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7 Ways Air Quality Impacts Our Skin Health

7 Ways Air Quality Impacts Our Skin Health

Pollution is not only harmful to internal organs: it can also damage the body's surface. Here is the connection between air quality and skin health.

While we often think of air pollution as affecting our respiratory system, its effects go beyond our lungs. It can also be detrimental to other organs.  The skin is the largest organ in our body and serves as a protective barrier against external factors such as pollution, UV radiation, and other environmental stressors. However, when exposed to poor air, the body's ability to protect itself can be compromised, leading to many problems. From dryness and premature aging to acne and eczema — air quality impacts skin health in a big way.  Below, we will analyze the seven most common ways air quality impacts skin health.

1. Dryness: making the skin dry, flaky, and itchy

Poor air quality can have a significant impact on the skin's natural oil, leading to dryness, flakiness, and itchiness. Particulate matter such as PM2.5, can penetrate the layers of the epidermis, causing oxidative stress and inflammation that disrupts natural oil production. Indoor pollutants, like smoke and volatile organic compounds for example, can also contribute to skin dryness and other issues.

It is essential to take protective measures against the detrimental effects of poor air quality on the skin's natural oils. This includes using a gentle cleanser, moisturizing regularly, avoiding heavily polluted areas, and using a humidifier when necessary to add moisture back into the air, so that relative humidity stays between 40-60%.

2. Premature aging: the destruction of collagen and elastin

Exposure to these same pollutants can break down collagen and elastin, proteins that give the epidermis its firmness. When these compounds are destroyed, skin can become saggy, loose, and more prone to wrinkles. Moreover, exposure to ultraviolet radiation, especially in polluted areas, only exacerbates this process.

To safeguard yourself from contaminants and UV rays, you should utilize protective clothing, apply sunscreen, and stay away from places with high levels of air pollution for extended periods.

3. Acne: clogging pores and causing inflammation

Pollution affects the appearance of our skin on the surface and changes it underneath. Inflammatory acne, characterized by red, swollen pimples, is particularly sensitive to air quality. Environmental contaminants, such as tobacco smoke, clog pores and irritate, leading to inflammation and blemishes.

Keeping up with a consistent skincare regimen that involves cleansing, exfoliating, and moisturizing is crucial in countering the harmful impacts of air pollution on the skin.

4. Pigmentation: affecting melanin production

Harmful substances from polluted air can penetrate the skin and stimulate melanin production, the pigment that gives skin its color. Increased melanin can lead to dark spots and blemishes on the body. These pigmentation problems can be more pronounced on skin areas that are frequently exposed, such as the face and hands.

Ultraviolet radiation can contribute to pigmentation issues, the intensity of which decreases depending on air quality.  It can lead to a harmful and uneven tan.

5. Eczema: irritating and exacerbating diseases

Eczema, a chronic inflammatory skin condition, can be particularly sensitive to environmental factors such as air quality. Pollution not only triggers flare-ups but can also worsen existing inflammatory symptoms.

Indoor pollutants such as dust and pet dander can also contribute to eczema flare-ups. The presence of these harmful substances can irritate the skin and prompt the body's immune system to react, resulting in the manifestation of disease symptoms.

To minimize your exposure to eczema, avoid areas with polluted air and wear protective clothing. In cases where disease flare-ups persist, medical treatment may be necessary. A dermatologist may recommend topical creams and ointments to reduce inflammation and soothe irritated skin, as well as oral medications in severe cases.

6. Rosacea: causing skin redness, flushing, and inflammation

Rosacea is also a chronic inflammatory skin condition characterized by redness, visible blood vessels, and small, pus-filled bumps on the face. Although the exact causes of disease are not yet fully understood, environmental factors such as air pollution can trigger its exacerbation.

Exposure to pollutants, along with UV radiation, can cause skin inflammation. It underscores the importance of protecting the skin from both contaminants and UV radiation during condition treatment.

7. Sensitivity: depriving the skin of its natural protective barrier

Air quality can also affect skin sensitivity, especially in people with pre-existing conditions. Exposure to pollutants and irritants can cause inflammation and damage the skin barrier, leading to increased skin sensitivity and the development of new types.

Then again, the composition of the air, such as nitrogen dioxide or particulate matter, can react with UV radiation to produce free radicals that can damage the skin, leading to the development of sensitivity.

Final remarks

Air quality can have a significant impact on the skin, resulting in various problems such as dryness, premature aging, acne, pigmentation, eczema, rosacea, and skin sensitivity. Such habits as smoking, environmental stressors, and UV exposure can exacerbate these issues.

As a countermeasure to the harmful effects of air quality, red light therapy can be a powerful tool since it is effective in treating and preventing several skin disorders, including acne, rosacea, and premature aging. According to the Heliotherapy Institute, this procedure can be more effective, cheaper, and safer than invasive methods.  You can check with a dermatologist to see if they offer powerful in-office red light therapy.

