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Conference summaries

Skin ageing

Consequences of Air Pollution on Skin Aging

Presented by: Prof. Jean Krutmann
IUF-Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine
Dusseldorf, Germany

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies pollutants into 6 distinct categories including:

  • Lead (metal and industrial processing plants)
  • Nitrogen oxide (car exhaust)
  • Sulfur oxide (industrial power plants)
  • Particulate matter (soot, exhaust, industry)
  • Ozone (ground level)
  • Carbon monoxide (cigarette smoke).

A study assessed the influence of air pollution on skin aging in 400 Caucasian women aged 70-80 years who were equally distributed between rural and urban areas of Germany.1 Skin aging was clinically assessed by means of SCINEXA (score of intrinsic and extrinsic skin aging), a validated skin aging score. The measurement of air pollution was ascertained by the following:

  • Traffic exposure: distance of residency to a major road (>10,000 cars/day) by using Geographic Information System (GIS)
  • Particles from traffic: estimated from an emission inventory in the year 2000 (in a square kilometer grid)
  • Individual soot exposure: PM2.5 (particulate matter with <2.5µm in diameter) absorbance (ISO 9853) by using GIS and land use regression
  • Exposure to background concentrations of airborne-particles: measurements of ambient PM10 (particulate matter with <10µm in diameter) at fixed monitoring sites (in a 8 kilometer grid).

Findings demonstrated the presence of pigment spots on the forehead and cheeks as well as wrinkles on the nasolabial folds in women living in heavily industrial areas compared to those women living in rural areas.1 The higher the soot concentration in the air, the higher the rate of developing lentigines on the cheeks.

A study about the living conditions, the sun exposure and skin aging (evaluated by means of SCINEXA) in two large ethnically different cohorts (Caucasians and Asians) revealed an association between the increase in NO2 and pigment spot development on the cheeks of women in both study populations.2 An increase of 10 μg/m³ in NO2 was associated with 25% more pigment spots in German women (p = 0.003) and with 24% more pigment spots in Chinese women older than 50 years (p <0.001).

Additional epidemiological studies have confirmed that chronic exposure to traffic-related air pollution is associated with more facial lentigines.3-8

The repetitive application of diesel exhaust particles (DEP) on human ex vivo skin models demonstrated a significant darkening of skin after 2 treatments with more darkening after repetitive applications. Histologic samples stained with Fontana Masson demonstrated a significant increase of melanin presence in the DEP models compared with untreated models. Further investigation demonstrated the inducement of tanning in DEP treated skin. To determine if this was a barrier specific issue, an in-vivo protocol was established (Düsseldorf Pollution Patch Test) which demonstrated the same darkening of skin color. The epidemiological and mechanistic studies show that there is a cause and effect relationship between air pollution and skin aging/skin pigmentation.

In humans, it is believed that eumelanin may play a role in the antioxidant strategy. In the in-vivo model, the application of DEP immediately depleted α-oxidants from the skin, as demonstrated by Raman spectroscopy. In the ex-vivo model the application of DEP caused lipid peroxidation demonstrating the presence of oxidative stress. The tanning response was able to be prevented with the use of an antioxidant containing cosmetic product.

Key messages

  • There are 6 categories of pollutants as categorized by the EPA: lead, nitrogen oxide, sulfur oxide, particulate mater, ozone, and carbon monoxide.
  • Chronic exposure to traffic-related air pollution is associated with more facial lentigines.
  • There is a cause and effect relationship between air pollution and skin aging/skin pigmentation.
  • The tanning response is preventable with the use of antioxidant containing cosmetic products.


Present disclosure: The presenter disclosed that he was a consultant to/or IUF received funding from Amway, Allergan/Skinceuticals, Beiersdorf, bitop, Blue Lagoon, Estee Lauder, Evonik, Galderma, Henkel, Horphag, ISDIN, Kiessling, Lancaster-Coty, LaRoche-Posay, L’Oreal, Lycored, Mary Kay, Procter & Gamble, Repairogen, Replicell, Stada, Symrise, Unilever, Vichy,  Walgreen-Boots-Alliance.

Written by: Debbie Anderson, PhD

Reviewed by: Victor Desmond Mandel, MD



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