New Study: Our Skin Absorbs Pollutants From The Air

We do not only breathe pollutants (phthalates), but also take them in through our skin, suggests a new study.

phthalates

The findings of a new study have taken pollution to a scarier level: it appears that our skin can absorb airborne pollutants known as phthalates.

“We’re big sponges for these chemicals,” says lead researcher, John Kissel, from the University of Washington in the US, in a statement to Science News.

Derived from oil, phthalates are semi-volatile chemicals used for the manufacture of plastic, cosmetics and household cleaners. As such, about 2 million tonnes of phthalates are made every year. Their heavy use for the past 5 decades has raised concern over the negative effects on health, specially that they can infiltrate blood, breast milk and urine. The researchers of the new study, therefore, wanted to analyse the link between the concentration of phthalates in the blood and absorption through skin (dermal uptake).

The 6 volunteers who enlisted their participation for the study were exposed to high levels of 2 types of phthalates – diethyl phthalate (DEP) and di(n-butyl) phthalate (DnBP) – for 6 hours in a special chamber. Both chemicals are used in daily life; DEP is found in many personal care products and DnBP is used in nail polish.

Exposure to the chemicals happened in 2 phases: once when the participants wore specialised breathing hoods preventing them from inhaling the phthalates, and a second time without the hoods.

To obtain reliable results, the volunteers had a regulated diet and restricted use of personal care products 12 hours before going into the chamber.

“Metabolite concentrations were lower when the participants were exposed to chamber air while wearing a hood, but the levels were still substantially higher than levels measured before the participants entered the chamber, indicating significant uptake of DEP and DnBP while participants were wearing a hood,” write the researchers.

The findings showed that the dermal uptake of DEP was then found to be 10 % higher than its inhalation intake while that of DnBP was 82 % of its inhalation intake. Furthermore, the age of the participant also appeared to be linked with the degree of absorption: the older the person, the higher the dermal uptake of the 2 types of chemicals.

“The uptake of DEP by the 66-year-old is five times greater than that of the 27-year-old, while the uptake of DnBP is seven times greater,” write the authors

If our skin does not shield us from taking in these chemicals, we should be worried. However, follow-up studies need to be done since the new study was a small-scale one.

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