There seems to be no end to products claiming to erase age spots, reduce wrinkles, and eliminate under-eye bags and circles. In fact, the average American spends $322.88 on skincare per year. But, what if there was one item that could make a visible difference in the health and appearance of your skin and save you money in the long run? It turns out there is!
Which air pollutants can harm your skin?
The air around you is filled with invisible pollutants. In fact, indoor air contains up to five times more pollutants than outdoor air.
Some of the most common hazards that your skin is exposed to are ultraviolet radiation (UVR) and environmental air pollutants such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), oxides, particulate matter (PM), ozone (O3), and cigarette smoke.
Unfortunately, there are generally even more toxins indoors. The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission lists these as common sources of indoor pollutants:
- combustion sources such as oil, gas, kerosene, coal, wood, and tobacco products
- building materials and furnishings as diverse as deteriorated, asbestos-containing insulation
- wet or damp carpet
- cabinetry or furniture made of certain pressed wood products
- products for household cleaning and maintenance, personal care, or hobbies
- central heating and cooling systems and humidification devices
- outdoor sources such as radon, pesticides, and outdoor air pollution.
Considering that Americans spend nearly 90% of their time indoors, indoor air quality is a major factor in your skin’s health.
How is your skin affected by pollution?
Your skin is a barrier to protect your body from the outside world. But, it isn’t impenetrable. In fact, its soft porous nature also makes skin vulnerable to assault by chemicals and particulate matter in the environment. Prolonged exposure to these pollutants can have a devastating effect on your skin.
Airborne pollutants enter your body in a number of ways. Some are so small that they are able to enter pores in the skin. Others, including the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) found in vehicle exhaust emissions or wildfire smoke, pass through the fat-filled spaces between skin cells.
What particular skin issues can pollutants cause?
Premature Skin Aging
While, in the past, premature aging was thought to primarily be a result of excessive UV exposure, recent studies have shown that air pollution is also to blame.
In 2010, research revealed that an increase in particulate matter (PM) due to traffic-related air pollution was associated with a 20 percent increase in pigment spots on the forehead and cheeks. In less-trafficked areas, researchers found that moderate levels of “background” (non-traffic related) particulate matter was accelerating skin aging in similar ways.
In a 2017 follow up study, higher indoor PM2.5 levels (associated with factors such as cooking with solid fuels and inadequate indoor ventilation) were linked to an increase in pigment spots and wrinkles.
Multiple studies have drawn similar conclusions about the link between pollutants and premature aging.
Under eye bags
Under eye bags are notoriously difficult to treat. While many products claim to help alleviate them, the reality is that surgery or cosmetic fillers are the only ways to make a significant difference in the appearance of undereye bags.
While it may be impossible to completely counteract the effects of gravity and aging, reducing your exposure to pollutants can make a visible difference in how puffy the skin under your eyes becomes. That’s because allergens like pollen, pet dander, and other pollutants are known to cause inflammation, particularly in sensitive areas like the undereye region.
Eczema is a chronic skin condition that causes red, itchy patches on the skin. While eczema tends to be genetic, research shows that environmental factors like air pollution, humidity, and temperature play a significant role in triggering and aggravating symptoms.
One study of primary school children in Seoul, Korea, found that eczema rates were significantly higher for children who had a family history of allergic diseases and had moved into a newly built house in their first year of life.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are released from most modern day products, may also contribute to eczema flare ups. In addition to building materials, routine household activities such as cooking and cleaning can increase airborne pollution levels and trigger eczema flare-ups.
Breakouts and Inflammation
Your skin hosts many diverse communities of beneficial bacteria, collectively known as the skin microbiota. One of the most common species of bacteria is known as Staphylococcus epidermidis.
Pollutants in the air land on your skin and build up. When the concentration of pollutants gets too high, it can disturb your skin’s natural flora and decrease its ability to combat dryness, humidity, sunlight, UV radiation, pathogens, and allergens… leading to acne and other skin inflammation.
How can we protect our skin?
Wear a mask
The pandemic has normalized mask wearing for most of the world. Besides reducing illness transmissions, masks and other face coverings can have the added benefit of protecting your skin from pollutants, especially in urban or industrial areas.
Clean your face properly
Make sure that you wash your face at least twice a day. First, remove makeup and dust particles from your face. Then, follow up with a face wash or cleanser to remove all any additional pollutants. Finish with a moisturizer to keep your skin sufficiently hydrated.
Improve indoor air quality
Researchers are working on producing medicine-like compounds that block the damage from air pollution from occurring. But, perhaps the best thing we can do for our skin is to improve the air quality in our homes. Some of the most effective ways to reduce indoor pollutants are:
- Ensure that gas stoves are well ventilated
- Reduce the use of harsh cleaners and scented products
- Keep windows and doors open as much as possible
While all of these measures can help reduce pollutants in indoor air, the most important step we can take to improve our indoor air quality is to purchase an air purifier. A high-quality air purifier will remove dangerous pollutants in your home, which will both improve your overall health and help to minimize the effects of premature aging.