Air Quality and Your Skin: What You Need to Know
The condition of your skin relies not just on the skin care products you use, but on the quality and humidity of the air that surrounds your skin in your home.
Skin is 64% water and it relies on moisture to work in peak condition and to look its best. In fact, a study on the effects of humidity on skin found just a 30% drop in humidity can lead to fine wrinkles in as little as 30 minutes.
Skin is the largest organ in the body, and it absorbs the impurities around you. This means poor air quality in the home can also damage skin health, and aggravate problems like acne and eczema.
Skincare products are a big investment for many Americans. One survey shows 1.35 million Americans spent $500 or more on skincare products over a 3-month period in 2017. In that same time period, 21% spent between $100 and $199, and 42% spent between $50 and $99.
What if you could save money on beauty products and improve your skin by fixing your home’s air quality?
Issues like humidity levels, air pollutants and improperly sealed ducts may be wreaking havoc on your skin. If you have a condition like eczema, acne or dry skin, improving the air quality of your home may be able to help you — in combination with a treatment prescribed by a dermatologist. Here’s what you should know.
How humidity levels and air quality affect skin
Whether your goal is to have glowing skin or anti-aging benefits, or if you’re trying to mitigate other conditions, such as dry skin, eczema or acne, focusing on the air quality and humidity levels in the home is important.
When the air you’re surrounded by has an ideal humidity range, you can reap beauty benefits like:
- A glowing complexion
- Moisturized skin
- Reduced wrinkles
- Reduced lip chapping
- Reduced hair static and frizz
- Acne prevention
Plus, properly humidified air can prevent signs of premature aging, such as the development of fine lines and crow’s feet.
When the humidity levels in the home drop, however, your skin reacts and becomes dry, which causes problems. “Dehydration causes your body to overcompensate for lack of moisture by producing more oil,” Dendy Engelman, MD, a dermatologist in NYC, told Cosmopolitan, “which leaves you with clogged pores and an overly shiny complexion.”
An overproduction of sebum — the oily substance your skin secretes to stay moisturized — can aggravate skin with inflammation, which can then lead to acne.
We often experience dry skin more in the winter, because humidity levels take a dip during this time. Cold wind and indoor heating are other contributing factors to dry skin.
“The cold and dryness that comes with cold temperatures can cause inflammation,” and this is a main cause of acne, Dr. Arielle Nagler, an assistant professor of dermatology at New York University’s Langone Health, told Time.
It’s no wonder one study found acne patients enjoy clearer complexions during summer and fall. In winter, rates of moderate-to-severe acne increased 11% compared to summer.
For those who have eczema, increased flare-ups during winter and in drier conditions are also common. When cold weather and indoor heating systems combine, the results may worsen. And research confirms low indoor humidity may worsen irritant eczema and increase the risk of childhood eczema.
Dry, heated cold air in your home in the winter or cold air in your home during summer sucks out moisture. Unless you’re adding moisture back into the air, which you can do with a system like a humidifier, your skin may suffer.
What about air pollution?
The skin is also one of the main targets of pollutants, which can penetrate superficial layers of skin and seep into deep skin layers through inhalation. Indoor pollution intensifies skin aging and wrinkles. Air pollution can also reduce skin moisture, increase sebum excretion and exacerbate chronic inflammatory skin disease systems.
Air pollution contributes to aging factors like age spots and wrinkles. Toxic fumes can also worsen skin conditions like hives and eczema.
In the home, you may be experiencing poor air quality due to improperly sealed ducts. Also, if you like to keep your doors open, air pollution could be flowing through your screen doors. Indoor-outdoor living spaces can also experience poorer air quality within the home.
Even if you don’t live in an urban area, you can still experience the effects of air pollution at home. Most air pollution comes from traffic and vehicles, and polluting particles travel through wind.
When your skin is exposed to air pollution, it can lead to inflammation. Inflammation can cause an excess amount of pigment, which then leads to unwanted sun spots.
Air pollution can also cause blood vessels to grow, which can lead to problems like increased redness and rosacea. As your skin tries to repair itself, it removes damaged collagen. Skin that goes into overdrive due to chronic inflammation may remove too much collagen, which decreases skin elasticity and can lead to wrinkles and fine lines.
Tips to mitigate the effects of air quality on skin
Use a humidifier
If you use an air conditioner or heater, or you want to leave your doors open to bring in air (which may be more polluted than fresh), you can use a humidifier to balance out the air quality in your home. Humidifiers add moisture to the air, which can keep your skin moisture levels in check.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, adding a humidifier to a home is the best way to improve indoor air quality and make the air surrounding your skin reach its optimal state.
Follow a skincare routine
To protect your skin outside (and inside) the home, you should have a skincare routine that includes cleansing and moisturizing with products that are free of parabens and phthalates, which are endocrine-disrupting chemicals. You may also follow a skincare routine with products recommended by your dermatologist. Also, a moisturizer with SPF can provide a barrier for your skin against harmful elements like air pollution.
Turn off the air conditioner
“Air conditioners pull moisture from the air to reduce humidity,” Dr. Heather Rogers, dermatologist and founder of skincare brand RESTORE, told Elite Daily in an email. “When air is dry, it pulls water from your skin, which dries it out.”
