air pollution

What effects do pollutants have on your skin and overall health?

You may wonder what effects pollutants have on your skin and overall health. The quick answer is many, and they are pretty much all bad. The good news is there are things we can do to help combat these nasty effects. In this article, we will outline what the main pollutants are that you will likely encounter on a daily basis, what they can do to your skin and overall health, and how you can help prevent this collateral damage.

So what are these pollutants that are affecting my skin and overall health? According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency they are carbon monoxide (CO), sulphur dioxide (SO2),  nitrogen dioxide (NO2), particulate matter (PM) and heavy metals. Automobile and industrial emissions are the biggest culprits. NO2 can also react with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) upon ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or other sources to generate ground level ozone (O3). Other air pollutants are semi-volatile compounds (SVOCs), persistent organic compounds (POPs), and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These pollutants have two gateways to your skin – the first is a direct penetration through the skin and the second is via distribution through the blood of inhaled pollutants to your skin.  

But what do these pollutants specifically do to affect my skin and overall health? For one thing, there is overwhelming evidence that O3 and certain PAHs can lead to an oxidative stress and decreases of the vitamin C and vitamin E levels in the skin. An extensive study on the effect of air pollution in the form of traffic particulate matter on skin aging in 400 women showed that exposure to air pollution was correlated to both pigment spots and wrinkles. Worse, the combined effects of particulate matter and NO2 lead to an increased risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Our formulation contains both vitamin C and vitamin E to help combat the effects of oxidative stress on your skin and overall health. Similar studies conducted in Shanghai and Mexico City found changes in the quality of skin in participants from highly polluted and less highly polluted areas, with reduced vitamin E levels and an increase in acne lesions associated with the participants coming from the more highly polluted areas.

Not only do these pollutants affect the overall health and appearance of your skin, they can also adversely affect the healing properties as well. Diesel emissions contain a mixture of PM, PAH’s, and Co, SO2 and NO2 gases. Exposures of diesel emissions to keratinocytes, the cells which make up about 90% of your skin, led to dysregulated synthesis of close to 10% of the proteins found in these cells. Dysregulated proteins are associated with a number of diseases, providing another reason your skin needs protection from pollutants. Furthermore, a reduced synthesis of proteins that are associated with maintaining skin integrity, hydration and wound healing, as well as collagen degradation, was observed. The good news is that the normal synthesis of proteins was restored with vitamin E.

But what about the effects of pollutants on our overall health? It will likely come as no surprise that long term exposure to air pollution leads to an increase in deaths from all causes. Air pollution specifically is the cause and aggravating factor of several respiratory diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. Many of these pathologies will be linked directly to the previously mentioned long term dysregulated synthesis of proteins and DNA damage, but air pollutants can affect one of your body’s silent partners – all the bacteria that reside in your gut, lungs, and skin. In fact, you have more bacteria in your body than you do cells - over 3 pounds worth as you read this. These “good” bacteria are essential for your health. They help in the digestion of otherwise non-digestible carbohydrates, produce short-chain fatty acids that provide a source of energy for bacteria and intestinal epithelial cells, regulate sensitivity to insulin, produce B vitamins such as pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, riboflavin and biotin, assist in the transformation and re-adsorption of bile, are involved in the synthesis of amino acids and the list goes on. Think of all the different strains of bacteria in your body as an ecosystem. Ecosystems always work best when stable and in an equilibrium. However, we now know that pollution can upset and modify this bacterial equilibrium in a way that can adversely affect your health, and has been closely linked to obesity, hypertension, diabetes, intestinal diseases and cancer and also adverse pregnancy outcomes.


Takeaway Message

So what effects do pollutants have on our skin and overall health? The answer is many, but none of them are good. For skin, it increases aging in the form of wrinkles and pigment spots but can also lead to increased susceptibility to acne. The mechanism is through an increase in oxidative stress of the skin induced by the combination of effects of pollutants with UV radiation from the sun. A first line of defense is avoidance. It is easy to check daily air pollution levels and if it is high you may want to reconsider spending significant time outdoors, especially if the UV index is also high on the day. Next, maintaining healthy levels of vitamins C and E will play a significant role in the fight against the effect of pollutants on your skin, so ensure you are eating a diet with adequate levels of these vitamins or supplement as necessary. Not only will your skin and the overall health of your body thank you, but that happy ecosystem of bacteria in your gut and lungs will thank you too.

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