Air pollution is pretty insidious – it impacts the entire body, and every one of the body’s systems. This includes the skin. The skin, as part of the integumentary system is an organ system consisting of the skin, hair, nails, and exocrine glands. The skin is only a few millimeters thick, yet is by far the largest organ in the body and one of the most susceptible to environmental conditions.
In our business we see a lot of people who are seeking help for skin that is suffering from signs of distress due to air pollution. This is more true in markets that have lower quality air. The TSLMS, as an organization, has its finger on the pulse of skin and how to help everyone with the issues that people face.
What is Air Pollution
While there are many different sources of information on air pollution, many of them have political angles that can be misleading. We sorted through this to look only to scientific and medical sites from which we are pulling this information.
As National Geographic explains, there are both indoor and outdoor air pollutants that can impact human health. Most of these are man-made, though some are related to pollen, dust and other strictly natural causes. However most air pollution of concern is linked to chemicals and particulate matter that is small enough to be suspended in the air. Air pollution is linked to disease and is considered to be a major global health hazard worldwide.
Air pollution has been linked to higher rates of cancer, heart disease, stroke, and respiratory diseases such as asthma. In the U.S. nearly 134 million people—over 40 percent of the population—are at risk of disease and premature death because of air pollution, according to American Lung Association estimates.
Evaluating Air Quality
The US Environmental Protection Agency runs the Air Quality Index, which tells Americans whether any particular air pollutant exceeds the acceptable levels. Keep in mind that those levels are set for the average person, and even what is acceptable to most can still impact part of the population that is more susceptible:
An index for reporting daily air quality. It tells you how clean or polluted your air is, and what associated health effects might be a concern for you. The AQI focuses on health effects you may experience within a few hours or days after breathing polluted air. EPA calculates the AQI for five major air pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act: ground-level ozone, particle pollution (also known as particulate matter), carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. For each of these pollutants, EPA has established national air quality standards to protect public health. Ground-level ozone and airborne particles are the two pollutants that pose the greatest threat to human health in this country.
How Does the AQI Work?
Think of the AQI as a yardstick that runs from 0 to 500. The higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution and the greater the health concern. For example, an AQI value of 50 represents good air quality with little potential to affect public health, while an AQI value over 300 represents hazardous air quality. An AQI value of 100 generally corresponds to the national air quality standard for the pollutant, which is the level EPA has set to protect public health. AQI values below 100 are generally thought of as satisfactory. When AQI values are above 100, air quality is considered to be unhealthy-at first for certain sensitive groups of people, then for everyone as AQI values get higher.
In the United States, cities that are most impacted by air pollution, and thus the cities that we would expect to see the greatest impacts of air pollution, are listed by types of pollutant. As reported in April, 2019, by The Weather Channel News reported that there is a trend of worsening pollution which is making more people sick:
The 20th annual ‘State of the Air’ report shows clear evidence of a disturbing trend in our air quality after years of making progress: In many areas of the United States, the air quality is worsening, at least in part because of wildfires and weather patterns fueled by climate change,” American Lung Association President and CEO Harold Wimmer said in a news release. “This increase in unhealthy air is eye-opening, and points to the reality that the nation must do more to protect the public from serious, even life-threatening harm.”
The rankings in terms of worst air per category include much of southern California, The San Francisco area, Phoenix, Houston, New York-Newark, New York–New Jersey-Connecticut-Pennsylvania, Fairbanks, Pittsburgh-New Castle-Weirton, Cleveland-Akron-Canton, Ohio, Medford-Grants Pass, Oregon, Missoula, Yakima, Seattle-Tacoma and Salt Lake City-Provo-Orem, Utah. As such, we can expect to see the largest number of pollution related skin-issues in these markets.
Air Quality Impacts the Skin
In 2017 the National Institutes of Health published an article outlining the effects of air pollution on the skin. The review lists and covers many of the typical pollutants that people face and how those damage our skin:
Ultraviolet radiation, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, oxides, particulate matter, ozone and cigarette smoke affect the skin as it is the outermost barrier. Air pollutants damage the skin by inducing oxidative stress. Although human skin acts as a biological shield against pro-oxidative chemicals and physical air pollutants, prolonged or repetitive exposure to high levels of these pollutants may have profound negative effects on the skin. Exposure to ultraviolet radiation has been associated with extrinsic skin aging and skin cancers. Cigarette smoke contributes to premature aging and an increase in the incidence of psoriasis, acne and skin cancers. It is also implicated in allergic skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis and eczema. Polyaromatic hydrocarbons are associated with extrinsic skin aging, pigmentation, cancers and acneiform eruptions. Volatile organic compounds have been associated with atopic dermatitis.
Learning more about environmental health and its impacts on skin will help us all become better practitioners. We look forward to continuing to share information and studies with you as they emerge and are hoping to see you at SCALE 2019 Music City where this will be a topic of discussion for many, given its placement in the current news cycle. See you there.