Poor Air Quality & Atopic Dermatitis – Is There a Link?

Many of us automatically associate the health impact of air pollution with respiratory problems, but new studies highlight how unmanaged pollution exposure can impact our health far beyond breathing – even our skin (!) In particular, research has found connections between long-term air pollution exposure and atopic dermatitis flare-ups.

What is Atopic Dermatitis?

Typically starting in early childhood, atopic dermatitis is a chronic form of skin inflammation that manifests as red, dry, and itchy skin – sufferers tend to experience periodical flare-ups.

While some atopic dermatitis outbreaks can subside gradually, long-term flare-ups often require prescription medication.

Common Triggers

Irritants such as laundry detergents, hand and body soaps, and shampoos, as well as dust mites, pet dander, pollen, and mold spores, are all known to trigger atopic dermatitis flare-ups. Certain environmental conditions such as cold and dry weather are also considered to be possible agitators.

Of course, while hot and humid weather serves as a relief for some, for others it triggers prickly skin reactions. Skin types and sensitivities vary greatly between people, which is why skincare brands offer such a wide range of remedies and treatments.

But besides all these triggers, could there be other environmental factors at play?

Poor Air Quality Found to Make Atopic Dermatitis Worse

A new cross-sectional study has discovered a possible connection between air pollution from wildfire smoke and an increase in clinic visits for exacerbated atopic dermatitis symptoms. Examining the impact of the 2018 Campfire, researchers found the rates of atopic dermatitis clinic visits in San Francisco increased by 49% for children and 15% for adults during the fire period, compared to weeks with no wildfires.

The researchers also linked a 10-μg/m3 increase in weekly mean PM2.5 – often the dominant pollutant in wildfire smoke – with a 7.7% increase in weekly pediatric itch clinic visits. In addition, they found the rate of prescribed systemic medications for adults increased by 45% during the Campfire period compared to non-fire weeks.

More Studies Highlighting the Pollution Exposure Risk for Skin

A number of other studies have also highlighted the connection between air pollution exposure and skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis and eczema:

  • An 11-year population-based study associated higher annual levels of CO, ammonia, formaldehyde, lead, PM, O3, and NO2 with higher rates of eczema among infants up to 2-years old.
  • A study focused on children 5-years old and younger found that a daily average increase of 10 μg/m3 in PM10 concentration could increase the risk of atopic dermatitis symptoms by 3.2%. A six-day PM10 average increase of 10 μg/m3 raised AD symptom risk by 6.1%.
  • The same study showed pollution exposure could potentially impact girls and boys differently when it came to atopic dermatitis. In particular, they found girls to be more impacted by PM10 exposure, and boys to be more impacted by NO2 and O3 exposure.
  • Evidence from an in-vitro study suggests Particulate Matter pollution can also penetrate deeper skin layers, causing inflammatory responses and inducing oxidative stress.

The Implications: Skincare Brands Turn to the Environment

As new connections are drawn between air pollution and skin conditions, we predict more leaders in this space will look to enter the air quality monitoring and research space.

As individuals react differently to the environment based on a host of factors, we also predict that personalized environmental data and insights will play a bigger role in our skincare of the future.

Leading brands such as L’Oréal, Neutrogena, and Dermalogica are already using personalized environmental insights to communicate with, educate, and improve their offerings in precisely this way. (We explore this in much more detail here).

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Tamir Kessel
Tamir Kessel

Head of Business & Corporate Development @BreezoMeter. I'm a multicultural growth leader with experience in management consulting and market analysis. I enjoy developing new technology businesses and ecosystems - and have plenty of experience when it comes to applying environmental intelligence to drive business growth.