14 October 2019

Losing hair? Blame it on the air

How on earth are air pollution and hair loss linked? It seems impossible, but read on if you’ve been losing hair…

When the seasons change, it’s likely that you might be shedding a bit of hair in the shower. Previous studies have linked seasonal changes to "moulting" in humans, and it’s usually nothing to worry about.

But new research, presented at the 28th EADV Congress in Madrid, shows for the first time that exposure to common air pollutants known as particulate matter (PM) is linked to hair loss in humans.

What does air have to do with hair?

The research was conducted using cells from the human scalp at the base of the follicles (human follicle dermal papilla cells or HFDPC) and exposing them to various particulate matters such as dust and diesel particulate, commonly found in polluted air.

Researchers then performed a process on the cells to detect a specific protein that helps the hair grow. It was shown that the presence of PM10 (particulate matter with a diameter of less than 10 micrometres) decreased the level of that protein.

The study also revealed that the levels of three other proteins, which are responsible for hair growth and hair retention, were decreased by PM10-like dust and diesel particulate.

Why does particulate matter matter?

Particulate matter (PM) can be described as a mix of solid particles and droplets found in the air. PM is divided into categories based on their diameter. PM10 is considered a major pollutant and is linked to many other conditions besides hair loss. PM10 includes burning fossil fuels, petrol, diesel, coal, oil and biomass.

Lead researcher, Hyuk Chul Kwon from the Future Science Research Centre in the Republic of Korea, stated in the news report: "While the link between air pollution and serious diseases such as cancer, COPD and cardiovascular diseases is well established, there is little to no research on the effect of particulate matter exposure on the human skin and hair in particular. Our research explains the mode of action of air pollutants on human follicle dermal papilla cells, showing how the most common air pollutants lead to hair loss."

Protect yourself against air pollution

Whether you are concerned about hair loss or not, air pollution can also increase your risk of respiratory allergies and conditions. While those who live and work in highly-populated industrialised urban areas can’t entirely escape air pollution, there are ways to contain your exposure:

  • Avoid exercising (running and walking) near traffic-dense areas such as freeways or busy roads.
  • Change your clothes, shower and wash your hair as soon as you come home from work to avoid spreading particles around the house.
  • Invest in houseplants to increase the air quality inside your home.
  • Avoid burning gas and wood without proper ventilation.

Image credit: iStock