Your Skin and Pollution: 5 Pollution Facts That Might Surprise You

As the population on the planet rises and the demand for manufactured products and fossil fuels expands, air pollution will only worsen. Many of us are aware of the effects of pollution on the environment, but few understand the extent to which it impacts our bodies. In fact, skin and pollution have a rather intimate relationship; the skin is our first line of defense against the outside world, after all. Each year, new pollution statistics are staggering, and we all hope that emissions will reduce with each new regulation; however, it’s time to start seriously considering how pollution affects the skin.

Skin And Pollution

It’s already quite apparent that pollution has adverse effects on our bodies— more than sixty thousand Americans died from causes related to pollution in 2019. If pollution is capable of destroying our bodies to this extent, what is it doing to our skin— a portion of our body that is constantly exposed to the air? Let’s take a look at how pollution affects the skin on a molecular level.

1 - Free Radicals, Smoke, and Soot

Physical matter that accumulates on the skin— like dirt, smoke, and soot— is responsible for clogging pores and locking in debris. The scariest part about smoke and soot, however, is that you don’t know what’s in it. The smoke and soot produced by factories and other manufacturing plants can have wildly different chemicals mixed in— formaldehyde, benzene, acrolein, and PAHs come from wood smoke alone

Additionally, free radicals (bouncy, little electron-stealing molecules) in the air can cause damage to our skin and encourage oxidative stress in the cells. This process is a known contributor to inflammation, cancers, and aging.

2 - Increased Air Acidity

The most prevalent molecule contributing to air pollution is carbon dioxide. This is an acidic compound by nature, in the range of 4-5. The natural balance on our planet uses plants and phytoplankton in the oceans to convert CO2 into oxygen (O2) molecules; however, we are disrupting this process with increased emissions. This has led to a more acidic environment for our skin, especially in urban areas. 

Our skin likes a pH of around 5.5 to 6— this slight acidity helps to protect us from harmful bacteria. However, when the skin becomes more acidic than this, we are more prone to dryness, peeling, and the effects of aging.

3 - Nanoparticles and Particulate Matter

"Pollution breaks down collagen and the lipid layer in the skin, which impairs skin barrier functions," - Zoe Draelos, M.D.

One of the most detrimental components of pollution is its constitution of nanoparticles. These particles are so small they are able to penetrate into the deepest layers of our skin to cause inflammation. Due to pollutants’ ability to break down collagen and other important structural proteins, elasticity and structure is lost overtime - this rapidly increases our natural aging process.

4 - Pollutants Activate With UV Radiation

As if these previous issues weren’t enough to contend with, there is evidence that ultraviolet light (a natural wavelength emitted by the sun) actually activates and amplifies pollution’s effects on our skin. Bearing this in mind, it’s even more important than ever to wear UV-protective creams.

5 - Particulate Matter May Disrupt The Microbiome

We are constantly learning more about how important the tiny microbes on and in our bodies are. Based on a recent study from October 2019 performed in two very different regions of China, there was a major difference in the microbiota of women from these two areas of the country. As we discussed above, the acidity of the air and surrounding bodies of water could be playing a part in the microbiota disruption.

Anti-Pollution Cleanser

It has been well established that pollution, to some extent, causes accelerated aging and skin damage. While all of the direct mechanisms may not be fully understood yet, it’s clear that our skin needs a little bit of help ridding itself of unnatural chemical pollution. Here at Rejuvaskin, we’ve designed an Anti-Pollution Cleanser that specifically targets the grime, grit, and particulate matter that build up after a day in the city! Don’t forget to apply your sunscreen, too!