Urban particulate matter in air pollution penetrates into the barrier-disrupted skin and produces ROS-dependent cutaneous inflammatory response in vivo

Anti-pollution or anti-particulate matter has become a huge buzzword in cosmetics. Pollution and particulate matter have been linked to many negative health effects (mainly cardiovascular) and while the link to skin health and acceleration of ageing are logical…does the data support it?

There have a been a few correlational studies that have shown that people living in areas with higher levels of pollution exhibit more signs of oxidative stress in skin lipids and some have even correlated it with increased wrinkling. But what’s the mechanism and can particulate matter even penetrate the skin?

A group of researchers from Seoul used an in vivo mouse and in vitro keratinocyte model to study this.

First was the collection of particulate matter from the air. To do this they set up a vinyl tarp on a rooftop near a busy intersection to collect dust. The particulate matter was then purified and separated to be used in the experiment. The majority of the particles ranged from 200 to 300 nm. Particulates found included: Naphthalene, biphenyl, acenaphthylene, acenaphthene, fluorene, dibenzothiophene, and 28 others identified.

For the in vitro portion of the experiment, cell cultures of human primary keratinocytes were performed with varying concentrations of the particulate matter. The cells absorbed the particulate matter, and the researchers found a concentration-dependent increase of inflammatory cytokine IL-8 and collagenase MMP-1. They also found that the addition of an antioxidant, n-acetyl cysteine, was able to suppress this effect.

In the in vivo portion of the experiment, the researchers used mice that did not produce melanin and divided them into two skin conditions: One with their skin intact, and another with barrier-damaged skin. To damage the skin barrier they stripped the skin 10 times with tape to remove layers of the stratum corneum. The particulate matter was applied 10 times over 2 weeks and included a skin penetration enhancer (DMSO).

While the in vitro results may be “scary”, the in vivo results were milder. Particulate matter was shown to penetrate into the intercellular space of the barrier-disrupted mice, but not the intact mice. Particulate matter was found in hair follicles of both, but there was no epidermal penetration of the particulate matter in the intact mice.

The researchers did find an increase in inflammation in the particulate matter treated skin compared to skin not exposed- whether or not the sin was intact or tape-stripped. However, the inflammation was much more severe in the tape-stripped group. The researchers also showed that intradermal n-acetyl cysteine was able to ameliorate the increase in inflammation caused by particulate matter, but they did not perform this portion of the experiment on the intact mice. It’s likely this same treatment will have a similar effect in the intact mice, but it is unknown.

The researchers also point out some issues with their own experiment: The concentration of particulate matter may not reflect the amount that a person would be exposed to and that their sampling of particulate matter had a high concentration of sulfur which may be unique to their location. It’s also important to remember that mice are not humans, and we may react differently.

While it’s likely that the addition of anti-inflammatories and antioxidants may help attenuate some of the potential inflammation caused by pollution and particulate matter, it’s unknown which chemicals and what combinations are most effective for humans. There’s also no standard measurement to gauge a protective effect so it is impossible to compare one product to another. Again, we see another case of the marketing being ahead of the science.

Source: Jin Seon-Pil, Li Zhenyu, Choi Eun Kyung, Lee Serah,
Kim Yoen Kyung, Seo Eun Young, Chung Jin Ho, Cho Soyun.Urban particulate
matter in air pollution penetrates into the barrier-disrupted skin and produces ROSdependent
cutaneous inflammatory response in vivo.Journal of Dermatological Science