Our skin is bearing the brunt of Kathmandu’s bad airIt’s the human body’s largest organ—it needs protecting too.
Kathmandu’s rising air pollution levels have been a major catalyst for many respiratory diseases and infections. With an annual population growth rate of 4.7 percent and motorisation rate of 12 percent, Kathmandu has fast become overpopulated and extremely polluted. According to the World Health Organization, the level of particulate matter (PM), which stands for air pollutants comprising of suspended particles in the air, in Kathmandu is four times more than what is recommended.
A recent report published by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago reveals that if we are able to just maintain the WHO recommended PM2.5 levels, the life expectancy of Nepalis would increase by three to five years.
Besides affecting life expectancy and our lungs, the deteriorating air quality is also adversely affecting another important organ of our body: our skin, which is the first barrier against external harm by pollution.
Regular contributors to environmental pollution, like vehicle emission, open-air waste burning, industrial smog, brick kiln smoke, river sewage, steel factories, construction work, long route transport, and soil particles, are dangerously degrading the quality of people’s skin.
Generally, skin fights pollutants, but it can succumb to detrimental effects in the long term, causing the skin quality to change. High levels of pollution can cause our skin to become dry, rough, dull and sensitive. Dry irritable skin has a less protective and is easily attacked by allergens, leading to eczema, burns, sun allergy and rashes. Pollutants in the air, if regularly absorbed into the skin directly, cause oxidative damages as well. Protective content in the skin, like vitamin C and E and natural oils, get exhausted in response to pollution. Excessive exposure to hydrocarbons and carbons can also clog pores causing pimples.
Similarly, gases like nitrous oxide and sulfide from vehicle emissions cause pigmentation and black spots. Increased humidity and temperature leads to excessive sweating, clothing dermatitis and itchy rashes in armpit and groin. Environmental factors also trigger long-term skin disorders like psoriasis, scleroderma, morphea, and allergic dermatitis.
Likewise, harmful rays from the sun have a negative impact on health and skin as well. More than 95 percent of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation that reaches the earth’s surface is UVA rays. These rays interact with pollutants, leading to skin ageing and cancers. For every one percent decrease in the ozone layer, there is a two percent increase in UVB intensity, which leads to a two percent increase in skin cancers.
To minimise damage to our skin on a daily basis, we have to be vigilant about our skincare routine—which should include sunscreens, facial cleansers, body wash, vitamin C and E serum and abundant moisturiser.
Cleansers help wash off oil soluble particles that are not readily washed by normal water. A recent beauty trend of peeling off the skin with AHA and BHA containing serums has a scientific basis behind it. Studies show that gentle superficial peeling agents also help remove stubborn chemicals that are attached to the skin despite cleansing. Hence, the use of gentle exfoliators and peel twice a week can be protective.
Similarly, as vitamin C and E can fight damage by sunlight, their regular use is recommended. Recently, tablets containing antioxidants and nutrients have been proven to decrease pollution-induced skin changes.
While stepping outside, protective moisturisers and sunscreens act as a barrier as well as fight sun damage. These products form films on the surface of the skin and protect from instant damage. Wearing full-length clothing can also curb direct exposure to some extent.