Diesel fumes from cars in cities can seriously damage your skin, new research has found.
Particulates, the microscopic sooty specks emitted mainly by diesel engines, can not only damage lungs and cause asthma, but also make our skin come out in blotches.
As a result, city dwellers can look older than country folk because their skin ages more quickly.
Researcher Jean Krutmann said: ‘The blemishes are very visible. People exposed to high urban air pollution have more pigment spots because the pollution makes their skin age faster than those living in the country.’
Professor Krutmann, of Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine in Dusseldorf, analysed the effects of pollution in five studies – two in Germany and three in China, chosen because air pollution there is often at far higher levels than Europe.
He said: ‘We found that people living in cities have skin that ages faster, with many more pigment spots over their faces.
‘Someone working in the middle of London, or other UK cities with high pollution levels, will be at risk of all the same effects of air pollution, including skin-ageing and pigmentation.’
As well as particulates, which can be tinier than one thousandth of a millimetre, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) can also damage skin.
The findings show even relatively small rises in pollution levels can accelerate skin-ageing. Prof Krutmann said: ‘We found that a long-term increase in NO2 of just 10 micrograms (millionths of a gram) per cubic metre of air was associated with a 25 per cent increase in pigmentation spots.’
Both NO2 and particulates are highly toxic. EU rules stipulate the level of each should not be above 40 micrograms per cubic metre of air each year.
Air monitors in London at Putney and Brixton have recorded levels three times higher than this.
THE NEW EU FUEL THAT COSTS £80 A YEAR MORE
A ‘green’ fuel which the EU wants all European countries to adopt would add to British motorists’ costs at the pumps.
The cleaner petrol – which contains 10 per cent ethanol, a form of alcohol made from plant material – could add £80 to annual fuel bills.
The petrol – known as E10 – will result in the higher cost because it is less efficient than regular unleaded petrol. The £80 estimate is based on a car travelling 10,000 miles a year.
Many cars made before 2000 will not be able to run on the new petrol, and Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin is expected to resist the introduction of E10 at an EU Commission meeting in September.
E10 was introduced in France in 2009, where it now has about 30 per cent of the market.
It is thought particulates – which are covered in a slippery film of unburnt fuel – are tiny enough to penetrate the skin’s outer layer.
Underneath the skin, they cause a growth in the number of melanocytes, which release the dark pigment melanin into the skin.
As well as creating blotches, particulates and NO2 can cause skin inflammation and exacerbate eczema, the researchers found.
Ultra-violet light, which can itself damage skin, can act together with air pollutants to make skin damage even worse.
Prof Krutmann said the only long-term solution was regulatory changes to cut air pollution.
He added: ‘This is a global problem, affecting every big city in the world.’
Commenting on the study, Professor Frank Kelly, of King’s College London, said: ‘The possible impacts of pollutants (other than UV radiation and ozone) on skin have not been examined by enough investigators. I’m not aware of any appropriate studies that have been undertaken in a UK city.’
He added: ‘Advances in knowledge on the impact of urban pollution on organs such as heart and lungs imply that there would be possible effects on the skin, but we are a long way from having sufficient evidence to indicate that people should be applying barrier creams.’