I had the opportunity the other day to choose between taking the bus, catching a taxi or walking to work and I chose the latter option in an attempt to be healthier. After puffing and choking through giant clouds of exhaust fumes for the duration of the 20 minute walk, I started wondering whether it was indeed the healthier option.
Is there a study looking at pollution and the skin?
The Sunday Times reported in November 2014 a study funded by Olay® which showed that damage from air pollution caused the skin of women living in urban areas to age faster than that of their rural counterparts.
[Effects of air pollution on skin: Clinical assessment of skin differences between urban and rural residents in Beijing. Data presented at the 10th Annual Conference of the Chinese Dermatologist Association, 7th November 2014.]
This study looked at several aspects of skin health and appearance of over 200 women across the least and most polluted districts of Beijing while simultaneously recording their lifestyle choices.
The study found that despite making better lifestyle choices such as cleansing routines, increasing water consumption and greater skin care product usage, the subjects living in more highly polluted districts had significantly worse skin hydration than subjects living in the districts with cleaner air. There were also lower levels of other biomarkers which indicated worse skin barrier function in the urban subjects.
Oh my goodness! But surely there are other factors to play aswell?
It is well known that certain environmental factors accelerate the onset of skin ageing. Chronic sun exposure is well known to do this.
[Akiba S, Shinkura R, Miyamoto K et al. Influence of chronic UV exposure and lifestyle on facial skin photo-ageing – results from a pilot study. J Epidemiol 1999; 9: S136-42.]
It has also been shown that patients with paler skin have a significantly faster rate of persistent wrinkling compared with subjects with darker skin. It is thought that this is due to 15-times more protection against UV-induced sun damage in darker skin types than paler skin types or perhaps due to higher skin elasticity.
[Hillebrand GG, Liang Z, Yan X et al. New wrinkles on wrinkling: an 8-year longitudinal study on the progression of expression lines into persistent wrinkles. Br J Dermatol 2010; 162: 1233-41.]
[Brenner M, Hearing VJ. The protective role of melanin against UV damage in human skin. Photochem Photobiol 2008; 84: 4359-49.]
[Rawlings AV. Ethnic skin types: are there differences in skin structure and function? Int J Cosmet Sci 2006; 28: 79-93.]
Smoking also accelerates skin ageing.
[Helfrich YR, Yu L, Ofori A et al. Effect of smoking on aging of photoprotected skin : evidence gathered using a new photonumeric scale. Arch Dermatol 2007; 143: 397-402.]
[Schroder P, Schieke SM, Morita A. Premature skin aging by infrared radiation, tobacco smoke and ozone. In: Gilchrest BA, Krutmann J (eds) Skin Aging 2006. Springer: New York, p45-55.]
There has, however, been another study looking at the effect of pollution on skin ageing which took into account smoking history, skin type, history of sunbed use and number of episodes of sunburn.
[Vierkotter A, Schikowski T, Ranft U et al. Airborne particle exposure and extrinsic skin aging. J Invest Dermatol 2010; 130; 2719-26.]
They looked at clinical signs of skin aging such as brown spots (lentigos), fine and coarse wrinkles (solar elastosis) and red blotches (telangiectasiae) in 400 elderly northern European women of fair skin type (Fitzpatrick skin type I-II) and compared this with exposure to airborne particles ie pollution.
They found that despite controlling for factors such as sun exposure history, smoking history, age, body mass index and use of hormone replacement therapy, airborne particles did contribute to signs of skin ageing.
However, if I were in faced with the decision to walk or take the bus or taxi in the future, I’m afraid I am still undecided. I enjoyed the good feeling from walking and perhaps on another day there won’t be so many buses and cars waiting at junctions on my route!
Dr Sandy Flann, Consultant Dermatologist