Living in a city with high air pollution not only aggravates asthma and causes lung problems; it may also be causing fast aging of the skin. The finding comes courtesy of British skincare company, Caci, and focuses on a type of substance making up this “toxic air” known as PM2.5.
In Brief: PM2.5
When talking about pollution, PM stands for “particulate matter” and is an umbrella term for various types of airborne particles. PM2.5 refers to matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers, while PM10 is the term for matter between 2.5 and 10 micrometers.
Generally speaking, PM2.5 particles come from any activities that involve combustion, from motor vehicle engines to power plants to burning wood. Prior research has found that PM2.5 can be absorbed into the skin and is capable of breaking down collagen and otherwise dulling the complexion.
The Caci Study
Although Caci’s research does not appear to be publicly available at the time of this writing, there is some information on the findings. The researchers looked at the habits of a group of Londoners and found that daily commuting activities, especially walking along busy roads, raised the rate at which PM2.5 was absorbed. By age 40, the air pollution would have caused the Londoners’ skin to age an extra year. Afterwards, the rate seems to shift and the skin begins to age six extra months for every decade of exposure.
The Caci researchers compared their findings to past studies out of Dusseldorf and Beijing. Based on the comparison, they calculated that a Londoner in their 60s would have skin about two-and-a-half years older than someone of the same age who had been living in the countryside.
What This Means
Since the Caci study doesn’t seem to be available for reading or evaluation, it’s hard to tell how reliable the cosmetics company’s findings are. However, the idea that air pollution could cause faster aging of the skin is not new and does have support. For instance, one 2010 study also found that air pollution was correlated to skin aging, noting potential links between increases in soot particles and higher rates of pigmentation spots.
Whether any one component of the urban “toxic air” can be blamed more than others is up for debate, but the evidence seems to suggest PM2.5, if not outright responsible, is at least involved in the process.
Vierkötter, A., et al., “Airborne Particle Exposure and Extrinsic Skin Aging,” Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 2010; http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/jid.2010.204
“Fine Particle Designations Frequent Questions,” EPA web site, last updated February 23, 2016; https://www3.epa.gov/pmdesignations/faq.htm#0, last accessed August 15, 2016.