Is Pollution Making You Age Faster?

By: Jackie Dutkanych

Our bodies are exposed to pollution in the air on a day-to-day basis. How is pollution affecting us and could it cause health implications for us later in life? Depending on where you live, you will experience various levels of pollution in their daily life. NCBI has said that 10% of adults live in an area that has unsafe air quality due to the high levels of PM2.5. Exposure to PM2.5 has been known to cause various health implications to the brain, body and skin. Some of these adverse health issues are high blood pressure, cholesterol and links to obesity. This is defined as a high biological risk score. Overall, being exposed to poor quality air–high levels of PM2.5 has  increased the aging population. Traffic-related air pollution and the effects on aging skin has been studied by NCBI, and found that even the warming trend in global temperatures can be a cause of a faster aging population. 

Our skin starts to age faster when consistently being exposed to heavy metals, smoke and pollution. It can cause premature aging of the skin due to the free radicals in the air. Free radicals compromise the skin’s natural barrier; and that barrier protects us against impurities, dirt, and and micro contaminants. Our skin is a vulnerable organ and being exposed to strong environmental stressors can cause cell damage. When this barrier is striped, it causes the typical signs of aging skin– like wrinkles. The disruptive effects of pollution on skin causes the skin to have a decreased ability to repair damage, cuts and wounds (think: age spots, uneven skin tone, thinning of the epidermal layer, decreased elasticity). 

In the body, pollution exposure leads to inflammation, increased risk of arteries clogging, and disease. Researchers studied the effects on exposure to pollutants in the air caused by cigarette smoke, concluding that there is a link between inhalation of particles in cigarettes can lead to degenerative disorders and diseases. The pollution from cigarette smoke increases inflammation in the body, even for second handers. Inflammation in the body can lead to a long list of health concerns including increased risk of heart disease and arthritis. The pollution causes human arteries to age faster, causing an increase in fatty plaques which can in turn cause your arteries to clog. While it also increases the production of amyloid plaques, which is linked to Alzheimer’s disease. These health implications can affect individuals that are concerned about second-hand smokers. 

In the brain, pollutants in the air can cause negative effects in development. Exposure to PM2.5 can cause cognitive impairments and poorer cognitive performance. Researchers were able to identify a link between pollution and cognitive decline. There was a relationship between air pollution and dementia related outcomes are due to the rapid cognitive decline. Pollution can cause cell and tissue death, making you more vulnerable to environmental stressors. Although, these implications are from long exposure to heavy metals and pollution in the air.

While these effects may be concerning, there are many steps an individual can take to help protect themselves from damaging impact of air pollution.

Some of these solutions, for preventing pollution from affecting your skin, are: 

  • Protect yourself with skincare products including daily use of sunscreen and products that have been clinically studied to protect your skin’s natural barrier against air pollution
  • Using antioxidants products and making sure you are getting enough daily consumption of antioxidants from your diet 

Other solutions, for preventing pollution from affecting your body and brain, are: 

  • Checking your daily air pollution forecasts
  • Avoiding exercising in high-traffic areas and when pollution levels are high
  • Use an air purifier in your home and work environment
  • Avoiding smoke (even secondhand smoke, when possible)
  • Close your car windows when in high-traffic areas

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