Why do some skin problems arise? Air pollution may be the trigger


Anggid Primastiti





English / Indonesia

PM2.5 really has a big impact on your skin. Their tiny size can damage your skin barrier.

  • PM2.5 can jeopardize your skin barrier and lead to inflammation.
  • Increased PM2.5 due to outdoor air pollution is linked to increased signs of skin aging, skin wrinkles, and pigment spots on the forehead and cheeks.
  • Accumulated microscopic dirt and bacteria on PM2.5 particles’ surfaces that stick on your skin will trigger facial and back acne.
  • PM2.5 and VOCs in air pollution can lead to eczema.

Did you know that the skin is the most extensive body part compared to other organs?

As the largest and largest organ of the body, skin accounts for about 15-16% of the human body's weight. However, the skin is constantly exposed to harmful compounds found in the environment as our body’s first line of defense. Many studies show that high concentrations of many environmental factors (such as ultraviolet radiation, outdoor air pollutants, and indoor air pollutants) can interfere with the normal function of the skin. Furthermore, pollutant intensity and duration of exposure are factors in skin health disruption.

What are PM2.5 pollutants?

Particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5), a significant component of air pollution, is a mixture of solid and liquid particles in the air with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers. If you're wondering how small that is, consider this: the diameter of a strand of your hair is roughly 30 times that of the largest fine particle!

The skin barrier can be damaged by PM2.5 penetrating it

Smaller than even the pores of your skin, PM2.5 can easily penetrate the skin and disrupt the skin barrier, which is the layer that protects and hydrates your skin. PM2.5 is difficult to remove from the skin surface, potentially causing more skin problems and inflammation.

(Sumber: Jin et al., 2018)

This is deeply concerning for people who live in the packed city. According to a World Health Organization (WHO) survey of more than 4,300 cities in 2019, only 20% of the world's urban residents live in areas with an accepted PM2.5 limit, which is that the annual average concentration of PM2.5 should not exceed 10 µg/m3. In 2021, WHO revised the limit of the annual average concentration of PM2.5 should not exceed 5 µg/m3, so now you can imagine how many more cities have air pollution exceeding the specified limit!

PM2.5 may accelerate skin aging

Premature skin aging is caused not only by excessive UV exposure but also by air pollution. Researchers discovered an increase in PM2.5 due to traffic-related air pollution was associated with a 20% increase in pigment spots on the forehead and cheeks.

Another study in China also showed a link between signs of skin aging and PM2.5 pollution in the indoor air. The study revealed that skin wrinkling on the forehead, upper lip, eyelids, and back of the hands was positively correlated with indoor PM2.5 exposure in the range of 39-163 µg/m3. Additionally, pigment spots on the forehead were positively correlated with indoor PM2.5 exposure in the range of 31-149 µg/m3. The amount of indoor PM2.5 is definitely affected by outdoor air quality.

Now, take a look at the following graph data!

From January to September 2022, several cities in Indonesia had average PM2.5 concentrations in the same range as the concentrations from the mentioned study. The only one not in the range is Bali, with a concentration of 15 µg/m3 (which is still 3x higher than the WHO recommended standard).

PM2.5 triggers facial and back acne

Even if you don’t have an existing skin condition, airborne pollutants can cause problems with your face or other parts of your skin. Researchers from Chongqing, China, revealed that a 10 μg/m3 increase in PM2.5 concentration was associated with a 1.71% increase in acne outpatient visits by studying 120,842 acne vulgaris outpatient data.

PM2.5 particles, which contain millions of microscopic dirt and bacteria on their surface, will adhere to and accumulate on the skin. This buildup of microscopic pollution can cause acne and disrupt the natural flora of our skin (the bacterial microbiome present in the outermost layer of our skin). Numerous skin-surface bacteria, including Staphylococcus epidermidis, function as anti-inflammatories and aid in protecting against potential pathogens. Our skin's resistance to dryness, humidity, sunlight, UV radiation, pathogens, and allergens can be reduced when air pollution throws off the ecosystem's delicate balance.

PM2.5 leads to eczema

Increases in PM2.5 levels were linked to significant increases in monthly eczema patient visits, the study says. Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a skin condition that causes dry, itchy, and inflamed skin. It is most common in young children but can occur at any age.

Researchers from South Korea found that each 10 µg/m3 increase in PM2.5 resulted in a 2.71% increase in diagnosed patients. Aside from PM2.5, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by many common building materials, fresh paint, and furnishings, new homes also cause higher levels of indoor chemical pollution and increase the risk of eczema.

Take care of your skin and your health

We all know that air pollution outside becomes an inevitable thing. Hence, you can take steps to improve your indoor air quality, reduce environmental triggers, and protect your skin’s natural defenses. Here are some tips you can do to protect your skin from air pollution:

  • Only exercise in low-pollution areas, away from roads. During periods of high air pollution, you should consider exercising at home or in a fitness studio instead of outside.
  • Wear a mask every time you are required to do outdoor activities. N95 masks are highly recommended for protection against PM2.5.
  • Using cosmetics, you can shield your skin from the sun's rays and air pollution. Applying sun cream before leaving the house in the morning should be considered.
  • Take nutritional supplements that offer protection against UV radiation and air pollution, and eat a variety of colorful fruit and vegetables to ensure the body has enough antibodies to fight the effects of air pollution.

Always monitor the air quality before you go outside. Using an air quality monitor, such as the Nafas app, gives you a good gauge of the pollution level. It can help you pinpoint the level of air pollution that is causing your skin problems and take preventive measures.

Want to live a healthy life from now on? Click here and start your journey with Nafas.


Ding, A., Yang, Y., Zhao, Z., Hüls, A., Vierkötter, A., Yuan, Z., Cai, J., Zhang, J., Gao, W., Li, J., Zhang, M., Matsui, M., Krutmann, J., Kan, H., Schikowski, T., Jin, L., & Wang, S. (2017). Indoor PM2.5 exposure affects skin aging manifestation in a Chinese population. Scientific Reports, 7(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-15295-8.

He, Y., Shi, C.-R., Guang, Q., Luo, Z.-C., Xi, Q., & Han, L. (2021). [Effects of Air Pollutants on Outpatient Visits for Atopic Dermatitis in Lanzhou]. Zhongguo Yi Xue Ke Xue Yuan Xue Bao. Acta Academiae Medicinae Sinicae, 43(4), 521–530. https://doi.org/10.3881/j.issn.1000-503X.13046.

Park, T. H., Park, S., Cho, M. K., & Kim, S. (2022). Associations of particulate matter with atopic dermatitis and chronic inflammatory skin diseases in South Korea. Clinical and experimental dermatology, 47(2), 325–334. https://doi.org/10.1111/ced.14910.