Pollution and skin


Atmospheric pollution : a danger for the health of your skin.

The synergistic action of environmental pro-oxidants amplifies skin ageing.

Our skin is the major interface between our body and the external environment. It acts as a biological barrier against a range of chemicals and physical environmental pollutants.

It is defined as our first defense against the environment due to its constant exposure to oxidants, including ultraviolet (UV, UVA, UVB), infrared (IR), visible light (VL) and other environmental pollutants. such as fine particles, diesel and domestic exhaust gases and combustion gases from fossil fuels (fuel oil, coal, diesel...), cigarette smoke (CS), halogenated hydrocarbons, heavy metals and ozone (O3 )

Exposure to environmental pro-oxidants leads to the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and the generation of bioactive molecules that damage our skin cells[1].

In China, the number of visits to hospitalization for skin disorders increased during episodes of atmospheric ozone pollution[2]. A recent clinical study has shown that pollution aggravates atopic dermatitis, with Ultra Fine Particles (UFP or UFP) which are suspected of exacerbating the phenomenon of inflammation. In Caucasian women over the age of 70[3], exposure to pollution correlates with signs of skin aging such as dark spots and wrinkles. Although the mechanisms of the effects of pollution on the skin are not yet well known, the different components of pollution have been studied to understand their very harmful effects[4].

The various atmospheric pollutants.

We talk about pollution, but this includes a large number of compounds. It contains atmospheric pollutants from exhaust gases (CO, SO2, hydrocarbons), combustion-related emissions (NO2), ozone formed from pollutants transformed by UV rays. Pollution also includes more or less fine solid particles, of different compositions, and including those of size less than 2.5 micrometers are likely to reach the pulmonary alveoli and the smallest corners of the skin such as pores.

The main substances polluting the atmosphere can be divided schematically into two groups: gases and solid particles (dust, smoke). It is estimated that gases represent 90% of the global masses of pollutants released into the air and particles the remaining 10%.

Air pollution is the result of multiple factors: energy production, intensive agriculture, extractive, metallurgical and chemical industries, road and air traffic, incineration of household and industrial waste, etc. ...

Atmospheric pollutants act at different scales: some gaseous compounds have no effect locally but can disturb the planetary climate balance, while others are particularly virulent for health at local and regional level but have a very limited influence on the atmosphere as a whole.

Atmospheric pollution is particularly prevalent in urbanized areas and in areas of activity, not only as a result of the concentration of industries and domestic households, but also due to vehicle traffic engine. The spread of large agglomerations has as its corollary an ever-increasing need for transport.

There are also tropical vegetation fires from slash-and-burn agriculture, which release soot, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide. This pollution is still one of the most important.

Pollution is therefore a multiple and complex phenomenon comprehend as a whole.


Air pollutants and their impact on the skin.



Effects on the skin


Nitrogen oxide NOx

NOx = NO + NO2


All combustions at high temperatures of fossil fuels (coal, fuel oil, gasoline). The nitric oxide NO emitted by the exhaust pipes oxidizes in the air and is transformed into nitrogen dioxide NO2 which is 90% a secondary pollutant


Increase in the appearance of pigment spots

(+10 µm3 -> +25% pigment spots)


Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs)




Incomplete combustion, use of solvents (paints, glues) and degreasers, cleaning products, filling of automobile tanks, cisterns...




Skin cancer (carcinomas) if direct contact[5]




Ozone (O3)


Secondary pollutant, produced in the atmosphere under the effect of solar radiation by complex reactions between certain primary pollutants (NOx, CO, VOC) and main indicator of the intensity of photochemical pollution


Causes the appearance of wrinkles

Causes skin inflammation : the skin is then irritated and reactive





Airborne particles or dust (PM)


Industrial or domestic combustion, diesel and natural road transport (volcanisms, eruptions)


Classified according to their size :

- PM10 diameter < 10 µm (retained in the nose and upper tract)

- PM2.5 diameter < 2.5 µm (penetrate deep into the respiratory tract)



Can cause irritation and allergies



Sulfur dioxide (SO2)


Combustion of fossil fuels (fuel oil, coal, lignite, diesel, etc.)

Nature also emits sulfur products


Alterations of the hydrolipidic film of the skin which causes irritation of the mucous membranes and the skin


Carbon monoxide (CO)



Incomplete combustion (gas, coal, oil or wood) and vehicle exhaust

Responsible for tissue hypoxia (lack of oxygen supply to the tissues) which slows down the metabolism of the skin causing :

- Dull complexion

- Skin aging




Heavy metals, lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, nickel



Come from the combustion of coal, oil, household waste but also from certain industrial processes


Attack the membranes by weakening them.

Reduces tissue oxygenation.



Clinical manifestations of pollution on our skin.

The exposure to an atmosphere laden with ozone and pollutants generates oxidative stress, with an outbreak of free radicals and a reduction in the level of key cutaneous antioxidants such as vitamin E and vitamin C[6].

Overall, the effects of exposure to long term to intensive pollution is manifested in vivo by a loss of radiance, a drop in skin hydration, the eruption of redness or acne and above all premature ageing.

Studies have shown that women living in urban areas have deeper wrinkles and more pigment spots on their faces than women living in the countryside[7].

