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.

The Negative Effects of Pollution on the Skin

The increase in air pollution over the years has had major effects on 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.

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.


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  • Skin and Pollution: doi.org/10.1002/9781119476009.ch24