One way to stay cool without drying out your skin with air conditioning is to use ceiling fans. They circulate air without making it drier.
Switch to sheets made with natural fabrics
You can also use a cooling silk pillowcase at night. “Another tip for both protecting your skin at night and keeping it cool is to give a silk pillowcase a try,” board-certified dermatologist Dr. Ted Lain told Elite Daily. “Natural fabrics, such as cotton or silk, cause less irritation to the skin, especially if the skin is already dry or inflamed.”
Other tips for improving air quality at home
For additional DIY ways to improve air quality at home, try these methods:
- Clean your house regularly to eliminate animal dander, mold and dust. Vacuum carpets and area rugs at least once a week. Regularly clean drapes and bedding. Clear out clutter.
- Change the filters of a forced-air heating system regularly. Clean ducts to remove trapped dust.
- Use fans in the kitchen to remove cooking fumes.
The Cleveland Clinic also recommends to avoid cigarette smoke in the home, use natural household cleaners and keep trash covered to improve indoor air quality. A clean and tidy home with appliances that are well-maintained can go a long way in improving your home’s air quality.
How to measure and regulate humidity and air quality in your home
Relative humidity is the most common measurement of air moisture content. Relative humidity is a measure of the amount of moisture, or water vapor, in the air compared to the maximum amount of moisture the air could hold at a given temperature.
“Low relative humidity in heated indoor air may be the most important factor making your skin feel dry,” reported dermatologist Elizabeth Farhat MD to Allina Health. “60% relative humidity is the ideal humidity to prevent dry skin, but achieving 30% to 40% humidity in the home may be a more practical goal. You can use a humidifier to increase the amount of moisture in the air, which in turn can decrease the feeling of dry skin.”
To measure relative humidity, you can use a tool called a hygrometer. You may also find tools like combined thermometers with humidity dials that can show you your home’s humidity.
Home air quality measurements
To measure air quality components like dust particles, allergen levels and chemical pollutants, you can purchase an air quality monitor for your home. Some air quality monitors also provide humidity measurements.
The air quality of the geographical location where you live can also affect the air quality inside your home. You can check the air quality of your state at AirNow.gov or in your local area at the World Air Quality Index. You can also look into your city government site to see if there are air quality updates you can sign up for.
Seal up your home
Regardless of where you live, the best way to prevent outside pollutants from seeping into your home is to make sure your house is properly sealed. Sealing up air leaks also helps you save on heating and cooling costs. When your home isn’t properly sealed, too much air enters your home, especially during windy or cold weather. This decreases the moisture in the air and causes skin problems.
Energy.gov provides the following tips for air sealing your home:
- Test your home for air tightness and to identify air leaks.
- Use caulking for cracks and openings between stationary house components like window and door frames.
- Use weatherstripping to seal moving components like operable windows and doors.
- Fix air leaks and insulation mold.
- Cover your kitchen exhaust fan when you’re not using it.
- Tightly close a fireplace flue damper when you’re not using it.
Proper insulation is also essential to protect air quality. Insulation reduces heat flow, which helps you maintain optimal moisture levels in your home.
DIY methods for increasing humidity in the home
If you don’t yet have a humidifier, here are some DIY ways to increase humidity in the home:
- Let your clothes air dry instead of putting them in the dryer.
- If you need to use a dryer, use an indoor vent kit to vent your dryer inside your house.
- Air dry your dishes instead of putting them through a heated cycle.
- Place a metal or ceramic bowl of water on top of a radiant heating unit or floor register. As heat hits the bowl, water will evaporate in the air.
- Increase the amount of stovetop cooking you do to release moisture in the air as you prepare meals. Use a teapot on a stove to get hot water for drinks instead of a microwave.
- Add houseplants to your home.
- After taking warm baths, let the water cool before you drain it. Warm air will evaporate into the home.
- Leave the door open while showering to let steam escape from the bathroom.
- Place bowls or vases of water near sunny spots in the home.
These are all ways to increase the humidity in your home, but if you want to reach optimal levels, a humidifier is the most reliable solution.
Choosing a humidifier
There are several types of humidifiers available. One option is a whole home humidifier, which is built into your HVAC system. A whole home humidifier ensures air flow throughout your entire home has the proper humidity.
A standalone humidifier, which you can usually purchase at your local department store, can be used for rooms that are drier than others, or where you spend the majority of your time when air in your home is drier.
Your furnace isn’t drying out the air in your home
Contrary to popular belief, furnaces do not dry out air. Cold air usually has less humidity to begin with. Furnaces pull in dry cold air and raise the temperature. Again, in many cases, air sealing is a great option to help solve the situation of dry air.
Protect your home’s air quality, protect your skin
So many factors, from genetics to air pollution and humidity, affect the quality of your skin. By improving the air quality and humidity levels in your home environment, you are taking steps to protect your skin.
Simple acts like running your air conditioning or heat can draw out moisture from your skin and cause problems, like wrinkles, or make skin conditions, like acne and eczema, worse. Solutions like sealing up your home ducts and adding home humidification help you achieve optimal air quality conditions, leading to improvements in your skin.