Air Pollution and Atopic Dermatitis, from Molecular Mechanisms to Population-Level Evidence: A Review

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2023 Jan 31;20(3):2526. doi: 10.3390/ijerph20032526.


Atopic dermatitis (AD) has increased in prevalence to become the most common inflammatory skin condition globally, and geographic variation and migration studies suggest an important role for environmental triggers. Air pollution, especially due to industrialization and wildfires, may contribute to the development and exacerbation of AD. We provide a comprehensive, multidisciplinary review of existing molecular and epidemiologic studies on the associations of air pollutants and AD symptoms, prevalence, incidence, severity, and clinic visits. Cell and animal studies demonstrated that air pollutants contribute to AD symptoms and disease by activating the aryl hydrocarbon receptor pathway, promoting oxidative stress, initiating a proinflammatory response, and disrupting the skin barrier function. Epidemiologic studies overall report that air pollution is associated with AD among both children and adults, though the results are not consistent among cross-sectional studies. Studies on healthcare use for AD found positive correlations between medical visits for AD and air pollutants. As the air quality worsens in many areas globally, it is important to recognize how this can increase the risk for AD, to be aware of the increased demand for AD-related medical care, and to understand how to counsel patients regarding their skin health. Further research is needed to develop treatments that prevent or mitigate air pollution-related AD symptoms.

Keywords: air pollutants; air pollution; atopic dermatitis; eczema; environment; particulate matter; pollution; review; wildfires.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants* / adverse effects
  • Air Pollutants* / analysis
  • Air Pollution* / adverse effects
  • Animals
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Dermatitis, Atopic* / epidemiology
  • Dermatitis, Atopic* / etiology
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Particulate Matter
  • Skin / chemistry


  • Air Pollutants
  • Particulate Matter

Grants and funding

This work was supported in part by the University of California, San Francisco Summer Explore Fellowship, Marguerite Schoeneman Grant, and Joint Medical Program Thesis Grant (R.P.F.).