Pollution can lead to generation of free radicals, inflammation and disruption of the skin barrier,  and alterations to the skin microflora. Therefore, it is important to address the pollution effects on the skin, as it can deteriorate quickly.

According to consumer research, 19% of US consumers, 36% of European consumers, and 37% of Asian consumers identify pollution as a major source of aggression on the skin.

Self-evaluation by consumers has confirmed that skin quality is impacted by the bad environmental conditions and depending on skin type, people observe an aggravation of their skin problem e.g., dry and dull skin, dark spots and uneven skin tone, wrinkles and fine lines, oily skin and acne, sensitive skin, and imperfection.

Most of the experts agree that pollution can damage skin barrier, result in depletion of vitamin E and squalene level, and breakdown of collagen and elastin exacerbating existing skin problems such as dehydrated skin, hyperpigmentation, photoaging, excessive sebum secretion, inflammation and sensitive skin, eczema, and atopic dermatitis.

The Negative Effects of Pollution on the Skin

The increase in air pollution over the years has had major effects onskin pollutants and pollution the human skin. Various air pollutants such as ultraviolet radiation, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), volatile organic compounds, oxides can damage the skin.

Additionally,  particulate matter, ozone and cigarette smoke affect the skin as it is the outermost barrier.

PAHs are a class of chemicals that occur naturally in coal, crude oil, and gasoline. They also are produced when coal, oil, gas, wood, garbage, and tobacco are burned.

In addition, PAHs generated from these sources can bind to or form small particles in the air.

Pollution & Skin Damage

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. Any prolonged or repetitive exposure to high levels of these pollutants may have profound negative effects on the skin.

Moreover, exposure to ultraviolet radiation can cause extrinsic skin aging and skin cancer. Cigarette smoke contributes to premature aging and an increase in the incidence of psoriasis, acne and other skin diseases.

It is also implicated in allergic skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis and eczema. Polyaromatic hydrocarbons are associated with extrinsic skin aging, pigmentation, cancer and acne eruptions.

Skin’s protective proteins—keratin in the outer layer and collagen in the lower layer-guard against moisture loss and maintain skin’s elasticity. The defensive capacity that is provided by keratin and
collagen is limited and if the level of air pollution becomes too high, it could potentially overload these protective proteins resulting in disturbances in or even damage to skin’s protective structure [20].

The formation of dark spots, also called lentigines, increases with levels of traffic-related air pollution and soot particles from traffic pollution are associated with a more pronounced nasolabial fold resulting in increased visible aging effect.
Studies conducted in vivo, under real life conditions of exposure have shown an increase of production sebum and composition of sebum is also modified [21]

Pollution & Respiratory Damage

Air pollution can also lead to acute respiratory hospital admissions in children, to school and kindergarten absences, to asthma and other respiratory conditions.

High levels of exposure over a short time can lead to chloracne. This is a severe skin disease with acne-like lesions mainly on the face and upper body.

Moreover, this can happen if there is an accident or a significant contamination event.

Given the increasing levels of air pollution and its detrimental effects on the skin, it is advisable to use strategies to decrease air pollution.


  • Puri P, Nandar SK, Kathuria S, Ramesh V. Effects of air pollution on the skin: A review. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol 2017;83:415-23
  • Whitehouse, L. What’s the State of AntiPollution Skin Care? Part I; Cosmetics Design-Europe.com; William Reed Business Media SAS: West Sussex, UK, 2016
  • Whitehouse, L. AntiPollution and the Beauty Industry: Part II; Cosmetics Design-Europe.com; William Reed Business Media SAS: West Sussex, UK, 2016.
  • Whitehouse, L. What’s the Science behind AntiPollution Skin Care; Cosmetics Design Europe.com; William Reed Business Media SAS: West Sussex, UK, 2016.
  • Krutmann, J.; Moyal, D.; Liu, W.; Kandahari, S.; Lee, G.-S.; Nopadon, N.; Xiang, L.F.; Seité, S. Pollution and acne: Is there a link? Clin. Cosmet. Investig. Dermatol. 2017, 10, 199–204.
  • epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-03/
  • 1996 Jan;153(1):3-50.doi: 10.1164/ajrccm.153.1.8542133
  • Skin and Pollution: doi.org/10.1002/9781119476009.ch24