Air pollution & the skin – how air pollutants affect our skin

Our world is going fast, eager to fulfil unstoppable desire of consumption and economic growth. Living has never been so convenient and full of options to choose. Sadly, everything comes with a price. The price of rising environment degradation and air pollution. Pollution has a destructive impact on our health. Its first victim is the body’s largest organ and natural shield, meant to protect us from every outside dangerour skin. In this article we will explaion the impact of enviromental polluton on the skin.

Kinds of pollutants

The main categorisation of pollutants is a simple division to anthropomorphic and natural. We will focus on anthropomorphic, as they take a larger percentage of overall pollution. By anthropogenic pollution, we understand all pollutants, caused by human activity, such as industrialism, deforestation, road traffic, etc. Natural ones are created by nature itself, for example during volcano eruptions, sun’s UV radiation or forest fires. Natural ones, can be escalated by humans activity, e.g. we are exposed to more UV radiation because human-caused degradation of Earth’s ozone barrier.

Besides main division to natural and anthropogenic. Pollutants are divided to:

  1. Gas pollutants – the most common of them are NOx, (Nitrogen Oxides), CO (Carbo Oxide), SO₂ (Sulfur Dioxide) and VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds). All of those are by-products of burning fossil fuels – from heavy industry to everyday utilisation of fuel-burning devices, such as cars, boilers, power generators.
  2. Persistent organic pollutants – substances resistant to natural degradation. Most common of them are dioxins. Main source of them is industrial manufacturing – especially chemical factories, and burning polyacrylic substances, such as plastics, tires and rubber.
  3. Particular Matter – you have probably heard about PM2.5 and PM10, maybe even heard warnings about their high density, if you came to live in a huge city. They are very dangerous substances, which can enter your cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Explaining it simply, they are solid or liquid droplets suspended in gas – they may contain soil and dust from various industries and exhaust emission. PM10 are called coarse particles ( 2.5µm–10µm in diameter), PM2.5 – fine particles (below 2.5µm).
  4. Heavy Metals – most common are cadmium, lead and mercury. Main producers are volcanos, burning waste, combustion of leaded-gasoline, cement, iron and steel production and mining.
  5. Traffic-Related/Other Toxic Pollutants – T pollutants derived from the primary emission of gasoline- and diesel-fueled vehicles. They contain carbon dioxide (CO2), CO, NOx, VOCs, PM, lead and other toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde and 1, 3-butadiene.

Pollutants impact on a skin

Even judging by their names they doesn’t seem very friendly. Yes, they are our big enemies, and as their impact on atmosphere, plants and all living organism is destructive, it is no different on us – our health, body and our skin as well.

Impact on the skin differs on its natural integrity and characteristics of each kind of pollutants. Alterations that disturb the skin barrier function, lipid metabolism and protein components, such as elastin and collagen are involved in the development of various skin diseases.
Skin has its protective ability but its not unlimited, and problems arise when an abnormal exposure to environmental weakens skins inborn protective potential. Main mechanism of pollutants effect on a skin imprecates in damaging lipids, DNA and proteins via oxidative stress.

NOx are known to cause oxidative damage and create free radicals – known as a main factor of ageing. Carbon monoxide affects cell metabolism, and alter their function. Those factors may lead to a condition called atopic dermatitis, which according to studies, are more likely to affect people living in highly urbanised or industrialised areas. VOCs, have also huge contribution in developing various skin allergies, atopic dermatitis and eczema.

Amongst PM, the most dangerous are those with particles from traffic sources, such as vehicles exhaust emission. Those particles have particular physical features, making them easy to react with our skin cells structures, causing oxidative stress. Study has shown significant corelation with PM and extrinistic skin agieing signs, such as wrinkles, spot and definition of nasolabial folds.

How can we fight with air pollution?

If we love our skin, we should love our planet. It is hard to avoid being exposed to those destructive substances. We explained about some ways of doing it here: LINK. Of course we can avoid being out when the air quality index (AQI) is bad, but we have to go to work, we have to study, we have to go out. Human is a social animal. It’s easy to say, but we can’t chose when the air quality is bad and when is good. However, we can still have an influence on its quality in future perspective. We are those humans who made it bad and we are the only ones who can improve it. All is made by small choices.

  1. Chose public transport or bicycle – hate spending hours in traffic jams everyday? Price of gasoline is giving you headache? Hard to park in the city? There is one easy solution. Chose public transport. It might be not as convenient, as you have to walk a bit to the station, and sometimes being pushed together with others like canned anchovy, but you will save a lot of money, nerves and improve your health, as according to studies, walking even 20 min a day, lessens the risk of heart diseases and postpone ageing process. If you don’t have to commute too far to work it is good to use a bicycle. It has even better impact on your body and waistline.
  2. Conscious shopping – promotions, sales, new fashions, all these things make us want to have more and more clothes, that we don’t even need. Worse than that ready to buy market is producing low quality products, containing polyester and other artificial fibres. What is worse, the way how they are made, lowering costs as much as possible, often involves using toxic chemical substances and workers exploitation. It is better to buy one manufactured Chanel bag and keeping it for years than buying dozens of chain-store rubbish.
  3. Avoid using disposable – disposable things can be convenient, but have you ever though where there are going after you use them? Nowhere. They stay with us, forever. Production of plastic emits gas pollution and dioxins. Instead of going to coffee-house and taking out your favourite americano in plastic cup, go there with your own coffee tumbler. Do the same with water. Stop buying plastic bottles everywhere and anytime, refillable tumbler will be a good solution for you and environment.

Trying, even these three easy ways can make a difference and improve the air quality. Condition is – there must be more people who do it. Imagine that you and your friends, and friends of your friends and friends of those changed their habits. That would give a decent amount of people. Let’s change starting today!

Air pollution already impacted your skin badly? We can turn in back. Sign for a free on-line consultation LINK.


Drakaki, Eleni & Dessinioti, Clio & ANTONIOU, CHRISTINA. (2014). Air Pollution and the skin. Frontiers of Environmental Science & Engineering in China. 2. 10.3389/fenvs.2014.00011.

SE Mancebo, BS and SQ Wang MD, Recognizing the impact of ambient air pollution on skin health, Published online 2015 Aug 20.

World Health Organization Media Centre. [Accessed on: July 1, 2014];7 million premature deaths annually linked to air pollution. 2014 Published on: March 25, 2014

10 Ways to reduced your environmental impact and save money, URL:

6 ways to become a more ethical shopper, in: VOGUE Australia, URL: