Air pollution – the modern-day curse for our skin.


Prof. Jean Krutmann (director at Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine in Germany), highlights a shift in what’s important regarding skin protection within the last 20-30 years. UV damage from the sun use to take the spotlight; these days, however, the potential dangers of air pollution on the skin is gradually creeping onto everybody’s radar. The scientific community is realising the harmful affects it has on our skin.

Krutmann quotes “air pollution has the potential to keep us busy for the next few decades.” & it would do; with the increase in urbanization and industrialization.

Environmental tech firm Plume Labs found that Central London has already breached EU nitrogen dioxide limits on 127 days since New Year’s Day 2018, which means that 80% of the time, illegal levels of toxic air are cloaking Oxford Street.

What does this mean for our skin?

Air pollution is essentially anything that enters the air that wouldn’t otherwise be there – chemical, physical or biological agents. It contains microscopic contaminants – polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which assists the production of free radicals. Free radicals strip the skin of its natural lipid barrier and as a result, moisture levels are disrupted, and dirt and impurities cannot be kept out as efficiently.

Studies have shown that a severe outdoor urban pollution favours aggravation of skin aging in comparison to a moderately polluted region. With panels judging the facial appearance of women from the more severely polluted area as less radiant, duller, less healthy and generally found they looked older than those from the less polluted region, (Frederic et al., 2018).

Not to fret; there is ongoing research that reveal how Chemical Engineers contribute to a more sustainable and healthier world, with just an example – turning plant waste into fuel to reduce CO2 emissions in the atmosphere.

But what can WE do?

In this modern-day, we must adapt our skincare regime to protect it from the continuous harmful discoveries it has on our skin. Incorporating skin care products with ingredients such as retinoid, vitamin c, vitamin e and peptides into your daily skincare regime can counter the harmful effects of

pollution. Brands have launched anti-pollution skin care ranges to make it easier for consumers to identify, with Khiels, Shiseido and REN, just to name a few.


Frederic, F. et al. (2018) ‘A severe chronic outdoor urban pollution alters some facial aging signs in Chinese women. A tale of two cities’, International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 40(2), pp. 103–206. doi: 10.1111/ics.12487.