The impact of air pollution on skin and related disorders: A comprehensive review

Dermatol Ther. 2021 Mar;34(2):e14840. doi: 10.1111/dth.14840. Epub 2021 Feb 12.


As the largest organ in the body, human skin is constantly exposed to harmful compounds existing in the surrounding environment as the first-line barrier. Studies have indicated that exposure to high concentrations of many environmental factors, such as ultraviolet (UV) radiation, outdoor air pollutants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), particulate matter (PM), heavy metals, gaseous pollutants, such as carbon monoxide (CO), nitric oxides (NOx ), sulfur oxide (SO2 ), ozone (O3 ), and indoor air pollutants (solid fuels consumption), might interrupt the skin's normal barrier function. Besides, the intensity of the pollutants and the length of exposure might be a contributing factor. Air pollutants are believed to induce or exacerbate a range of skin conditions, such as aging, inflammatory diseases (atopic dermatitis, cellulitis, and psoriasis), acne, hair loss, and even skin cancers (mainly melanoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma) through various mechanisms. The interaction between pollutants and the skin might differ based on each agent's particular characteristics. Also, damaging the skin barrier seems to be closely related to the increased production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), induction of oxidative stress, activation of aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), and inflammatory cytokines. This article reviews recent studies on the correlation between air pollutants and skin diseases, along with related mechanisms.

Keywords: air pollutants; air pollution; gaseous pollutants; particulate matters; skin diseases; skin disorders.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants* / adverse effects
  • Air Pollution* / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Particulate Matter / adverse effects
  • Particulate Matter / analysis
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons* / analysis
  • Skin


  • Air Pollutants
  • Particulate Matter
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons