Home Radiant Skin How does air pollution affect your skin? Dermatologist answers FAQs

How does air pollution affect your skin? Dermatologist answers FAQs

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Air pollution can cause eczema flare-ups, a common skin condition that causes itchiness


Air pollution can cause eczema flare-ups, a common skin condition that causes itchiness&nbsp | &nbspPhoto Credit:&nbspiStock Images

Key Highlights

  • Air pollution has put people at an increased risk of respiratory diseases, cardiovascular issues, and other health complications

  • Skin, being the outer covering of the human body is extremely susceptible to the detrimental effects of air pollution

  • Exposure to air pollution can disturb the skin barrier function and cause various skin problems

New Delhi: With the air getting heavy with pollutants, the hearts of people are getting heavier with fear and anxiety of the unknown. The dreadful air has been disrupting people’s lives by putting their health at an increased risk of respiratory diseases, cardiovascular issues, and other health complications. But internal organs are not the only vulnerable parts of the body. Skin, the outer covering of the human body has been equally susceptible to the detrimental effects of air pollution. With no respite in sight, it is important to pay heed to the issue at hand and understand certain intricacies regarding the impact of pollution on skin health and ways to tackle the same. 

Times Now digital connected with Dr Rinky Kapoor, Consultant Dermatologist, Cosmetic Dermatologist & Dermato-Surgeon at The Esthetic Clinics to get an insight into the growing threat of air pollution on skin health.

Times Now: What are some common skin problems that people face due to air pollution?

Dr Rinky Kapoor:
Our skin is the largest organ that interacts with the outside atmosphere. While our skin is a strong physical and chemical barrier against environmental factors, it is imperative to keep in mind that its ability is limited. When exposed to environmental stresses like air pollution the skin barrier function gets disturbed and causes various skin problems.

Air pollution can affect the skin in liquid, gas, and solid form. The pollutants enter the body through sweat ducts, hair follicles, inhalation etc. Air pollution causes oxidated stress that leads to the generation of free radicals that disturb many natural functions of the skin leading to problems such as:

  • Photoaging or premature ageing: This is caused because of exposure to UV radiation and is irreversible damage leading to wrinkles and fine lines.
  • Increased pigmentation or the brown spots or liver spots: Particulate matter because of traffic-related pollution causes increase brown spots on the forehead and cheeks.
  • Atopic dermatitis or eczema: Flare up on the skin are very common because of air pollution. Eczema appears in the form of red, itchy patches on the skin that are triggered by environmental stress and indoor pollutants. Even cooking and cleaning can cause eczema flareups.
  • Uneven skin tone: This is caused because of UVA and UVB exposure and the interaction of particulate matter with the skin.
  • Hives or Urticaria: These are caused because of allergic reactions to pollution.
  • Skin irritations, breakouts, and inflammations: Pollutants in the air combined with dirt and dust triggers breakouts, acne, and inflammations in the skin. Air pollution disturbs the skin’s ecosystem.
  • Melasma: The main culprit again in this condition. People residing in high pollution areas such as India, China, Southeast Asia etc. are more susceptible to these brown pigmentations.
  • Psoriasis: This condition is aggravated by increased exposure to cadmium in the blood which diminishes the skin’s immunity and causes barrier dysfunction.
  • Skin cancer: Numerous researches have associated skin cancer with pollution. It can be caused because of UV radiation, PAHs, VOCs, Ozone, Heavy metals.

Times Now: What kind of air pollutants harm the skin the most?

Dr Rinky Kapoor:
Air pollution is everywhere. Various air pollutants harm the skin in various ways. Since most particles present in the air do not directly permeate the skin, they can cause chemical reactions to the skin diminishing the skin’s natural defence potential. Various pollutants that harm the skin the most are:

