Scientists say that toxic fumes in polluted cities, such as New York, London, or Beijing, may just be the leading cause of skin aging as air pollution has been found to accelerate age spots and wrinkles significantly.
The effects of toxic fumes across the world have also been linked to increasing the symptoms of hives, eczema, and other skin conditions. This scientific discovery has led the world’s largest cosmetic companies to search for solutions, which includes sourcing medicinal compounds that can help to reduce the damage. However, many doctors warn that common skin care routines, such as facial scrubs, can actually worsen the damage caused by air pollution.
Unclean and poisonous air has already been known to cause lung cancer, heart disease, and mental health challenges, but the visible damage to the skin, which is the largest organ of the body, is only beginning to be fully understood.
Dr. Mervyn Patterson, a cosmetic doctor at Woodford Medical clinics in the UK, says: “With traffic pollution emerging as the single most toxic substance for skin, the dream of perfect skin is over for those living and working in traffic-polluted areas unless they take steps to protect their skin right now. “Unless people do more they will end up wearing the pollution on their faces in ten years’ time. It is definitely something people now need to take seriously.”
“UV damage was really the topic in skin protection for the last 20-30 years. Now I think air pollution has the potential to keep us busy for the next few decades.”, says Professor J. Krutmann, who is the director at the Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine in Germany.
Why does pollution damage the skin?
Air pollution includes tiny particles known as PM’s, NO2 (Nitrogen Dioxide), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s). While Professor Krutmann’s work already showed that PM’s accelerate age spots and wrinkling, one of his newest studies further revealed just how damaging NO2 can also be for the skin. Participants from China and Germany were studied, and with just a slight increase in air pollution, their age spots were seen to increase by as much as 25%. Many areas in the UK already have illegal NO2 levels in the air, with London breaking its yearly limit within the first week of 2016.
While nutrition, smoking, and UV exposure also has an impact, it has been confirmed that air pollution is the major driver of skin pigmentation, particularly on the cheeks. Professor Krutmann pointed out that any urbanized areas will have sufficient pollution to cause damage, acknowledging that it is a very difficult problem to try to escape.
“Many of the pollutants are known to pass easily through the skin and cause a variety of impacts.”, says Krutmann. Dr. Patterson agrees, saying that pollutants cause irritation, inflammation, redness, and the reduction of collagen in the skin tissue.
What can be done about it?
The good news is that doctors worldwide agree that there is no need to sit by passively to watch the damage occur, but that there are sensible and easy steps that can help protect your skin.
Companies like Olay, Clinique, and L’Oréal are already launching a range of new products that offer better repair and a richer source of hydration for damaged skin cells.
Avoiding scrubs and harsh chemical creams is the first step, followed by implementing a skin repair regime.
Using mineral-based make-up has also proven to serve as a protective barrier, but is recommended to be washed off with a gentle face wash every night to wipe the slate clean.