Understanding Air Pollution and Your Skin

 

Aging and the Skin

Mother Nature has certain incontrovertible laws, and one of them is that every living thing ages. We observe this daily, in plants that bloom and fade with the seasons, in the growth of children and the aging of parents and grandparents, and we particularly notice it in ourselves when we look in the mirror. Fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots, hyperpigmentation (an overproduction of melanin), hypopigmentation (white spots indicating loss of color), red spots, redness and inflammation, dark under eye circles, dullness, a loss of tone, and a loss of smoothness in skin texture: while we may not have the scientific vocabulary for all of these conditions, when we see them, they affect our self-esteem.

Factors in Skin Aging

What causes these signs of aging, and what can we do to prevent them? As Dr. Björn Örvar, cofounder and CSO of BIOEFFECT points out, “There are many factors that affect our skin and how fast the skin ages.” Though genes play a role in that process, how much of a role has yet to be determined. It’s also been scientifically proven that the skin is affected by diet as well as smoking. But as Dr. Örvar also points out, “We know the environment is usually not nice to our skin.” In fact, air pollution is highly detrimental to it. A recent study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, “Airborne Particle Exposure and Extrinsic Skin Aging” (December 2010), assessed the influence of air pollution on skin aging in 400 women. It found that “Air pollution exposure was significantly correlated to extrinsic skin aging signs.” In fact, one of the most astounding findings in the study was the fact that dark spots may not be exclusively linked to sun exposure, as was previously thought, but to oxidative stress.

The Hard Science, Explained

When we talk about pollution and the skin, we’re specifically referring to nanoparticles in pollution which cause oxidative stress in the body. Oxidation is the loss of electrons during a reaction by a molecule, atom, or ion. Rust, for example, is the result of oxidation. Oxidative stress in the body occurs when the oxygen molecule splits into single atoms with unpaired electrons: this is what is known as a free radical. Like gloves or shoes, electrons like to exist in pairs, so these single atoms with unpaired electrons opportunistically scavenge the body looking for electrons to pair with. This causes damage to cells, proteins, and DNA. Importantly, the study concluded that nanoparticles in pollution were associated “with more pigment spots on the face and more pronounced nasolabial folds.”

While we’re aware that pollution wreaks havoc on the environment, it clearly has an effect on our health and well-being. With up to 1400 chemicals deposited on the skin every day, pollution can be profoundly damaging. It’s time to take its effects on the skin very seriously.