Is the place you live making you age prematurely?


Have you ever noticed how your skin sometimes changes with change in location? How well rested and rejuvenated it can look in one place, and then how unexplainably horrible it can be in another, especially in bigger cities?

Whenever I’m in Norway it doesn’t take long before I notice a difference in my skin and hair quality compared to especially London. In London I tend to take on a ashy sheer, (think 20 years- of smoking-gray) I look tired, a.k.a my dark circles seem more profound, and my skin turns super dry over night. All of this seems to happen within 24h after touchdown. NOT COOL. I do combat it as much as possible by use of exfoliants and moisturizing masks, but find my self reaching for concealers and tinted moisturizers far more often here, than anywhere else.

ROKer, Arvin, asked the question of weather air pollution levels could affect the appearance of the skin:

“Out of interest I want to know the effect on climate and the surroundings on skin. My skin hates London, but gets by just fine in Hungary”

This is something; I’ve been waiting to investigate myself.

I’ll choose to focus on pollution in this post, as I think the biggest difference in regard to skin health between locations, is pollution levels.

Skin aging happens both through exterior triggers-extrinsic aging (UV-radiation, smoking, diet, and pollution) and through internal triggers-intrinsic aging, which are governed by our internal clock so to speak. It is scientifically accepted that pollution, will have physical effect on our skin, so lets have a look at what science says:

  1. Skin Absorbs pollution - much like your lungs do, and so is able to exert effects within your skin directly, without having to be taken up by the lungs first.
  2. Ozone depletion increases UVB reach- for every 1% decrease in ozone there is a 2% increase in UVB irradiance, and therefore a 2% increase in skin cancer is predicted. Goldsmith et al.In highly polluted areas the ozone layer will appear thinner, exposing skin to increased harmful radiation effects, including inflammatory processes and DNA damage.

  3. Pollution generates reactive oxygen species (free radicals) - and thus accelerates inflammation, and destruction of skin vital proteins leading to skin aging. A significant association has been found between traffic-related airborne particles and signs of extrinsic skin aging. Vierkötter et al.Where higher PM(particular matter) background concentrations were associated with more pigment spots on the face and more pronounced nasolabial folds. Free radicals attack cells and damage DNA, and both air and water pollution can strip skin of moisture, causing discoloration, fine lines and wrinkles.[source 1="<;a" 2="2="2="2="2="href="">;WebMD<;/a>;""""" language=":"][/source]


  4. Ozone reacts with and reduces skin fatty acid- squaline the single most abundant unsaturated constituent of skin lipids, and several unsaturated fatty acids in their free or esterified forms. Quantitative product analysis confirms that squalene is the major scavenger of ozone at the interface between room air and the human envelope. Wisthaler et al.This implies (by my own reasoning) that by exposure to increased levels of ozone in polluted areas, skin fatty acids will be reduced per reacting with ozone particles, resulting in a skin less able to withhold moisture, and so will appear dry and saggy.

  5. Ozone reduces already present antioxidants- The major targets of ozone in the skin are the superficial epidermal layers; this results in the depletion of antioxidants such as alpha-tocopherol (vita- min E) and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) in the superficial epidermal layers. This reduces the protective properties of skin against other environmental assaults, such as UV-radiation, and leaves it more prone to the aging processes initiated by them. Vitamin C is also vital in the production of collagens, and thus the cumulative effect antioxidant depletion is premature aging.
  6. Smog clogs pores and can cause acne breakouts- dirt and dust in the air can clog pores, cause acne and give skin a dull, gray appearance.
  7. Increased pollution levels are associated to increased skin cancers- this is mostly due to the fact that reduction in ozone layers increases UVB reach as outlined above, but ozone it self has carcinogenic potential on skin.

    So there you have it! 7 reasons why I look like absolute shit when I'm here! (London that is).

    I had a look at pollution levels in my city of residence in Norway compared to London, and it comes as no surprise, that there's a difference in levels measured today of: 100 ug/m3 more of nitrogen-oxide in London, a 10 ug/m3 difference of more PM10 in London, and a 40 ug/m3 difference of more PM2.5 levels in London. There's no measure for ozone and sulphur-dioxide levels from my Norwegian source, so I have no means of assessing the difference in those emissions, but I'm guessing they would be lower too.

    As I was rummaging through the World Wide Web trying to find information on this topic, I found that not a lot of research has been performed on pollution and it's skin effects yet, although environmental research is a super popular field of study these days. We are moving away from thinking of extrinsic aging as synonymous with photo-aging, and other factors such as diet, and stress-levels are getting more coverage. I would however, like to see more research be performed on pollution in regards to skin and aging, as that much is clear: It does have vast damaging effects, some more instant, while others will become evident as time goes by.

    Kerry Pack, spokesperson for StriVectin states:

    "The free radicals generated from auto emissions, smoke, industrial pollutants- may have more to do with premature wrinkles than sun-damage."

    A bold statement indeed. Only time (and more research) will tell if she's right.

    Thank you Arvin for posting such an interesting question! I'll revisit this question at a later date regarding climate and also regional differences in water quality.


Airborne Particle Exposure and Extrinsic Skin Aging

Andrea Vierkötter1, Tamara Schikowski1,2, Ulrich Ranft1, Dorothea Sugiri1, Mary Matsui3, Ursula Krämer1,4 and Jean Krutmann1,4

Journal of Investigative Dermatology (2010) 130, 2719–2726; doi:10.1038/jid.2010.204; published online 22 July 2010

Reactions of ozone with human skin lipids: Sources of carbonyls, dicarbonyls, and hydroxycarbonyls in indoor air

  1. Armin Wisthalera and
  2. Charles J. Weschlerb

PNAS April 13, 2010 vol. 107 no. 15 6568-6575

Skin aging

N. Puizina-Ivi}

Acta Dermatoven APA Vol 17, 2008, No 2