The Impact of Air Pollution, Common Pollutants, and Skin Health

dermatology and skin health

As industrialization progresses, our immediate environment suffers irreversible degradation. We are exposed to contaminated land surfaces, water bodies, and air. Air pollution plays a major role in the rising cases of internal and skin diseases. It has influenced the occurrence of acne, psoriasis, and hyperpigmentation in many people. This article explains the effects of air pollution on human health and highlights several ways how to protect skin from pollution. 

How does air pollution affect skin health, and what role do common pollutants play?

Air pollutants consist of particulate matter, liquids, gases, and solids and are absorbed directly via the skin into the subcutaneous tissue. These air pollutants are in our environment and common examples include solar UV rays, toxic hydrocarbons from gases, volatile organic compounds from the environment, cigarette smoke, residue of heavy metals, and more.

The absorption of these pollutants in the body can cause premature aging, photodamage, melasma, acne, hyperpigmentation, and an increased risk of skin cancer. Increased absorption causes blocked pores and allow free radical ions that cause oxidative stress, which attacks the skin's antioxidant defenses. 

What skin problems can arise from the health effects of air pollution, especially due to common pollutants? 

Can air quality affect skin? Yes, air pollution contributes to numerous skin conditions and slows down healing. Some of the negative health effects of air pollution we should all know include;

Premature Skin Aging

Excessive UV exposure can harm the skin permanently and cause photodamage. This claim has been proven repeatedly over the past few decades that air pollution is also to blame for early skin aging. According to research, pigment spots on the forehead and cheeks were linked to an increase in particulate matter (PM) from air pollution brought on by traffic. Moreso, another research discovered that infrared can cause skin aging and pigmentation.


Hives is a common skin condition, affecting millions all around the world. Most people will encounter hives at least once in their lives and are often triggered by certain foods, drugs, insect bites, or other environmental factors. Recent hive breakouts were challenging to identify at first until certain researchers found out about pollution. You might notice that outbreaks happen more frequently when you're outside than inside, due to the polluted environment. 


Researchers studying eczema at the National Institutes of Health discovered that healthy skin-dwelling bacteria that are exposed to isocyanate evolve to survive. These bacteria change their metabolism, diverting it from producing healthy lipids and oils to toxic chemicals. Additionally, the chemicals send a signal to the brain that results in itching and inflammation of the skin. This study shows that eczema can be cured by staying in an unpolluted environment.

Damaged skin barrier

It's no news that air pollution harms your skin, particularly your surface layer. Although it makes intuitive sense to assume that air pollution will only lay on top of your skin, it can pierce far deeper than that. Air pollution is only one of the many environmental stresses that can affect your skin by damaging the barrier between the outside world and all of your inside layers. 

dermatology and skin health

Can air pollution, including common pollutants, lead to skin diseases or aging concerns? 

Air pollution is a never-ending topic in dermatology and skin health as professionals are actively looking for ways to protect our skin from premature damage. It is presumed that there are numerous diseases caused by air pollution that are yet to be discovered. Common air pollutants that contribute to skin aging include; 

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) found in air pollution contribute to free radicals. These free radicals deplete the skin's lipid barrier which aids in moisture retention and prevents the entry of dirt and other pollutants. It contributes to other skin problems such as Increased skin sensitivity, irritation, and early symptoms of age, including pigmentation problems.

Particulate matter

Long-term exposure to particle matter results in nasolabial folds, pigment spots, and wrinkles on the face. It also affects the metabolism of the cell.


Inhaling and absorbing smoke also hastens the aging process by creating deep wrinkles on your face. Toxic smoke inhalation causes early aging of the skin, which exhibits a distinctive pattern of wrinkles and an orange-purple skin discoloration. 

Does poor air quality contribute to acne or other skin issues, and how does this relate to common pollutants? 

For people who live in the city, pollution is prevalent due to the increase in economic and industrial activities. Thus, many city dwellers are concerned about the unfavorable effects of exhaust fumes, smoke, and debris on poor skin health. 

Can air quality cause acne? Certainly, dermatologists even warn that exposure to poor air quality might harm your skin because small levels of pollutants and toxic material damage the skin by causing free radical damage. These free radicals promote skin aging and worsen inflammatory skin conditions like acne, rosacea, and eczema.

How can we safeguard our skin from the negative impact of air pollution and common pollutants?

Researchers recommend you use products that can counteract the effects of free radicals; therefore, consistent adherence to a skin care plan can help reduce the severity of the harm to your skin. Another way to filter pollutants is to wear N95 masks. When the air quality is extremely bad, wear a mask to physically protect yourself from microscopic pollution particles. You can also add an air purifier to your setup to improve air quality around you.

Most importantly, never skip washing your face with a cleanser, and always wear sunscreen. Cleanse every time you leave the house or twice a day (in the morning and the evening.) Otherwise, you risk experiencing early skin aging if you don't cleanse your face. We advise applying a mild moisturizer, such as Dermaclara's Clarasome Hyaluronic acid moisturizer, if you have dry skin to preserve healthy skin moisture. 

Search for products that include antioxidants, as they provide an additional layer of defense. Applying topical antioxidants in the form of serums also helps reduce oxidative stress. Ensure you spread any topical treatments down your neck as well, and don't only apply them to your face for optimal protection.

dermatology and skin health

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