How does pollution affect your skin

There are many things that affect the skin in this modern world. One of those things is the pollution of the earth. It is hard to escape pollution when you live in a populous area. Environmental aggressors, such as pollution, affect the skin in many ways, more than meets the naked eye. That is why protecting yourself against pollution and making sure you avoid it as much as you can is essential.

The outer layer of our skin, the natural sebum it produces, as well as its ability to produce melanin, represent natural protection from the sun and UV radiation, heat, cold, wind and other extreme conditions. However, the skin doesn’t know how to defend itself against the particles of pollution that are present in the air.

Nowadays, when most people live in big cities and are constantly exposed to pollution, it has become one of the biggest stressors for skin health. Impurities from the air around us have the most negative effects on sensitive skin, whose natural protective barrier is already weakened. Also on skin prone to acne, which any impurity can cause further deterioration.

Also read: Prevent winter from taking the shine of your skin

What is pollution?

Air pollution is a change in the composition of the air. This can affect the health, activity or survival of living organisms, including humans. Also, there is a negative impact on climate, soil, materials and the quality of life is generally reduced.

Polluted air has long posed a threat to human health and ecosystems. Even in ancient Rome, people complained about the bad air in the city. Then it was mainly as a result of smoke from the fire and the unpleasant smell of wastewater. An episode of high smog was recorded in London in 1952, during which 4,000 people died as a result of the pollution. Today, many major cities in the world have poor air quality, as well as enclosed spaces where people work and reside. It has been shown that pollution affects the skin.

Does pollution affect skin?

The sun has so far been considered the biggest culprit for skin aging. Now it is joined by environmental pollution, especially air pollution. Polluted air is responsible for millions of deaths caused by lung and heart disease, and its effect on the skin is just beginning to be revealed.

According to new scientific research, air pollution contributes to premature skin aging. It accelerates the appearance of wrinkles and age spots in urban residents.

Microscopic particles of smoke, soot and other pollutants are released into the atmosphere. A large part of them are associated with traffic pollution. These tiny particles, sometimes as much as 20 times smaller than the size of the pores, pass into the deeper layers of the epidermis, causing not only inflammation and dehydration of the skin, but also a reaction at the cellular level that leads to loss of elasticity and firmness.

Can dust affect your skin?

Pollution is not only present outside, but also inside the home. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air can be on average 2 to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air, thanks to dust, cleaners and vapors from walls or furniture. Internal contaminants such as dust, creosote from stoves and fireplaces and particles from pressed wood products and foam insulation can cause dry skin, irritation and rashes.

How pollution affects your skin in multiple ways?

With air pollution, the presence of free radicals increases, and with age, the body is less able to resist their influence. Free radicals are unstable molecules or atoms that have one or more unpaired electrons. This is what makes them highly reactive because unpaired electrons are looking for their “pair”. Giving or taking electrons to other molecules causes changes in cell structure and function. This leads to cell damage. It is manifested through the accelerated aging of the skin and the emergence of various skin changes, from reduced collagen production, loss of elasticity and the appearance of wrinkles.

People who have underlying issues can be more at risk than other people whose skin issues are more visible. Underlying issues have more than one reason for forming and it can happen for multiple reasons at a time. Your skin cells get damaged and that can lead to premature aging.

Why our skin is a natural barrier?

Skin as a natural barrier

Our skin is a natural barrier and can protect us from external factors. It acts as a barrier in many ways and makes your skin as strong as it can be. However, some things, such as pollution, can get deep into the layers of the skin and harm it even further.

Even though our skin is made up of different factors, it is not completely impenetrable. Pollution hurts your skins barrier functions and breaks down the collagen. There are also lipids contained within your skin and that can be hurt because of the pollution surrounding you.

The skin is the biggest organ in the body

Our skin is the biggest organ in the body. The environmental factors play and huge role in how our skin looks, acts and behaves throughout the course of our life. That is why people that live in suburban areas where not that much pollution is happening have better skin. Rather than the people that live in busy high populated and pollution areas that affect their skin.

  • UV rays
  • Hot Water
  • Hot Weather
  • Cold Weather
  • Gasses
  • Smoke

All of the above factors affect the skin in different ways. No one’s skin is damage-free and it is always prone to breakouts and more. However, these factors are the reasons why most people’s skin never fully heals and keeps breaking out.

What can pollution cause in skin?

Pollution can lead the skin to breakouts and more. Air pollution also has effects on aesthetic beauty, but it is hard to avoid severe environmental factors. A breakout or pimple as people say can happen for multiple reasons. One of those main reasons is the fact that the environmental factors are not helping your skin in any way. Pollution affects the skin, it is damaging it, and not just the upper layer of the skin. The deep layer within your skin is being damaged and hurt every single time you step out of the house. In fact, pollution affect on the skin is noticed even when you are asleep. Breakouts happen when your pores are clogged, and your skin cannot breathe.

