Air Pollution Effects on Skin

B.SCHMID/amanaimagesRF/amana images/Getty Images

The detrimental effects of air pollution are widespread and many. Effects on the skin alone include dryness, premature aging, skin rashes, eczema and acne. While most people know that outdoor air pollutants can be harmful to health, not everyone realizes that indoor pollutants can cause skin problems and other serious health risks as well. The Environmental Protection Agency points out that studies indicate indoor air pollutants can be two to five times higher than the levels found outside.

Indoor Pollutants

Indoor pollutants such as creosote from stoves and fireplaces and particles from pressed wood products and foam insulation can cause dry skin and skin irritation and rashes. Some steps you can take to reduce the adverse health affects include improving ventilation, allowing more fresh air in from the outdoors, keeping the humidity inside low and using products that emit lower amounts of formaldehyde.

Outdoor Pollutants

Air pollutants can erode the ozone layer, allowing ultraviolet radiation from the sun to come through the upper layer of the atmosphere. Not only can this lead to skin cancer, free radicals and pollutants absorbed through the skin can affect your entire body by damaging cells and causing other diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s.

Premature Aging

Air pollutants rob skin cells of oxygen, which can make the skin look dull and sagging. As you get older the body’s ability to fight free radicals diminishes. Unfortunately, pollutants increase the number of free radicals in the air. This in combination with UV radiation decreases the production of skin collagen, causing the skin to lose elasticity. Loss of elastin gives skin a rougher texture and fine lines begin to appear.


A study published the January 2009 issue of “American Journal of Epidemiology” suggests a link between air pollution and skin rashes. French researchers found that when air pollution levels in urban areas are higher, more individuals see doctors for complaints of respiratory problems, skin rashes and headaches. The study confirmed a potential correlation between air pollution and allergies other than those associated with respiratory diseases. Skin rashes related to atopic dermatitis and eczema were related to particulate matter and ozone levels in the air.


If you live in an area known for smog and air pollution, make it a habit to listen to the weather forecast. On days when meteorologists call for poor air quality conditions, wear long-sleeved shirts when you go outdoors. This will help keep air pollution particles off your skin. Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter and vacuum regularly to clean up particles of dust that settle in carpet and on other household surfaces. Keep air conditioner filters clean so they can trap pollutants blown indoors. Put on sunscreen before going outdoors, even in the wintertime.