amount of water will dilute toxic substances, which reduces their binding to the skin.
Antioxidants in the diet have the ability to renew the skin and neutralize the effects of toxins through the elimination of free radicals. A diet rich in omega 3 acids, beta-carotene, vitamins E and C, and salt regenerates the internal organs and skin.