Ah, the great outdoors! I wouldn’t be a true holistic health advocate if I didn’t wholeheartedly believe in the power of getting outside and experiencing nature. But in our current climate of car-clogged highways and pollution-exuding factories that never sleep, sometimes outdoor air isn’t exactly fresh. Does that mean we should spend more time indoors? Hardly. Indoor quality is often just as polluted, if not moreso, than outdoor air. When we breathe in polluted air, day in and day out, our bodies must work overtime to remove them. Out of the five main detoxifying organs of the body (kidneys, lungs, colon, liver, and skin), the lungs and the skin tend to become most taxed in the presence of constant air pollution. While all of our organs and systems are interdependent on each other for optimal functioning, the lung-skin connection often gets ignored.
You hear a lot about associations between skin health and heart, liver, gut, and endocrine health. But when our lung health is compromised, we our skin reacts too, often with chronic dryness, eczema flare-ups, and premature signs of aging such as hyperpigmentation, fine lines, and wrinkles. While our organs all perform multiple tasks to keep us healthy, the lungs and the skin have those of respiration and detoxification in common.
The lung-skin connection is well known in Eastern healing modalities.
Both Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine share the school of thought that says that skin eruptions and flare-ups that occur on certain areas on the face are linked with certain health issues. Sometimes called face mapping, it tells us that we see pimples popping up on a certain area of our face, it’s a signal that we need to be examining different areas of our health.
Acute flare-ups and sudden skin changes are more often associated with the liver, however more chronic skin issues are associated with the lungs. The lungs are associated with air, metal, and movement. When toxicants enter into the lungs, they must be expelled, otherwise they can build up and cause stagnation, mucus build-up, and inflammation. The skin, too, acts as a semipermeable barrier between outside pollutants and our inner organs. If the skin can’t “breathe” due to overexposure to toxicants or improper usage of skincare products, then similar stagnation-related problems also occur.
Lung health and wrinkles
It’s widely known that smoking has a powerful negative affect on the appearance and health of the skin.
Click HERE to read about how smoking affects the skin.
But toxicants in the air also take a huge toll on the way we age, and there have been a couple studies that have demonstrated this.
The Journal of Investigative Dermatology published a study that examined 400 women between 70 and 80 years old for signs of skin aging. They also took into consideration where these women lived and took measurements of general traffic emissions as well as ambient particles from fixed monitoring sites.
Here’s the one I thought was hilarious. They also tested dust in the women’s homes and analyzed it for pollutants. Imagine having your home scientifically analyzed for how clean or dirty it was. What a nightmare!
But I digress. Using what they measured about these women’s environments and how much their skin had aged, they found that air pollution was significantly linked to visible signs of skin aging, including hyperpigmentation, age spots, and wrinkles.
Traffic pollution was associated with twenty percent more age spots on the forehead and cheeks, and all types of pollution were found to be linked with more pronounced smile lines.
Now, women are beautiful no matter how we age, and our worth is certainly not correlated with how deep our wrinkles are. I am, however, realistic in knowing that for many women, this is a concern. If knowing these statistics motivates you to take care of your lungs, I’m happy.
Another study published in the Journal of Dermatological Science reviewed pollution and skin. They looked at research that had been done so far, collaborating with experts on environmental health, clinical research in dermatology and cosmetic dermatology. They looked only at studies that examined the effects of pollution on skin.
Their findings confirmed that air pollution damages skin, ozone depletes skin antioxidants, and that pollution-induced skin damage is a global problem.
The air, your lungs, and your skin
The EPA has a grim list of potential risks associated with breathing bad air. It’s not pretty.
Ozone, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, and sulfur dioxide are among some of the airborne materials that can irritate or damage lung tissue, putting you at greater risk for infections. Repeated or high levels of exposure to some of these can cause permanent damage, cancer, or even premature death.
Many of these symptoms aren’t observed right away. During fire events it’s more obvious that air quality is low, but on a normal day you may not be aware that what you’re breathing isn’t totally healthy.
Air quality isn’t something we have much control over, but we can benefit from being aware of our local air quality, its fluctuations, and knowing what we can do to help our lungs stay healthy.
Where’s the good air?
Different factors affect the air quality in the place you live, such as topography (valleys tend collect smog), amount of cars on the road, density of trees, number of factories and other high-emission buildings, and incidents of fires.
My friend Dr. Trevor Cates wrote an article on air quality and health and in it she shared this awesome resource for checking the air quality in your city. Don’t worry– if your city doesn’t score well, you’re not completely doomed. I share this because it’s always better to know what you’re dealing with, so you can put some attention on nurturing and protecting your lungs.
Depending on where you live, the air quality inside your house and can actually be worse! In fact, the EPA ranks indoor air quality among the top five environmental risks to public health. Off-gassing of chemicals from carpet and furniture, household cleaning supplies, as well as toxins brought into the house on clothing and shoes can accumulate and wreak havoc on your home air quality.
Here are some solutions for dealing with poor air quality both inside and outside the home:
Outdoor air pollution:
- Avoid exercising on high pollution days or near heavy traffic areas.
- Spend time in your local forests or highly vegetated areas.
- Do your part to improve the air quality in your region! Reduce your use of wood burning stoves, drive as little as possible and don’t idle your vehicle, and support local efforts to reduce pollution.
Indoor air pollution:
- Open your windows whenever possible to circulate fresh air throughout your space.
- Invest in an air purifier, especially if your outdoor air quality is poor and thus opening the windows isn’t always the ideal solution.
- Fill your house with plants that clean the air such as Spider Plant and Dracaena
- Vacuum often if you have carpet.
- Diffuse essential oils, especially those that support the lungs (keep reading to find out which herbs I recommend!)
In next week’s post, we’ll continue this discussion, and I’ll share some herbs with you that you can use to support healthy lung and skin health inside and out.
I’d love to hear from you!
Have you noticed a lung-skin connection in your own health? Please share in the comments below.