Air pollution causes wrinkles and premature ageing, new research shows

Air pollution is prematurely ageing the faces of city
dwellers by accelerating wrinkles and age spots, according to emerging
scientific research.

The effects of toxic fumes on skin are being seen in both
western cities, such as London and New York, as well as in more visibly
polluted Asian cities and in some cases may be the primary cause of ageing. The
pollution is also being linked to worsening skin conditions such as eczema and

The scientific discoveries are now driving the world’s
biggest cosmetics companies to search for solutions, including medicine-like
compounds that directly block the biological damage. But doctors warn that some
common skin care routines, such as scrubs, make the damage from air pollution
even worse.

Poisonous air is already known to cause millions of early
deaths from lung and heart diseases and has been linked to diabetes and mental
health problems. But perhaps its most visible impact, the damage caused to
skin, is just beginning to be understood.

“With traffic pollution emerging as the single most toxic
substance for skin, the dream of perfect skin is over for those living and
working in traffic-polluted areas unless they take steps to protect their skin
right now,” said Dr Mervyn Patterson, a cosmetic doctor at Woodford Medical
clinics in the UK.

“Unless people do more they will end up wearing the
pollution on their faces in 10 years’ time. It is definitely something people
now need to take seriously.”

Nitrogen dioxide diffusion tube for air quality monitoring.By Etan J. Tal, via Wikimedia Commons.
Prof Jean Krutmann, director at the Leibniz Research
Institute for Environmental Medicine in Germany, said: “UV [damage from the
sun] was really the topic in skin protection for the last 20-30 years. Now I
think air pollution has the potential to keep us busy for the next few

Air pollution in urban areas, much of which comes from
traffic, includes tiny particles called PMs, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and
chemicals such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). “What is very clear
is that PMs are a problem for skin,” said Krutmann, whose work has shown PMs
increase age spots and wrinkles.

But one of the his newest studies showed NO2 also increases
ageing. They studied people in both Germany and China and discovered that age
spots on their cheeks increased by 25% with a relatively small increase in
pollution, 10 microgrammes of NO2 per cubic metre. Many parts of the UK have
illegally high levels of NO2, with London breaking its annual limit in the
first week of 2016, with levels reaching over 200 microgrammes of NO2 per cubic

Krutmann said other factors, such as UV exposure, nutrition
and smoking contribute to ageing: “But what we can say is that, at least for
the pigment spots on the cheeks, it seems air pollution is the major driver.”

“It is not a problem that is limited to China or India – we
have it in Paris, in London, wherever you have larger urban agglomerations you
have it,” he said. “In Europe everywhere is so densely populated and the
particles are being distributed by the wind, so it is very difficult to escape
from the problem.”

The accelerated skin ageing was seen in relatively young
people and Patterson said: “If you are seeing these changes in middle age,
these are worrying trends.”

Other recent research is summed up in a review paper in the
journal Frontiers in Environmental Science, which concluded: “Prolonged or
repetitive exposure to high levels of these [air] pollutants may have profound
negative effects on the skin.”

Understanding exactly how air pollution causes the skin
damage is at an early stage, according to Krutmann: “We are just now dipping
into the mechanisms.” But many of the pollutants are known to pass easily
through the skin and cause a variety of impacts.

“These agents have a very irritating effect and once they
get into the skin, they activate multiple pathways of inflammation,” said
Patterson. “Some pathways ignite the melanocytes, which create far too much
pigment and end up giving you unwanted sun spots.”

“Other pathways ignite messengers that make blood vessels
grow, that’s what results in increased redness and potentially rosacea,” he
said. “Also, if you damage skin, it goes into repair mode and excites enzymes
which re-adsorb damaged collagen. When you have too much chronic inflammation,
these enzymes remove more collagen than your skin can create. This produces
skin laxity and that’s where fine lines and wrinkles come in.”

Dr Debra Jaliman, a skin expert based in New York City, says
her patients are now worrying about the impact of air pollution on their skin,
which she said can cause darkening of the skin and acne-like eruptions, as well
as ageing.

“At the moment, there are not many products for prevention
[of air pollution damage], however it may be a trend in the coming years as it
becomes a much bigger issue,” she said.

Major beauty companies have begun their own research and are
launching the first products formulated to battle skin damage from toxic air.
Dr Frauke Neuser, senior scientist for Olay, a Procter and Gamble brand, has
run studies showing significantly lower skin hydration in people living in
polluted areas and lab studies showing that diesel fumes and PMs cause
inflammation in skin cells.

Her team then screened for ingredients that could counteract
some of the damaging effects. “We found niacinamide – vitamin B3 – to be
particularly effective,” she said. “We have recently increased its level in
several products by as much as 40%.”

Frauke’s work has also shown direct correlations between
spikes in PM air pollution in Beijing and an increase in hospital visits by
people with skin conditions including hives. “This indicates that not only skin
ageing but also skin health are affected by air pollution,” she said.

L’Oreal, another cosmetics giant, published a medical study
in 2015 showing that eczema and hives were more common in people in Mexico
exposed to higher levels of air pollution, a conclusion supported by separate
research in Canada. “The next step is to understand more deeply the
environment-induced damages, in order to develop skin ageing prevention
routines and products,” said Dr Steve Shiel, scientific director at L’Oreal.

Clinique, a big makeup brand, has already launched a sonic
face cleansing brush it claims better removes pollution. “This [air pollution] is
not going to go away. This is not a problem that is easily fixed,” said Janet
Pardo at Clinique.

However, researchers are now working on medicine-like
compounds that block the damage from air pollution from occurring in the first
place. Krutmann’s lab helped Symrise, one of the world’s biggest suppliers of
cosmetics ingredients, identify one, though the lab has no commercial stake in
the product, which is called SymUrban.

“We found one molecule that can do the job,” he said, and it
is now being registered as cosmetic ingredient. “In a few years from now I
expect we will see cosmetic products that can specifically protect against skin
ageing from air pollution.”

Patterson said it is possible for people to give themselves
some protection now. “You don’t have to sit back passively and put up with it.
You can take sensible, easy steps that will make a difference.”

“If your skin is really healthy, it is quite a good
barrier,” he said, explaining that the top layer is like a roof – flattened
cells like tiles separated by protective lipids.

“Certain skin care products are very disruptive to the
surface of the skin,” he warned. “So a darling of the industry is retinoids,
but these have a very profound negative effect on barrier function. Another
darling of the industry is glycolic acid, but it is also very disruptive to the
external skin barrier. People think these are good skin care, making the skin
look smoother, but they are not helpful for the overall health of the skin

Patterson is also dismissive of face scrubs: “The skin is
trying its damnedest to make this wonderful defence mechanism and what do women
and men do? They scrub the hell out of it. It just doesn’t make sense.” He said
products that help repair the skin barrier, by delivering the pre-cursor lipids
the cells need, are beneficial, as are ones that tackle inflammation.

“You can also put on a very nice physical shield in the form
of good quality mineral makeup,” he said. “That produces an effect like a
protective mesh and probably has some trapping effect, protecting against the
initial penetration of particles. But you also need always to try to remove
that shield in the evening, washing the slate clean every night.”

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Posted on July 19, 2016, in Useful Information. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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