How Destructive is Smog to Your Skin?

If your town has a lot of smog, you already know how it affects your lungs. Research shows that it can also aggravate skin conditions, lead to premature aging, and possibly increase your risk for skin cancer.

Smog consists of a combination of tiny particles of dust and soot; pollutants including nitrogen dioxide, lead, and carbon monoxide; and "bad" ozone. While the ozone layer in stratosphere helps to protect us from damaging UV rays, ground-level (bad) ozone can turn the sun's rays into dangerous free radicals that send the body's cells haywire. Scientists have discovered links between free radicals and diseases like Parkinson's, and have identified how free radicals can harm skin's resilience and age us more quickly.

Pollutants, which are so tiny that they easily penetrate your epidermis, make it more difficult for your skin to maintain healthy oxygen levels, increasing wrinkling and loss of elasticity. The older you are, the more damaging these pollutants can be. Pollutants can also cause rashes and acne breakouts in sensitive skin. People who are active outdoors are also in a higher risk group for suffering smog's side effects.

In a 2009 study, University of Wisconsin researchers showed how when healthy skin cells were exposed to bad ozone, they lost their ability to break down pollutants. As a result, these pollutants were absorbed into the skin. Scientists suspect that since this bad ozone can actually alter skin's chemistry that the danger of exposure could lead to serious medical conditions such as skin cancer.

An older study conducted at U.C. Berkley showed how skin exposed to high levels of ozone - even for a short period of time - suffered a loss of Vitamin E, an essential vitamin for preserving skin's lipid balance. When skin loses lipids it can't maintain its natural moisture and becomes, dry, cracked, and more prone to infection. People who live in highly polluted areas have a higher chance of developing eczema.

So how can you keep your skin healthy if you're not planning a move to the clean-aired countryside? Sunscreen is a crucial protective layer that will not only block UV rays, but help maintain your skin's natural barrier. Choose skin care products containing antioxidants and other elements that fight free radicals. And of course, you can always do your part to try to reduce smog in your area. Aside from common advice like carpooling and using energy-efficient appliances, the Environmental Protection Agency suggests smog-reducing tips like taking care not to drip gasoline when filling up the tank and keeping the lids of household chemicals tightly sealed when not in use.


Environmental Protection Agency

Abstract of Investigative Dermatology Article

British Skin Foundation

U.C. Berkley