Lifestyle and Environmental Factors Affecting Skin - Scientific Research
- Low humidity, water hardness, low wind chills, indoor heating system use, high altitudes, and the low humidity in aircraft cabins can all cause dry skin.
- High humidity, higher temperatures, inadequate sleep, stress, alcohol use and cosmetic use can cause or aggravate acne.
- Inflammation of the skin can be caused by high pollen counts and diet.
- Skin aging can be caused by air pollution, diet, inadequate sleep, digital pollution, inadequate exercise, and smoking.
- Increased risk of skin cancer is associated with air pollution, UV exposure, higher altitudes, alcohol consumption and smoking.
The research team reviewed articles and studies focused on the effects of various environmental and lifestyle factors on the skin. The sources, as well as brief descriptions of each source, are summarized below and further discussed in the project spreadsheet.
- Researchers all agreed that air pollution has harmful effects on the skin, including effecting skin color and tone, premature aging and wrinkles, skin cancer and other skin diseases/problems. Researchers called for increased regulation of air pollution by governments, as well as further research on the topic.
- Researchers agreed that humidity does affect the skin; high humidity can aggravate acne, low humidity can cause skin dryness and decrease skin barrier function. However, research still conflicts on the specific impacts of humidity on skin diseases.
- Studies on hard water all focused on the concentrations of CaCO3 and chlorine. Researchers found that water hardness is associated with higher rates of dry skin in the general population. Researchers also found that hard water is associated with an increased development of atopic dermatitis in infants, children and the general population.
- Research suggests that exposure to extreme temperatures can cause some skin disorders such as erythema ab igne and chilblains and that higher temperatures can play a role in causing/aggravating acne.
- All articles agreed that pollen associated with seasonal allergies could cause red, itchy, and inflamed skin in many individuals, especially those with other seasonal allergies. This is due to the increased production of histamines in the body caused by an allergic reaction, which increases inflammation throughout the body.
- The UV Index was created to describe the level of ultraviolet radiation risk to the public, as increased UV exposure is linked to higher rates of skin cancer. UV exposure also decreases the barrier function of the skin. The lower the UV index, the lower the risk. Researchers have worried that the messaging surrounding the index misses the importance of some UV exposure for vitamin D development. Some researchers have also pointed out that the UV Index is mainly focused on skin cancer risk for White, non-Hispanic individuals.
- Research has found that wildfire smoke can cause skin irritation both in healthy individuals and in those with existing skin conditions due to the particulate matter from the smoke entering skin and causing oxidative stress. This is especially severe for children.
- Research indicates that the primary risk of low wind chill, or low temperatures combined with high winds, is frostbite. Other possible effects of low temperatures and high winds on the skin include dryness, cracking, redness, and even windburn. Low windchill can also exacerbate preexisting skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis.
- While limited research exists on this topic, available research did provide some link between heating systems with forced hot air and dry, itchy skin. This included in office buildings and homes. Central AC can also dry out skin.
- Higher altitudes increase risk of sunburn/skin cancer, dry skin, and skin infections. It is also related to higher instances of some skin diseases. Higher altitudes is also linked with a distinct skin microbiome.
- Five articles were reviewed focused on the affects of diet on skin. While it was found that diet certainly does affect skin, including skin inflammation, skin health, skin diseases, skin barrier and skin aging, the research also indicated that the effects of specific vitamins/nutrients/diets are mostly known and some research is conflicting. The articles all call for further research on specific vitamins/nutrients/diets.
- Articles showed that inadequate sleep decreases collagen production, increases signs of skin aging, increases acne, and delays wound healing.
- All research found that additional water intake increased skin hydration. The amount of water ranged from 0.5L per day to 2.0L per day and up. Research also indicated results with hydrogen-rich water improving skin quality.
- Studies focusing on air travel and the effects on skin were very limited. Most studies/articles focused on low humidity levels in the aircraft cabins that can dry out skin. Another article debunked claims that airplane travel can cause skin cancer due to increased exposure to UVs.
- Researchers stressed that stress and skin disorders are a two-way street — skin disorders can cause stress and stress can cause skin disorders. Multiple studies looked for the underlying mechanisms of stress on the body that impact the skin. Some research focused on the challenges of studying the link between stress and skin disorders. Two studies focused on stress and acne.
- Researchers agreed that digital pollution, or specifically the blue light emitted from screens and certain LED bulbs, does have some negative effects on skin, including oxidative stress, "dullness" of the skin, premature aging, and hyper pigmentation for those with darker skin. One study found that deschampsia antarctica (Edafence®, EDA) can protect against cell damage associated with this digital pollution.
- Researchers all agreed that overall, exercise improves skin health, specifically improving moisture retention and having anti-aging effects. It was noted that exercise improves blood flow and helps heal skin damage.
- Researchers found that alcohol can exacerbate some common skin issues, including acne. Researchers stressed that alcohol can lead to or exacerbate serious skin diseases including psoriasis and discoid eczema. One group of researchers found that alcohol impacts thermoregulation, skin barrier function and the skin pH, which could be a reason for alcohol's effect on certain skin diseases. Another group of researchers found that alcohol decreases carotenoid concentration in the skin and the MED, which could contribute to increased instances of skin cancer in alcohol drinkers.
- All studies found indicated that smoking damages the skin, primarily with increased wrinkles and premature aging. Smoking increases the risk of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer, and many other diseases. Smoking decreases tissue blood flow.
- Researchers found that cosmetics can be harmful to skin, especially if they contain harmful ingredients. Cosmetics can be especially harmful to sensitive skin, and can even lead to sensitive skin developing. Cosmetics also increase acne and affect the diversity of the skin microbiome.
The research relied on studies published in reputable scientific and educational journals where available. Where fewer than five studies could be found in such journals, we relied on reputable news and industry articles.
The research team provided a detailed description of all studies, however, these descriptions were at time brief due to lack of full access to the research studies/articles (i.e. only having access to the abstract).
The research team focused on recent studies were available, but chose to include older scientific studies over newer news articles and less reputable sources.
For some factors, such as air travel, fewer than five studies could be found due to low amounts of credible research that had been done. Industry articles and news articles also only repeated the results of those few studies. In these cases, we reported the studies that were available for those factors.