Influence of the environmental relative humidity on the inflammatory response of skin model after exposure to various environmental pollutants

Environ Res. 2021 May:196:110350. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2020.110350. Epub 2020 Nov 2.


The skin is an essential barrier, protecting the body against the environment and its numerous pollutants. Several environmental pollutants are known to affect the skin, inducing premature aging through mechanisms including oxidative stress, inflammation, and impairment of skin functions. Even climate conditions can impact the skin. Therefore, using a Reconstructed Human Epidermis (RHE), we tested the effect of two samples of fine particulate matters (PM0.3-2.5 - one metals-rich sample and the other organic compounds-rich), two Volatile Organic Compounds mixtures (VOCs - from a solvent-based paint and a water-based paint) and Tobacco Smoke (TS). All pollutants affected cellular functionality, but to a lesser extent for the water-based paint VOC. This effect was enhanced when RHE were preconditioned for 2 h by a semi-dry airflow (45% relative humidity) before pollutants application, compared to preconditioning by a humid airflow (90% relative humidity). In the absence of preconditioning, IL-1α, IL-6, IL-8, and RANTES were almost systematically induced by pollutants. When RHE were preconditioned by a semi-dry or humid airflow before being subjected to pollutants, the increase of IL-1α, IL-8, and RANTES falls into two groups. Similarly to RHE not treated with pollutants, RHE treated with VOCs after preconditioning by a semi-dry airflow showed increased IL-1α, IL-8, and RANTES release. On the contrary, RHE treated with PM or TS after preconditioning by a semi-dry airflow show a lower increase in IL-1α, IL-8, and RANTES compared to preconditioning by a humid airflow. The effect of real environmental relative humidity conditions of the air, combined with acute exposure to various environmental pollutants, seemed to relate mainly to structural changes of the skin, determining the outcome of the inflammatory response depending on the physicochemical characteristics of pollutants.

Keywords: 3D-skin model; Air liquid exposure; Environmental humidity; Environmental pollutants; Inflammatory response.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants* / analysis
  • Air Pollutants* / toxicity
  • Environmental Pollutants* / toxicity
  • Humans
  • Humidity
  • Particulate Matter / analysis
  • Particulate Matter / toxicity
  • Volatile Organic Compounds* / analysis
  • Volatile Organic Compounds* / toxicity


  • Air Pollutants
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Particulate Matter
  • Volatile Organic Compounds