Fortunately, we can do something to protect our skin from harmful irritants in the air. Wearing protective clothing, using air filters, keeping your home at optimal humidity (40-60% relative humidity) and avoiding heavily polluted areas can help keep your skin healthy and vibrant.

Article by Benjamin Allemon

How healthy is your SprayFoam?

How healthy is your SprayFoam?

Sprayfoam has been a huge player in the home insulation industry, and is projected to grow by 4-6% CAGR through the next decade (marketsandmarkets.com).  It is used as insulation (R-3.8 for open cell and R-7 for closed cell), and can be an air barrier and/or vapor barrier when applied properly (Johns Manville).

Bud Offermann is President of Indoor Environmental Engineering, a building science consulting firm in San Francisco.  He gave a very informative interview on healthyindoors.com in July of this year, on material from a paper he presented at the International Society of Indoor Air Quality and Climate’s (ISIAQ) Indoor Air 2022 in Kuopio, Finland in January.  You can read and download the paper here.   Because of his experience with high variability in the application of spray foams and ensuing problems with chemical emissions, he can’t recommend spray polyurethane foam (SPF) to insulate your home.  This article is based on his presentations.

Some SPF installations result in chemical emissions that cause odor and irritation and that are expected to persist for decades.  Therefore, it’s important to research and consider before contracting for spray foam insulation. Can you imagine ruining your well-loved or newbuild home with something as permanent as spray foam?  

There are two components of spray foam, which we can term A-side and B-side.  These are stored in two different containers and fed through two hoses to the spray gun, where they are mixed as spraying takes place. The A-side is isocyanates, which are very reactive; they evaporate quickly and don’t hang around after application.  These chemicals are mainly a problem for the applicators, who need to wear fresh-air breathing apparatus to avoid breathing them.  The B-side is a resin which has the fire retardant, reactants and additives.  These are the components that remain in the installed foam and off-gas over a period of time. 

The main chemicals causing problems are allylchlorides, the fire retardant TCPP, BDMAEE (an amine created by breakdown of TCPP), and 1-Chloro-2 Propanol.  These can cause eye and nose irritation.  The emissions can last at a slow rate for 50-100 years.  Temperature causes an increase in irritation and odor (summertime is worst). 

Causes of offgas problems are hypothesized to include:

  • If the two components are mixed in the wrong concentration, it will not cure properly.  For example in closed cell foam, too much A makes the foam fragile and brittle.  Too-much B makes the foam too gooey. 
  • Storage of the resin (B) in the warehouse possibly allows water contamination (hydrolysis of the TCPP).  Addition of water can create 1 Chloro-2 Propanol or allylchlorides.   These substances can cause allergic reactions and continue to occur months or years later as the foam off-gasses.
  • Closed cell foam should not be installed in thicknesses greater than 3”, otherwise the interior of the foam layer will not cure.  Multiple passes are needed to achieve thicker application, but sufficient curing is needed between layers, otherwise uncured foam inside the layers will continue to off-gas. 
  • Sometimes the applicators switch between open and closed cell foam without changing the transfer pump or hoses.  They only change the B-side (resin) drum and start spraying, which makes the product in the pump and hoses an unproven mixture of open and closed cell.
  • Sometimes applicators buy the B-side and then add more chemicals for “winterizing” the foam.  This is adding chemicals after-market, which will invalidate any warranty on that foam.

If you are experiencing bad air quality after spray foam application in your home, the first step is to test.  Testing will let you know the level of the problem and if litigation is needed, proper air testing is required.  Air samples are gathered with windows and doors closed, supplemental attic ventilation turned off, no air cleaners running, and normal house HVAC running. There are specific chemicals to test for, including VOCs excluding isocyanates and formaldehyde, also samples should be gathered in different rooms and outdoors as a baseline.  After the air is sampled, an 8x8” chunk of foam is removed without disturbing the surface of the foam, to send to the testing facility (Berkeley Analytical is one recommended lab).  You should also get the material safety data sheet (MSDS) for the foam, which should disclose all non-proprietary ingredients.

If emissions of SPF continue to cause problems, as an expert in home inspection and remediation, Mr. Offermann states there are two solutions: 

  • remove the insulation and the substrate, because the substrate absorbs some of these chemicals (very costly) OR
  • attach a foil faced gypsum or rigid foam board against the trusses/studs to contain/reflect the gasses. 

If you are sensitive to chemicals, spray foam is probably not the best choice for your home.  However an alternative is to use foil-faced foam board.  Because the foam board is made in the controlled environment of a factory, then tested, you can get the same insulative properties with much less chance of continual off-gassing .  Foam board doesn’t have air barrier properties because of the way it’s installed, but air barriers can be achieved with other non-chemical methods.

In conclusion, further research on the chemical reactivity of TCPP and its suitability as a fire retardant is needed.  Where is hydrolysis occuring?  Proper storage of the B-side product and training of the application team is necessary because once spray foam is applied, emissions are unhealthy and removal can be very costly.   

Photo from Johns Manville