Skin cancer can happen for multiple reasons. One of those reasons is the fact that the unseen factor is pollution. Pollution is harmful to your skin, which in return can make it lead to a form of skin cancer. There are different types of skin cancers and one of them can form from the pollution areas. Air pollution is the main concern for many dermatologists and many warn against traveling in a pollution area. Skin cancer can happen because of the UV rays and harmful lights or sun rays that come down on the earth. That is why using sunscreen and making sure you are fully protected is one thing to look into.

Skin diseases caused by air pollution


Environmental pollutants can result in a variant of acne called chloracne. Chloracne is caused by systemic exposure to certain halogenated aromatic hydrocarbons chloracnegens. It is considered to be one of the most sensitive indicators of systemic poisoning by these compounds. Dioxin is the most potent environmental chloracnegen.

Most cases of chloracne have resulted from occupational and non-occupational exposures. Non-occupational chloracne mainly resulted from contaminated industrial wastes and contaminated food products. Non-inflammatory comedones and straw-colored cysts are the primary clinical manifestation of chloracne.

Increasing of cysts in number is a signal of aggravation of chloracne. Generalized lesions can appear on the face, neck, trunk, exterimities, genitalia, axillary and other areas.

Chloracne appears to be resistant to all tested forms of treatment. The only way to control chloracne is to prevent exposure to chloracnegens.

Premature skin aging

For centuries, we’ve known that excessive UV exposure can cause permanent skin damage. In the last few decades, it has become increasingly clear that air pollution affect on the skin is also at fault for premature skin aging.

Back in 2010, research revealed that an increase in particulate matter (PM) due to traffic-related air pollution was associated with a 20 percent increase in pigment spots on the forehead and cheeks. In less-trafficked areas, researchers found that moderate levels of “background” (non-traffic related) particulate matter was accelerating skin aging in similar ways.

In 2017, a follow up study was done to examine the effects of indoor fine particle pollution  (PM2.5) exposure on skin aging. The results? Higher indoor PM2.5 levels (associated with factors such as cooking with solid fuels and inadequate indoor ventilation) were linked to an increase in pigment spots and wrinkles.


Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis (AD), is a chronic skin condition that causes red, itchy patches on the skin that can periodically flare-up in response to environmental triggers. Although the primary risk factor for developing eczema is genetic (i.e. if you have a family history of allergies and skin conditions), research shows that environmental factors like air pollution, humidity, and temperature play a significant role in triggering and aggravating symptoms.

Aside from family history, exposure to specific indoor pollutants such as airborne chemicals (VOCs) and PM2.5 may also increase your risk of developing eczema at a young age, through what’s referred to as “gene-environment interactions.”

One study of primary school children in Seoul, Korea, found that eczema rates were significantly higher for children who had a family history of allergic diseases and had moved into a newly built house in their first year of life. Because harmful chemicals (VOCs) are emitted by many common building materials, fresh paint, and furniture, new houses tend to have higher levels of indoor chemical pollution. Additionally, newer houses are more airtight (to improve energy efficiency), which can cause air pollution to reach higher concentrations than outdoors. For these reasons, moving to a new home was considered an environmental trigger for the eczema gene.

Even if you live in an older home, you may still be vulnerable to air quality related symptoms. In addition to building materials, routine household activities such as cooking and cleaning can increase airborne pollution levels and trigger eczema flare-ups.


Hives, also called urticaria, is a spontaneous skin reaction that occurs in response to specific allergens. Most people experience hives at least once in their lifetime. They are brought on by specific foods, medications, insect bites, sunlight, pet dander, or another (known or unknown) environmental trigger.

In some cases, it’s easy to identify what your body is reacting to. For instance, you may pet a neighbor’s cat and see hives appear on your hand immediately afterward. Other times, it can be difficult to discern a direct cause. You may find that outbreaks occur more frequently while you’re indoors, for example, but there may not be any clear pattern as to when or why symptoms appear.

If the latter scenario rings true for you, it’s possible that air pollution does affect the skin and (indoor or outdoor) is at fault for your discomfort. For some people, an increase in airborne pollutants like PM2.5, VOCs, ozone (O3), and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) can trigger a hives outbreak. A study conducted in Windsor, Canada, found that emergency room visits for hives increased in relation to short-term spikes in ambient air pollution. Similar to eczema, another study noted an association between chronic cases of hives in children and living in a new residence.

Skin allergy

Allergies are among the most common disorders, affecting as many as 30 percent of the population of industrialized countries.

Heredity is responsible for the occurrence of allergic diseases, with the action of non-specific environmental factors, such as tobacco smoke, air pollution, gases, NO2, CO2, CO, O3. This can cause skin diseases and allergy due to air pollution.

The role of the environment is indisputable. It can encourage the development of allergies in genetically predisposed people through additional action. When we talk about the respiratory system, it is worth mentioning the negative impact of polluted air (smog, tobacco smoke, etc.). It opens the way to sensitization to certain pollen of plants. Air pollution can also have an impact on causing skin allergy because it increases sensitization to allergens.

