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Pollution - The enemy of great skin!

by Thomas Moran |

Air Pollution and Your Skin – an Anti-Aging Introduction

Air Pollution: Enemy of Your Skin

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently announced a major milestone in air pollution, and it is not the kind of milestone one hopes for!  The air we breathe, that touches our skin every day, is getting worse, not better!  In 2013, the WHO published Carbon Dioxide Level Unseen in Human History.

Air Pollution is just a problem in large 3rd world cities, right?

The WHO estimates that more than 3 million people per year die premature deaths due to urban air pollution, and some estimates put that closer to 6 million.  This does not even include the several million per year who die from indoor cooking fires.  And if you look at the risk heat maps produced by the WHO, you’ll see certainly that Africa, China, India are much worse off than most of the rest of the world.  However, even in the US, per data from both WHO and the UN Office on Drugs & Crime, you are 5-7x more likely to die from an air pollution-related death than murder.  Yep, seriously.  And as more and more of our tropical rainforests disappear, such as the Amazon, the Atlantic Rainforest, etc., the ability of the planet to deal with this pollution diminishes, and we are losing the battle. 

What is the impact of increasing air pollution?

As urban air quality declines, the risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma, increases for the people who live in them. Studies even show increased prevalence towards depression and other neurobehavioral These fine particulates also affect your skin, penetrating deep, and causing everything from rashes and eczema outbreaks to premature aging and wrinkles.  In fact, it is estimated that more people die per year of air pollution related causes than are diagnosed with UV-related skin cancers, and it is becoming an increasing issue.  Note that seem people will also consider UVR as an “air pollutant”.  There are a few key types of air-pollution – VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds), Ozone, Cigarette Smoke, PM (Particulate Matter), and PAHs (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons). 

On a personal note, let’s talk about skin…

To start, remember that the job of your skin is to function as a barrier to protect the rest of your body.  Anything that compromises your skin, compromises the rest of your health as well.  Most skin damage from air pollution is primarily through oxidation (For this post, I am mostly ignoring respiratory and systemic health concerns, pulmonary function, etc.).  It causes two primary issues – dehydration and compromise of the skin’s protective barrier.  These in turn can lead to rough, dry skin, hives, eczema, acne, premature aging and other skin problems.  Small particulates, bound with dangerous PAHs, can absorb THROUGH the skin, causing many of those effects already discussed, and in fact, many of these pollutants work together, along with UV Rays, to do even more damage than they would by themselves.  The nano-sized PMs are among the most dangerous, and contribute greatly to deeper wrinkles and pigmentation spots. All of these free radicals deplete oxygen in your skin cells and reduce collagen production, leading to even more wrinkles.  The key to your anti-aging routine starts with anti-oxidants, which are the major weapon in the fight against free radicals and oxidization.  Beauty companies are just starting to realize how bad of an effect pollution has on the skin.  Whereas UV protection has been the mantra for many years, only a few companies have started to venture into anti-pollution products, such as Olay, Dior, Avon, Teadora (image below of Teadora’s Anti-Pollution Facial Mist), SkinCeuticals, among others.

  Teadora's new Anti-Pollution Facial Mist

What can I personally do about air pollution?

The greatest part of air pollution is not something the average person can do anything about, by themselves.  Cities and governments need to be responsible for the kinds of change needed, the switch to renewable energy sources, etc.  But as an individual, there are still many things you can do that in aggregate make a massive difference!

1.     Indoor air pollution is a big deal too!  Hairsprays, household cleaning products, painting supplies, etc. all combine to create indoor pollution.  Make sure you are checking out the ingredients on things like household cleaning supplies, for example.  Look for brands like Seventh Generation, Ecover, etc.

2.     Lobby your government representatives, and make your voice known.  There are many ways to do this:

a.       Write an email or a letter.  You can find contact info for your elected representative at - Then, get out and vote! 

b.       Check out organizations like Care2 and Rainforest Action Network, who often distribute petitions to sign, or even start your own petition!  The whitehouse even has an area for citizen feedback/petitions, so use it!

3.     Change your buying habits. 

a.       Eat less beef.  Not only do massive amounts of rainforest get bulldozed to make room for cattle, much of the feed is from massive corn and soy plantations that are situated on previously lush rainforest tracts.

b.       Look for packaging that includes FSC (Forest Stewardship Council).  This is a certification for wood and paper in partnership with the Rainforest Alliance that certifies the materials come from well-managed forests.

c.       Don’t buy tropical wood – teak and mahogany can be particularly common.  Ask your furniture or wood provider where the wood came from.  Use bamboo as a great, durable and sustainable replacement for your next hardwood floor.

d.       When looking for a new company to do business with, try starting at  B Corp certifies companies that are good for the world, and one of the areas they evaluate is environmental impact. 

4.     Use renewable energy.  Find out from your utility program how much of their energy is renewable.  Many will allow you to even specify that you want renewable energy.  Take a bike somewhere, use a bus, train or other mass transit.  Try a carpool occasionally, or working from home a day a week. 

5.   Support your rainforest non-profits.  They are working super hard to make a better world for the rest of us!  And they may face a few hard years in the near future. 

Pollution is one of the most deadly issues on the planet.  It harms us in many different ways, but we can all do something about it.  From protecting our skin to changing our buying habits to mobilizing and ensuring government knows what is important to us - we are not victims.


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