Pollution would cause an oversecretion of sebum[8], making the skin more oily and prone to imperfections, making the complexion duller, causing premature aging of the skin with deeper wrinkles, more pigment spots and significant skin slackening[ 9]. The cocktail effect of pollutants attacks the membranes of our skin cells, making them more reactive and sensitive, which increases the risk of developing eczema, dermatitis or psoriasis.

Solutions to combat the effects of pollution.

The skin cleansing ritual is an essential part of maintaining healthy skin. The urban lifestyle tends to disturb the essential functions of our skin, make it oilier, duller and more easily prone to blemishes. First of all, it is crucial to clean the skin thoroughly in order to eliminate the particles and debris that settle on our skin, before applying any other care.

Then, we must neutralize the action of pollutants in the skin and protect our cells from oxidative stress.

At Alphascience, we have worked on combinations of active ingredients that will act on most pollutants, their synergistic action with UV rays and oxidative stress:

  • L-ascorbic acid : limits damage to cellular DNA linked to UV[10]. It is a powerful antioxidant.
  • phytic acid : regulates sebum dysregulation due to pollution[11], transforms metals into inert salt[12], neutralizes the effect of PAHs, regulates the production of melanin.
  • Tannic acid : metal chelator[13], acts in synergy with vitamin C and reinforces its antioxidant activity by inhibiting the Fenton reaction.[14]
  • Ginkgo biloba : improves the irrigation of the tissues in order to improve the radiance of the complexion, to compensate for the effects of carbon monoxide.
  • Ferulic Acid : repairs cellular damage caused by UV and contamination[15].

These active ingredients are also powerful antioxidants which act in synergy to neutralize the oxidative stress linked to the combination of UV and pollution.

To go further, it is necessary to measure the impact at the skin cell level of the combination of UV rays and pollution, as well as the effectiveness of active ingredients. The scientific teams of the Alphascience laboratory are in the process of developing an unprecedented clinical study on these subjects.

The author: Alfred MARCHAL, doctor in organic chemistry and MBA, is a recognized international expert in the field of antioxidants and aesthetic medicine. He has 35 years of university experience in R&D in the fields of pharmaceutical organic synthesis and plant protection products. He wrote major articles on his discoveries on vitamin C, vitamin K and hyaluronic acid. He heads the ALPHASCIENCE research department and is a board member of pharmaceutical companies.


  1. Jérémie Soeur*, J-P. Belaïdi, C. Chollet, L. Denat, A. Dimitrov, C. Jones, P. Perez, M. Zanini, O. Zobiri, S. Mezzache, D. Erdmann, G. Lereaux, J. Eilstein, L. Marrot. Photo-pollution stress in skin: Traces of pollutants (PAH and particulate matter) impair redox homeostasis in keratinocytes exposed to UVA1. Journal of Dermatological Science 86 (2017) 162-169.
  2. Jean Krutmann, M.D., Anne Bouloc, M.D., Ph.D., Gabrielle Sore, Ph.D., Bruno A. Bernard, Ph.D. The skin aging exposome. Journal of Dermatological Science 85 (2017) 152–161
  3. Frederic Flament, Roland Bazin, Sabine Laquieze, Virginie Rubert, Elisa Simonpietri, Bertrand Piot, Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology 2013 :6 221–232
  4. Jean Krutmann, M.D., Anne Bouloc, M.D., Ph.D., Gabrielle Sore, Ph.D., Bruno A. Bernard, Ph.D.The skin aging exposome. Journal of Dermatological Science 85 (2017) 152–161
  5. www.thelancet.com/oncology Vol 10 December 2009
  6. Jean Krutmann, M.D., Anne Bouloc, M.D., Ph.D., Gabrielle Sore, Ph.D., Bruno
  7. A. Bernard, Ph.D. The skin aging exposome. Journal of Dermatological Science 85 (2017) 152–161
  8. Jean Krutmann, M.D., Anne Bouloc, M.D., Ph.D., Gabrielle Sore, Ph.D., Bruno A. Bernard, Ph.D. The skin aging exposome. Journal of Dermatological Science 85 (2017) 152–161
  9. Jean Krutmann, Dominique Moyal, Wei Liu, Sanjiv Kandahari, Geun-Soo Lee, Noppakun Nopadon, Leihong Flora Xiang, Sophie Seité, Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology 2017 :10 199–204
  10. Pollution as a Risk Factor for the Development of Melasma and Other Skin Disorders of Facial Hyperpigmentation ‐ Is There a Case to Be Made? Journal of Drug in Dermatology. April 2015. Wendy E. Roberts MD FAAD
  11. Stimulation of collagen gene expression by ascorbic acid in cultured human fibroblasts. A role for lipid peroxidation? M Chojkier, K Houglum, J Solis-Herruzo and D A Brenner Dr Zhong, Soongsil University
  12. Phytic Acid Protective Effect Against Beef Round Muscle Lipid Peroxidation. BEOM JUN LEE, DELOY G. HENDRICKS
  13. Rice-Evans, 1995 and Liyana-Pathirana and Shahidi, 2006
  14. Rice-Evans,1995 and Liyana-Pathirana and Shahidi,2006
  15. Hyung Jin Hahn, Ki Bbeum Kim1, Seunghee Bae, Byung Gon Choi, Sungkwan An, Kyu Joong Ahn, Su Young Kim. Pretreatment of Ferulic Acid protects human dermal fibroblasts against ultraviolet a irridation. Ann Dermatol, Vol.28, No. 6, 2016.
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