Irritation, Breakouts, and Inflammation

Even if you don’t have an existing skin condition, airborne pollutants can cause everyday skin aggravation. Just as large particles such as dust and dirt collect on our skin, so do fine particles that are invisible to the naked eye. This microscopic build-up of pollution can trigger acne-like breakouts. It can also disturb our skin’s natural flora which is the microbiome of bacteria that exist on the outermost layer of our skin.

Many of the bacteria on our skin, such as Staphylococcus epidermidis, act as anti-inflammatories and help defend against potential pathogens. When air pollution upsets the natural balance of this ecosystem, it can decrease our skin’s ability to combat dryness, humidity, sunlight, UV radiation, pathogens, and allergens.

How to protect your skin and face from dust and air pollution?

There are many ways to avoid air pollution effects on skin and make it less harmful. To protect your skin from environmental damage, changes in diet and skincare routine, such as proper facial cleansing and the use of antioxidants, can have a positive effect on the skin. In preventing damage associated with the action of free radicals, antioxidants represent the first line of defense. Antioxidants include vitamin E, beta-carotene, selenium, lutein, lycopene, anthocyanins and flavonoids, and you will find them in foods such as acai berries, pomegranate, chokeberry, berries, small red beans, brown beans, colorful beans. cranberries, blackberries, plums or raspberries.

Applying facial sunscreen has anti-pollution effects and, of course, it is also mandatory during cloudy days. Pollution does not only directly affect and damage the skin but also contributes to ozone depletion. That means we are exposed to the sun more than ever before, even on cold, cloudy days. Also, don’t underestimate covering your body with protective clothing, wearing a hat, or simply avoiding excessive sun exposure.

Although you can’t influence outdoor conditions, you can take steps to improve your indoor air quality, reduce environmental triggers, and protect your skin’s natural defenses. Using an air quality monitor in your home or office can help you troubleshoot the source of your skin-related symptoms.

Skin nourishment is essential to stop the effect of pollution

Woman with a towel on head looking in the mirror and nourishing the skin

As for the beauty routine, cleansing the face is the first step. The goal is to remove impurities from the surface of the skin without too much rubbing, drying or irritation of the skin, which can further aggravate the condition. Skin care with creams and serums rich in antioxidants with ingredients such as green tea extract, fruit extracts and vitamins A, B3, C and E will help protect the skin and stimulate the recovery process from pollution.

Detoxifying your skin is essential to unclog pores. Unclogging your pores in the evening will allow your skin to breathe. Also, it won’t let excess sebum enter the skin which will also stop the environmental causes of acne. This will lead to a fresh and clean look.

How can we remove skin pollution?

If you want to protect your skin from environmental effects, cleansing is a vital step in the detoxification process. But it is questionable how much classic cleansers for removing make-up and washing the face can remove the invisible layer of smog and dust that has attached to the skin during the day. According to some research, 2.5 micrometer contaminants are so “sticky” that they are difficult to remove with regular cleaning. So, it is advisable to use skin cleansers that allegedly use electric brushes to remove up to 80% of invisible soot and smog particles. Professional chemical peels can help with deep cleansing, as well as home care with regular use of acid-based masks and peeling.

The next step is to restore the surface layer of the skin. Only a skin barrier that works effectively can help prevent further damage. For an urban protection product to do its job, it should contain UV protection, ingredients that will hydrate, strengthen and protect the skin barrier, those that will neutralize heavy metals and fight inflammation, and antioxidant molecules in satisfactory concentrations to fight free radicals. You will help your skin even more if you stay in nature as often as possible, if you try to eat foods rich in antioxidants (fruits and vegetables in bright colors) and flavonoids (tea, chocolate, red fruits) and if you give your skin a good night’s rest every night to regenerate.

How to stop acne from pollution?

Air pollution acne are caused due to inflammation of oil and sweat glands on the skin by pollutants and also the impact of microbes.

To stop acne caused by pollution affect on the skin, skincare is the solution. You should use protective products that fight acne such as copper, rose extract, Vitamin-C niacinamide, ceramides and marine extracts.

Exercise can also help unblock pores through sweat. After you finish with your workout, wash your face before the sweat dries.

Nutrition can play a big role too. Too much sugar, dairy and refined carbohydrates are conducive to acne. Almonds, blueberries, avocados and beans are among a number of foods that can help reduce and prevent inflammation.

Just 15 minutes of sun a day can help treat acne symptoms. But no more than that because there can be a counter-effect. If you are exposed to sun for more than 15 minutes, use a zinc-based sunscreen.

Drink plenty of water. This is essential for liver function which controls hormone production.

Anti pollution skincare

To learn more about proper skin care for air pollution and resolving skin issues due to environmental pollution, read our article about anti-pollution skincare routine.


Pollution can affect the skin in many ways. Therefore, protecting yourself against pollution and making sure you avoid it as much as you can is essential.

Using the right tips and tricks will help to avoid any skin-related issue. You need to fight pollution and you can only do that if you have a daily routine of some sort. Without the daily routine, your pores and skin health will deteriorate unnecessarily.

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