Chemical Peels and Air Pollution

Anyone who's done a chemical peel will admit that the peeling is a bit unsettling, from the way it feels to the way it looks, but do we ever consider those flakes of skin after they leave our bodies?

Flakes of skin that people normally shed (about 500 million cells every day when we're not doing a chemical peel) are not really a nuisance: they can actually be beneficial. Yep, it seems a bit gross, but it's true.

A new study, published in the American Chemical Society's journal, Environmental Science & Technology, concludes that oil in skin cells makes a small contribution to reducing indoor air pollution.  So, peel on.

Weschler and colleagues explained that humans shed their entire outer layer of skin every 2-4 weeks (and for those of us doing chemical peels,'s more often). Those flakes contain skin oils, including cholesterol and "squalene," and are a major constituent of the dust that accumulates on tables and other surfaces in homes and offices.

If you really want to feel disgusted the next time you fly, consider this: past research suggested that squalene from passengers' skin had a role in reducing levels of ozone--a pollutant that can irritate the eyes, nose and throat and worsen asthma symptoms--from the air in airplane cabins.

"It is only within the last five years that we've grown to appreciate the central role that squalene (from human skin oil) plays in oxidation chemistry within indoor environments," the report notes. "More than half of the ozone removal measured in a simulated aircraft cabin was found to be a consequence of ozone reacting with exposed, skin, hair, and clothing of passengers."

In the new study, the scientists set out to make the first extensive determinations of cholesterol and squalene in dust in homes and daycare centers and to figure out how these substances affect indoor air pollution. The scientists analyzed dust samples collected from 500 bedrooms of children aged 3-5 and the 151 daycare centers the children attended in the city of Odense, Denmark and its surroundings as part of the Danish Indoor Environment and Children's Health Study.

Among their findings: "Squalene in settled dust ... contributes, in a small way, to the indoor removal of ozone," reducing indoor ozone levels roughly 2 to 15 percent.

So the next time you're dreading all those flakes after your chemical peel, know that you'll breathe easier because of it.

American Chemical Society

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