REUTERS/Edgar Su

Blame toxic fumes for your next wrinkle.

City living can be tough on a person. Excessive noise impairs our cognitive function. The scarcity of green makes us sad. Our commutes are slowly killing us.

There’s more.

All the pollution we walk through on the regular will one day compound the aging process to make us even more wrinkled, according to a recent study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

Damaged air causes myriad side effects: its links to lung damage, diabetes, mental health problems, and heart disease have all been thoroughly studied, according to The Guardian. While skin is perhaps a more superficial concern, it’s highly visible, and researchers around the world are beginning to develop a clearer picture of how the dermal layer fares in harsh urban environments.

The answer: not too great. Polluted air is replete with tiny PM particles, nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and chemicals like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, mostly courtesy of automobile exhaust. Jean Krutmann, the director of the Leibniz Research for Environmental Medicine, told The Guardian that it’s clear that PMs in particular wreak havoc on the skin; in previous work, Krutmann examined how these tiny particles cause spotting and wrinkles.

Krutmann’s current research, however, focuses on NO2. Just a slight elevation in the volume of pollution—10 more micrograms of NO2 per cubic meter—increased incidences of age spots on the cheeks of people in both Germany and China by 25 percent.

In The Guardian, Krutmann stressed that the impact of pollution is not limited to those study areas. “Wherever you have large urban agglomerations you have it,” he said. “In Europe, everywhere is so densely populated and the particles are being distributed by the wind, so it is very difficult to escape the problem.”

Case in point: London. The U.K. capital maxed out its annual legal pollution limit astonishingly early this year, reaching well over 200 micrograms of NO2 per cubic meter within the first week of 2016. In very polluted cities, middle-aged people are presenting with the skin of a much more elderly demographic, the aesthetic dermatologist Mervyn Patterson told The Guardian.

Understandably, this trend is inciting panic among the relatively wrinkle-free. But while preventative dermatology for the past few decades has zeroed in on UV avoidance, doctors and cosmetics companies alike are now working to formulate a defense against these pernicious environmental particles. There’s no one cut-and-dry solution yet, but Patterson’s promoting a tactic that might sound counterintuitive to some: don’t overdo it on the scrubbing.

“The skin is trying its damnedest to make this wonderful defense mechanism and what do women and men do? They scrub the hell out of it. It just doesn’t make sense,” Patterson said in The Guardian. When pollutants infiltrate the skin, they create free radicals—unstable molecules with unpaired electrons that injure the surrounding skin in their efforts to steal electrons from healthy cells, Self magazine reports. Aggressive exfoliation weakens the skin’s resistance to these particles.  

Doctors like Zoe Draelos, a dermatology professor at Duke University, advocate creating a barrier against pollution through layering of products rich in antioxidants, which can donate electrons as needed to the free radicals, calming them down and minimizing skin damage. Cleaning is still important, Draelos said in Self, but the key is to step out into your city air with shields—in the form of layers of serum—raised.

It’s tough out there, but the threat of premature wrinkles is no cause to pack up and flee to the countryside just yet.

H/t The Guardian

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