It isn’t just the sun that damages skin

When we think about the ways that our skin could pose a risk to our health, it is usually related to skin cancer or sun damage – pollution is probably more likely to be associated with lung issues. But a recent study has indicated that our skin could be absorbing damaging chemicals from the air and that this could lead to a number of problems with our health. Furthermore, simply covering up could be an important step toward caring for our damaged skin in more ways than one.

Pollution and skin

The study which was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives took six men and put them into a room with high levels of phthalates, for six hours at a time while they wore only shorts (exposing their skin to the higher than average pollution levels). The experiment was carried out once again with a breathing hood to ensure that the results were based only on skin absorption. The participants were also asked to stop using products on their skin that may contain phthalates or eating foods that could contain the chemicals.

The study found that absorption of the chemicals through the skin was actually up to 80% greater than by breathing alone, indicating that the skin can be a major pathway for pollutants that gain access to our body. While the results were based on abnormally high levels of the pollutants, it does offer some indication of the damage that pollution can do via our skin.

What are phthalates?

Phthalates are a range of chemicals that are added to plastics to make them more flexible and are widely used. They are known to enter the food chain and are common in the urine of most people who live in the west. Some studies have shown that elevated levels of these chemicals can lead to diabetes or respiratory illnesses although it is not known what levels are safe in the human body.

Protecting the skin

Of course, there really isn’t much that can be done to avoid pollution entering our body via our largest organ – the skin. But it is possible to look after our skin to avoid too many chemicals. This could mean avoiding the sun rather than using excessive amounts of sunscreens or maybe looking for one that is natural and free from harsh chemicals. 

The aim is to look after our skin to avoid melanoma and other damage that occurs when we expose our skin to risks. Simply covering up could protect us in two ways – from exposure to pollution and to the sun. It makes even more sense to keep our skin covered by clothing whenever we are outside.

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