The Effects of Air Pollution on the Skin
People frequently assume that fabrics, foods, and other substances that come into contact with your skin or your internal organs are to blame when talking about skin allergies. However, various air pollutants can also cause major effects on human skin.
According to research published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology, and Leprology (IJDVL), numerous air pollutants have a significant impact on human skin. These pollutants are absorbed directly through the skin into the subcutaneous tissue or via hair follicles and sweat glands.
“Whenever prolonged and repetitive exposure to environmental stressors exceeds the skin's normal defensive potential, there is a disturbance in the skin barrier function leading to the development of various skin diseases,” it said.
“Air pollutants damage the skin by inducing oxidative stress. Although human skin acts as a biological shield against pro-oxidative chemicals and physical air pollutants, prolonged or repetitive exposure to high levels of these pollutants may have profound negative effects on the skin,” it added.
Since air pollution has also been linked to contributing to the development of skin allergies, it’s important for people to know the air pollutants that can endanger their skin to curb the development of flare-ups.
IJDVL outlined the various types of air pollutants that are bad for your skin. The air pollutants that cause different skin conditions are listed below:
- Ultraviolet Radiation wherein prolonged unprotected exposure to the harmful effects of the non-ionizing UVA and UVB can cause DNA damage, sunburn, phototoxic and photoallergic reactions, skin cancer, premature aging, and suppression of the immune system.
- Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) wherein fumes coming from wood burning and diesel engines cause skin cancer and acneiform eruptions.
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) wherein fumes coming from organic solvents in paints, varnishes, vehicle refinishing products, exhaust from vehicles, tobacco smoke, stored fuels, and emissions from industrial facilities cause skin lesions, atopic dermatitis, and eczema.
- Oxides wherein emissions coming from mobile and stationary combustion sources (cars, industrial facilities, and volcanoes) cause atopic dermatitis and eczema.
- Particulate Matter (PM) wherein fumes coming from industrial facilities, cars, power plants, incinerators, and construction sites cause extrinsic skin aging.
- Ozone, or more specifically ground-level ozone, wherein emissions produced by gases and sunlight can cause extrinsic skin aging, urticaria, contact dermatitis, and eczema.
- Cigarette smoke causes skin aging, psoriasis, acne vulgaris, cutaneous SCC, and keratoacanthoma.
Consequently, NBC News reported that wildfire smoke can cause skin problems.
They said studies have found that "short-term exposure to wildfire smoke can cause flare-ups of skin disorders, such as psoriasis and eczema, including in people who did not previously have a diagnosis."
"People have also reported itchy skin, acne, and rashes on their hands and face from poor air quality," it said, explaining that the flare-ups typically show up four or five weeks later as particulate matter from smoke penetrates the skin.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF SMOKE EXPOSURE?
BBC reported that wildfire smoke can irritate the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. It can also cause the following:
- scratchy throat
- runny nose
- stinging eyes
- irritated sinuses
- wheezing and shortness of breath
- increased pulse rate
- chest pain
WHAT ARE THE PREVENTIVE MEASURES?
Although air pollution is still a dire global threat there are ways to protect your skin from this debilitating substance. Experts suggest that you follow the suggestions below to protect your skin:
- Clean up regularly. Experts advise to clean the skin thoroughly after spending the whole day outside your home. Use a cleansing wipe or makeup remover to remove any dirt or irritant from your skin. Afterward, clean your skin with cleansing brushes to really get into the pores and remove any pollutant still attached to your skin.
- Take in vitamin B3 or niacinamide. This strengthens your skin barrier and repairs any skin damage caused by the sun.
- Drink water regularly.
- Take in antioxidants. Taking antioxidants, both orally and topically, protects and preserves the skin.
- Take adaptogens. These are fruits, vegetables and spices that have Superoxide dismutase, CoQ10 and Resveratrol, ashwagandha, curcumin, and ginseng, which could help your skin.
- Protect your skin from UV rays. This means wear a hat and apply sunscreen every time you step out of the house.
- Stay indoors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises people, particularly those with asthma, heart disease, and pregnant women, to reduce their smoke exposure by staying indoors.
SHOULD YOU WEAR MASKS?
The best thing to do to avoid breathing in pollutants as smoke from Canadian wildfires spreads over large areas of the United States is to stay inside. However, if you must venture outside, donning a mask is the next best thing.
The US Environmental Protection Agency claims that tissues, paper masks, and cloth masks—whether wet or dry—are insufficient to effectively filter out wildfire smoke. Instead, look for NIOSH-approved respirators with the N95 or P100 marking, which can withstand unhealthy levels of ozone.
Wearing artificial, medical-grade masks, however, can be more harmful than helpful for people with skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea. Although cloth masks don't meet the same rigorous standards as surgical masks, synthetic masks can irritate the skin and cause flare-ups.
The elastic straps can apply pressure to the skin. Even the CDC acknowledged that friction "may occur during normal working movement, including head or face movement, as well as when speaking or breathing."
"In addition to pressure applied to the skin, moisture can [also] accumulate within the respirator due to sweat or humidity added to exhaled air by the airway and lungs with normal breathing," it said.
"Persons wearing respirators for long hours, such as during a pandemic, are at increased risk for skin irritation because of the long hours of skin contact," it added, emphasizing that extended use of respirators can still cause irritation, such as allergic dermatitis.
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From bad habits to proper fit and materials, there are several factors that can affect the efficiency of your mask. To know the common mistakes that people make when wearing masks and learn how to avoid them, read: 5 Common Mistakes People Make When Wearing Masks.
TAKEAWAY: Ridding the world of air pollution still has a long way to go so for now do what you can to protect your skin. You can wear our hypoallergenic masks while indoors to make sure that you're not breathing in any harmful pollutants. Always check with your doctor if you can use respirator, particularly if you have a heart or lung condition.
DISCLAIMER: The information presented on Cottonique is not, and will never be, intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content materials found on this site, from text, treatments, outcomes, charts, graphics, photographs, and study findings, are created and published for general informational purposes only. It should not, in any way, be construed as a standard of care to be followed by a user of the website.
Thus, readers are encouraged to verify any information obtained from this website with other accurate references and review all information regarding any medical condition or treatment with their physician. As Cottonique strives to help those with allergies live with better days, the hypoallergenic apparel brand encourages everyone to always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.