AIR pollution is a global problem, but the worst culprits are found not in China, but in India. According to India’s Center for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi surpassed Beijing to become the world’s most polluted city in 2013. Although no U.S. city made the top 20 polluted cities in the world, data from the Environmental Protection Agency shows the country still emitted about 83 million tons of pollution into the air in 2012. But it really doesn’t matter if you’re Indian, Chinese or American for that matter. Air pollution damages your lungs – and your skin.
U.S. sales of anti-aging products rose 2.4% to exceed $12.5 billion last year, according to Euromonitor International. Furthermore, according to senior market research analyst Sarah Jindal at Mintel, between 2009 and 2013, there were nearly 4,000 beauty and personal care product launches worldwide which included the word “pollution” in their description. The majority of these were found in skin care and color cosmetics. Europe accounted for 54% of these launches, but both Asia and North America are growing markets for anti-pollution skin care products.
Effects on Skin
Air pollution is a global issue. Pollution impacts extrinsic aging and the skin in general. Primary skin problems include dehydration, redness, age spots, increased wrinkling, eczema and acne. It is well established that inflammation is the root of all evil that occurs in the body and that holds true for aging as well. When we are exposed to pollution in our daily lives, it results in an almost chronic state of sub-clinical inflammation, which leads to a variety of external signs on the surface of the skin.
The effects of inflammation are far more serious than dermatologists had previously expected. It can lead to cancer, heart problems, diabetes and other health issues. In addition to heavy metals and UV radiation, there are other environmental hazards that could affect the integrity of human skin. These include cigarette smoke, fuel exhaust, halogenated hydrocarbons and ozone. They all generate free radicals leading to increased oxidative reactions including peroxidation of lipids at the cell membrane (Pelle et al, 2002, Scherer 2005).
Oxidation precipitates skin aging and may compromise skin health (Morita 2007, Briganti and Picardo 2003). Unfortunately, air pollution easily penetrates the skin barrier. According to Dr. Dandy Engelman, particles of air pollution are 20 times smaller than skin pores. The oxidative damage resulting from skin exposure to urban pollution is a cause of important histopatholigical alterations. The nuclei of exposed cells are often darkened, which is an early sign of cell death. It has been associated with environmental insults such as intense ultraviolet radiation, urban pollution and heavy metal exposure (Mass et al, 2003, Hiraga et al. 2007; Calderon et al 1994).
A study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology found that the more abundant the airborne particles, the more likely that age spots appear. This finding is further supported by Dr. Jean Krutmann of the Institute for Environmental Medicine at the University of Düsseldorf in Germany, who found that carbon particles, especially nano-size particles, can penetrate the skin and activate an inflammation-related signaling cascade. The polyaromatic hydrocarbons’ role in skin-aging is likely to be related to its binding to the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) which is found in both keratinocytes and melanocytes.
When you stimulate the AhR receptor, you may increase melanin production, which could explain the increase in pigment spots seen in this research. Raw material suppliers could potentially target this receptor by developing effective pollution blocking new active ingredients. Some companies may have molecules suited to this task. Smog, dirt and dust in the air can clog pores, cause acne, and give skin a dull gray appearance. Free radicals can deplete oxygen in skin cells and decrease collagen production, which leads to wrinkles, fine lines and rough, dry patches. However, long-term exposure to air pollution can also cause skin allergies, eczema, asthma, nausea and blood vessel damage.
A study in Mexico City demonstrated that cigarette smoke reduces the facial blood flow in smokers. According to Dr. Zoe Draelos, prematurely aged microcirculation is responsible for premature skin aging as are nanoparticles that create reactive oxygen species that are inhaled or touched to the skin itself. Free radicals attack vital skin components like collagen, resulting in skin aging.
According to Dr. Debra Jaliman, assistant clinical professor of Dermatology at Ichan School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai, new research studies are underway to measure pollution effects on skin. It is widely accepted that particulate matter releases free radicals, damages collagen and elastic tissues, and speeds up sign of aging including wrinkles.
Manufacturers are promoting the antipollution benefits of some existing ingredients such as grapeseed oil, buckthorn oil, co-enzyme Q-10, green tea, coffee berry and idebenone. As a result, consumers no longer rely on just treating symptoms, but rather can take an active role in preventing and protecting their skin – a process that includes topical and ingestible products and ingredients.
Anti-pollution products come in various forms, such as cleansers, creams, facial mists, wipes. They make a variety of claims from anti-stress, whitening and protecting to total urban defense. UV protection takes center stage in most of the products, but the key to the equation is antioxidant protection.
Antioxidant-rich “anti-pollution” products are in high demand because they defend skin against oxidative stress to help prevent premature aging. When pollution gets into your skin, it creates free radicals that are highly unstable molecules that have unpaired electrons. These molecules act like ping pong balls, bouncing around in your skin on their quest to steal an electron from a healthy cell, thereby injuring it. They literally poke holes in the collagen, which is what gives skin its firmness. All of this destruction shows up as hyper-pigmentation and fine lines. Free radicals can increase inflammation that makes acne and rosacea worse. Most serious thing they can do is DNA damage and cell mutation that can lead to cancer.
Luckily, as bad as all of that sounds, there is an answer, according to Dr. Draelos. Antioxidants are nutrients that can donate an electron where needed, effectively neutralizing the free radical. According to Dr. David McDaniel, an assistant professor at Old Dominion University, Norfolk Virginia, antioxidants provides one of the best treatment for preventing or reducing free radical damage. Protection is also provided by consuming antioxidant-rich foods such as green tea, dark chocolate, berries, pomegranate, blueberries, beans, leafy greens and other fruits and vegetables. All of them play a powerful role in the body’s ability to repair itself, particularly the skin.
Exposure to UV rays accelerates hyper-pigmentation and inflammation, according to Dr. Doris Day, clinical associate professor of dermatology at the New York University Langone Medical Center. She suggests daily application of products that contain antioxidants and provide SPF 30 protection. Some of the newest products that meet these criteria include SkinCeutical’s C E Ferulic, Clarins UV plus HP Dayscreen SPF 40, Cellular Swiss Ice Crystal Collection Dry Oil, Olay Total Effects Daily Moisturizer SPF30 and Clarisonic Smart Profile Sonic Cleansing Brush.
It is well established that there is an association between airborne particles and extrinsic aging, making airborne particles the latest target for anti-aging product formulators. Of course, government regulations have resulted in decreased emissions during the past few decades, but the air surrounding us still remains invisibly polluted.
Pollution remains one of the top causes of skin aging. Skin health is affected daily by both indoor and outdoor pollution. A diet of fruits and vegetables and daily topical application of antioxidant sunscreen products affords the best chance for healthy skin.
Navin M. Geria is senior technical advisor and principal at Doctors Skin Prescription (DSP) in Boston. An ex-Pfizer Research Fellow, Mr. Geria has more than 30 years of experience in the personal care industry and has earned nearly 20 US patents. He has been published extensively and has been both a speaker and a moderator at cosmetic industry events.
This article, which originally appeared in Happi as “Understanding the Role of Pollution in Skin Aging”, has been edited for our Asian readers.
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