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Factors in Anti-Aging: Stress and Pollution

(Note: Stress Recovery Complex provides excellent protection against premature aging caused by stress and pollution. Combining the complex with antioxidant protection as described below provides even better results.***)

Pollution and stress affect the skin in detrimental ways, according to Zoe Draelos, MD, a dermatologist in practice in High Point, NC.

“The idea that stress makes you look not so gorgeous and that pollution may damage the skin is not new. However, what’s new is the link between the science of what is actually happening, and the observation that we have actually made that pollution and stress can make the skin look worse,” says Dr. Draelos, who spoke on the topic at the 2014 Winter Meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology, held in Denver, CO.

Traditionally in dermatology, the focus is on photoaging and patients frequently ask their dermatologists how they can make their skin look better. Dr. Draelos stressed the importance of prevention. “The main thing to tell them is to wear sunscreen because we do know that over time, indeed collagen breakdown leads to faulty collagen regeneration, which leads to small scar formation within the dermis,” she says, noting that this can lead to a cumulative solar scar that presents ultimately as wrinkling.

Other mechanisms that also generate reactive oxygen species are associated with aging. “It is the reactive oxygen species generated by ultraviolet radiation impinging upon the skin that ages the skin. We do know that reactive oxygen species can be produced from other sources including pollution and stress,” she says.

Reactive oxygen species are dangerous because they have 3 targets:

• DNA that leads to cellular mutations

• Proteins that lead to loss of cellular functioning

• Lipids, specifically those in the cell wall, which leads to loss of cell viability


Chemicals and other environmental factors, specifically those found in air pollution also contribute to aging by generating reactive oxygen species.

“Pollution is full of nanoparticles that arise from combustion. These nanoparticles are highly reactive due to their small size and large surface area,” she explains. “But most importantly, the reason why these nanoparticles are so damaging to the skin from pollution is that they can carry organic chemicals and metals that tend to localize in the mitochondria, and that is where they generate the reactive oxygen species. Specifically, the particulate matter that results from the internal combustion engine in cars, busses and also combustion necessary for chemical and other manufacturing processes, release nanoparticles that contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, known as PAH,” she explains.

These PAHs are bound to the surface of the nanoparticles that are produced as part of combustion. The PAHs activate a xenobiotic mechanism that converts the PAHs to quinones. Quinones are the redox-cycling chemicals that produce reactive oxygen species. “Because these PAHs are on the surface of particulate matter, they can penetrate through skin appendages. This is the mechanism by which pollution actually produces reactive oxygen species that damage mitochondria,” she says.

Recent published research1 demonstrates that an increase in soot and particles from traffic was associated with 20% more pigmented spots on the forehead and cheeks. These same particles induce melanocyte proliferation. This research has been collaborated by an earlier paper2 demonstrating that the PAHs are bound to the surface of combustion-derived nanoparticles that also produce pigmentation on the face. “Therefore, this may be one of the reasons why we see increased lentigines and possibly melasma in individuals who live in highly industrial or polluted areas,” she explains.


Products, such as cosmeceuticals, can guard against pollution-derived aging by providing a protective film over the face. In fact, there might not be a “special extract” that causes the anti-aging benefit. It could be the extra layer of protection between the skin and the particulate matter.

“The protective film prevents the aero hydrocarbons that are attached to particulate matter from entering the skin through penetrable structures,” she says.

Cigarette Smoke

Cigarette smoking is another combustion that affects the skin. Research notes that people who smoke cigarettes exhibit more wrinkles on the upper lip, increased solar elastosis, more pronounced telangiectasias and laxity of facial skin.3 Vierkötter et al1 showed that smoking produces the same type of ambient nanoparticles that cause the same mechanism of premature aging found in pollution and soot (Figure 1 and 2).

Furthermore, smoking alters the microcirculation. “In smokers, the oxygen-carrying capacity of the circulation is far reduced over non-smokers. But what’s most interesting is that young smokers have a microcirculation similar to that observed in older, non-smoking individuals. Thus indeed, the exposure to the nanoparticles and the reduction in microcirculation does prematurely age the skin in smoking individuals,” Dr. Draelos says.

Psychological Stress and Aging

Research4 demonstrates a psychological link to accelerated aging. Specifically, the researchers illustrated that increased stress was positively associated with decreased leukocyte telomere length. Telomere length determines the number of times a given cell can divide and replicate.

“A telomere is like a clock that determines the number of times the cell can reproduce. They are found at the ends of all eukaryotic chromosomes, and they are very important to prevent the ends of the chromosomes from degradation. They are also important to prevent the ends of the chromosomes from fusing, which leads to genetic instability,” she says.

Under stress, the telomeres shorten with each cellular replication and telomeres cannot restore themselves because cells lack telomerase. One might think to add telomerase into these cells and allow them not to prematurely age, however, Dr. Draelos cautions: “One hundred percent of squamous cell carcinomas have telomerase and that is what immortalizes a cell and leads to carcinogenesis. So it’s very interesting to know that there’s a fine line between immortalization of a cell and anti-aging benefits.”


Many factors contribute to skin aging beyond UVA exposure. “Protection against ambient particulates and nanoparticles prevents reactive oxygen species from forming as well. So wearing a moisturizer, wearing a sunscreen, or wearing some type of film over the skin surface can be very beneficial in preventing reactive oxygen species generation from pollution and other combustion nanoparticles particulates,” she says.

In addition, emotional health that decreases psychological stress can prevent premature shortening of telomeres and premature oxidative damage.

“It is the first time we have the link between stress, pollution, nanoparticles and aging,” Dr. Draelos says. “Indeed, what’s new is old. We’ve always known that living in a healthy environment and living a wonderful life is the key to great looking skin.”

Source: https://www.the-dermatologist.com/content/factors-anti-aging

Lisa B. Samalonis, Managing Editor


1. Vierkötter A, Schikowski T, Ranft U, et al. Airborne particle exposure and extrinsic skin aging. J Invest Dermatol. 2010;130(12):2719-2726.

2. Krutmann J, Jux B, Luecke S, et al. Involvement of arylhydrocarbon receptor (AhR-) signaling in skin melanogenesis. J Invest Dermatol. 2008;128:S220.

3. Okada HC, Alleyne B, Varghai K, Kinder K, Guyuron B. Facial changes caused by smoking: a comparison between smoking and nonsmoking identical twins. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2013;132(5):1085-1092.

4. O’Donovan A, Neylan TC, Metzler T, Cohen BE. Lifetime exposure to traumatic psychological stress is associated with elevated inflammation in the Heart and Soul Study. Brain Behav Immun. 2012;26(4):642-649.

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