Year-round, a different type of air pollution hangs in the air — sometimes visible, sometimes invisible — that can have such a profound effect on your health, the World Health Organization recently labeled it a carcinogen. This is particulate air pollution, the harmful stuff that comes from car exhaust, factories and power plants.


Besides cancer, particulate air pollution has also been linked to a host of respiratory conditions, heart disease and more. All in all, in the United States, pollution leads to approximately 200,000 early deaths each year, according to research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Anytime something burns — coal in a power plant, a combustion engine, a forest fire — tiny nanoparticles are released into the air. “These nanoparticles are so small that when you breathe them into your lungs, they lodge into your lung tissue — that’s what causes the damage that occurs from inhaling pollution,” said Zoe Diana Draelos, M.D., a consulting professor of dermatology at the Duke University School of Medicine. “That same process occurs on the skin.”


Air pollution ages your skin and can contribute to other skin-related issues. Nanoparticles touch the surface of your skin, and bounce around, damaging the tissues through oxidative stress. “They poke holes in the skin’s collagen, so the skin no longer has the thickness and the structure that it once did.” Dr. Draelos explained. “So if you are walking down the streets of New York City, and there’s a bus that just went by, and you see exhaust fumes out the back, there’s combustion you can see that damages the skin. But there are also nanoparticles you can’t see.”

Dr. Draelos explained that pollution-related skin damage accumulates on your skin the way other factors do, such as sun damage, indoor tanning or smoking. There is one specific skin factor you can blame pollution for discolored spots. “There is some good evidence to show that exposure to pollution causes more age spots,” she said. “Those pollution particles that sit on the surface of the skin increase the amount of melanin, or skin pigmentation, leading to dark spots”.


Pollution can start to age your skin as early as age 30, Dr. Draelos said, and “definitely around age 50 to 60.” Again, she cautions, that you can’t necessarily separate the damage caused by pollution versus other factors. So a well-rounded skin-care routine is essential to prevent all types of damage.

French researchers found after correlating pollution levels with doctor’s visits that high levels of particulate air pollution might be associated with an increased prevalence in skin rashes and pink eye.

Interestingly, pollution can stir up environmental allergens, causing problems, Dr. Draelos said. For example, smoke from a trash or a forest fire can contain poison ivy or poison oak. “If you burn the plant, you aerosolize the allergen,” she explained. “Every place where the smoke touches your body, you will get the rash.”


Just as the antioxidants found in fruits, vegetables and other foods can help stave off free radical damage in other parts of your body, a diet rich in these nutrients can help heal and protect you. Vitamins A, C and E are the ones you really want, Dr. Draelos said. “So beef up your dietary intake of yellow, orange and red foods — oranges, squash, carrots.” A variety of other fruits, vegetables and supplements can also help.

Applying antioxidants topically might help, but there’s not yet a lot of research to back that up. “The research still needs to be done to some degree. But there’s a lot of evidence about the value of oral supplementation of antioxidants,” she said.

“Toxins pollute and clog up our skin and can be the major cause of acne, puffiness, and lack of circulation, which creates dull, dry skin, and other skin disorders,” according to Heather Wilson, a holistic nutritionist. Holistic practitioners believe that dry skin brushing — literally brushing your skin in circular motions — can help beat the environmental damage. “Dry skin brushing is a great way to make your skin glow and flush toxins from your body,” Wilson said. “The benefits are more than skin-deep. Circulation intensifies, which helps your body flush away wastes and your lymphatic system works better.”

What really helps your epidermis avoid free radicals is placing a barrier between your skin and environmental stressors. “Wear something on your skin like a moisturizer,” Dr. Draelos said. “It will trap some of those nanoparticles because they have to touch the skin to have an effect.” Facial foundations create a similar barrier.

You should pair anything you place on your face with an SPF cream of 30 or higher. “Then you’re also getting protection from UV rays,” Dr. Draelos said. After all, UV rays are the top cause of all types of skin damage — including skin cancer.


Source: weather.com