  • Ultraviolet radiation: Apart from photoaging, it causes increases the risk of malignant melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma, and is known to disrupt skin’s DNA.
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PHA): These are emitted by automobile and industry exhausts. These can react with PM and cause oxidative stress or be directly absorbed by the hair follicles or the skin causing carcinogenic damage and other skin problems.
  • Organic compounds (VOCs): These react with sunlight and nitrogen oxides and cause the formation of smog which damages the skin. These are found in paints, varnish, repairing vehicle paint, tobacco smoke, exhaust from vehicles.
  • Oxides: These are the reason behind the increased prevalence of atopic dermatitis in children.
  • Particulate Matter (PM): These include ions, reactive gases, and they are of different sizes and compositions. These cause wrinkles, skin dryness, acne vulgaris and visible ageing on the face.
  • Ozone (O3): We all know that ozone is causing major climate changes. It is also disrupting the skin leading to increased cases of eczema, contact dermatitis, skin eruptions and it damages the collagen and elastin in the skin.
  • Cigarette smoke: This type of pollution contains aerosol compounds and other chemicals include carcinogens. These interact with the skin can cause skin dehydration, disruption of the tissue matrix etc. Heavy smokers are about 5 times more likely to get wrinkles and lines much before the time. Cigarette smoke also causes psoriasis and acne in men and women.

Times Now: How can one mitigate the adverse effects of pollution on the skin?

Dr Rinky Kapoor:
The simple solution would be to move away from such areas but it is not practically possible. The best you can do for your skin is to protect it. You cannot modify the outdoor air or the indoors for that matter but what you can do is to take care that your skin does not come in contact with pollutants much.

Prevent the triggers that cause air pollution and once you notice any skin-related symptoms then contact your dermatologist for the right corrective procedure. Here are some things you can do daily to combat the adverse effects of air pollution on your skin:

  1. Always cleanse your skin when you come in from outdoors. You must also cleanse morning and night. Use a gentle cleanser to remove dirt and pollutants
  2. Exfoliate your skin once or twice a week and use a good facial scrub to remove the dirt and grime daily. Scrub for no more than 10 seconds.
  3. Vitamin C is the most powerful antioxidant. Use a vitamin C based moisturizer and serum before sunscreen.
  4. Remove all traces of makeup from the skin before going to bed.
  5. Moisturize and hydrate your skin from the inside out. Drink water at regular intervals. Water is the ‘amrit’ you need to improve skin cell regeneration and improving skin elasticity. You also need to keep the skin moisturized daily to lock in all the hydration and protect the skin.
  6. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen every 2-3 hours. Apply sunscreen about a half-hour before going out. Sunscreen should be applied to all exposed parts of the body.
  7. Use niacinamide and retinol products in your nighttime routine to help the skin regenerate and negate the effects of dust, cigarette smoke, exhaust fumes damage etc.
  8. Switch to a good anti-pollution diet that involves clean and healthy eating.
  9. Use deep conditioning and hair masks at least once a week.

Times Now: Do alterations in lifestyle, diet, or skincare help?

Dr Rinky Kapoor:
Yes, it does. Regular exercise, diet and a good skincare routine help in cleansing the skin and it also lets the skin breathe healthily. It is helpful to include the following in your routine along with the above-mentioned skincare routine.

  • Masks are a good idea in recent times. Apart from viruses they also protect your skin from pollutants.
  • Protect the scalp from pollution and sun rays by using hats, scarves, umbrellas, and caps when outdoors.
  • Your diet plan should be inclusive of an antioxidant diet. This includes a diet rich in vitamin B3, C and E, Beta carotene, selenium, and lipoic acid. This means fresh seasonal fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, olive oil, coconut oil, fish, poultry, amla, orange, grapefruit, potatoes, turmeric, ginger, flaxseeds, and nuts such as almonds and walnuts etc. to boost skin’s health and the ability to fight pollution.
  • Use a silicone-based primer or moisturizer.

Times Now: What are some tips to maintain healthy skin amidst the growing air pollution?

Dr Rinky Kapoor:
The more conscious you are about your skincare the healthier your skin will be. Shield your skin from airborne pollutants. Air pollution is not going anywhere soon and therefore the earlier you start with better skincare the easier it will be to deal with the effects. Use ingredients that contain products that have been extensively tested for common toxin pollution and contain antioxidants. Talk to your skin specialist about your concerns and what products will suit your skin type.

It is also totally worth it to invest in high-quality air masks, air purifiers, and ventilators at home. Avoid areas with heavy pollution and public smoking rooms. If you are exposed to such an environment then make sure you use a cleansing wipe and the skin as soon as you get away from there and cleanse the skin properly. Little steps every day will go a long way in keeping your skin healthy and youthful-looking at all times.

Disclaimer: Tips and suggestions mentioned in the article are for general information purpose only and should not be construed as professional medical advice. Always consult your doctor or a dietician before starting any fitness programme or making any changes to your diet.



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