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Atmospheric Aging: Your Skin's Newest Threat

Mature woman in the city
June 27, 2017 Reviewed by Marta 0 Comments

I came across the notion of atmospheric pollution and aging the other day in an unconvincing article that is little more than an ad for Skinceuticals. However, I was given pause for thought when noticing that it was based on something intriguing — ground level ozone.

I don’t think I was really aware of ozone at ground level. For me, the ozone is something high in the atmosphere that helps protect the earth (and us). We have destroyed so much that it is now as full of holes as an old sweater. Damage to atmospheric ozone has an effect on our skin by letting in harmful UV rays, and we all know about the increasing need to wear sunscreen. But what about the ground level stuff?

Ozone at ground level is very different and is even referred to as "bad" ozone. It is not emitted directly into the air, but is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the presence of sunlight.  It is called a "secondary" pollutant because it is produced when two primary pollutants react in sunlight and stagnant air.

Emissions from industrial facilities and electric utilities, motor vehicle exhaust, gasoline vapors and chemical solvents are some of the major sources of NOx and VOC.  Ground level ozone damages synthetic materials, causes cracks in rubber, accelerates fading of dyes and speeds deterioration of some paints and coatings. It actually damages our cotton and nylon clothing. So, just imagine how our skin stands up.

Not that well, according to ozone expert Dr. Guiseppe Valacchi, PhD. “Recently it has been reported that a chronic contact with O3 can be deleterious for the skin. Our group and others have shown a progressive depletion of antioxidant content in the stratum corneum and this can then lead to a cascade of effects resulting in an active cellular response in the deeper layers of the skin,” he explains in the British Journal of Dermatology.

A team of researchers hypothesized that the stratum corneum (SC), as the outermost skin layer and the permeability barrier of the skin, represents a sensitive target for O3-induced oxidative stress.  They proved it so by testing on hairless mice. It has also been show that ground ozone diminishes vitamin E and induces lipid peroxidation.

Ozone3 can cause irritation when it comes into contact with the oils in skin and hair. The same study that came to this conclusion noted that one of the worst places for coming into contact with ozone is the cabin of smaller planes such as Boeing 737s. Frequent fliers beware!  

There is hope: The third thing noted by these researchers is that the skin’s natural sebum, squalene, is drawn to ozone like a magnet, and its fatty acids and antioxidants provide protection. Apart from this, there isn’t a whole lot of information on what protective or preventative action to take. However, logic suggests that it comes back to antioxidants and free radical scavengers. Antioxidants from botanical extracts and vitamins, and antioxidant-boosters such as ferulic acid and glutathione are typically key actives in anti-aging skin care. Boosting oxygen in the skin is also helpful with an active called perfluorodecalin, a perfluorocarbon that mimics the blood’s ability to carry oxygen to the skin cells. 

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