Study Links Exposure to Air Pollution to Hair Loss in Humans

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Oct 22, 2019

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We know pollution has already ruined entire ecosystems, rendered thousands of species endangered or extinct, and exacerbated health issues in humans, who incidentally, have been the root cause of it all. Now, it turns out, air pollution is coming for our hair — and might I say, we deserve it. 

A cosmetic company-funded study out of South Korea has found common air pollutants, such as dust and fuel particles, decrease the level of four proteins present in human scalp cells responsible for hair growth and hair retention. The effect, said researchers, who presented the study at the 28th European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology Congress in Madrid, was found to be worse in areas with high levels of said dust and fuel particles, mainly metropolitan cities. To put it simply, if you live in a metro city with high levels of air pollutants, such as Delhi and Mumbai, then you’re more likely to suffer from a decrease in hair quality and hair loss. Whether this directly correlates to becoming fully bald remains to be researched.

Researchers exposed human scalp cells situated at the base of hair follicles to common air pollutants in different concentrations and implemented a technique known as western blotting to identify the levels of four proteins in the cells — namely, β-catenin, responsible for hair growth and hair follicle formation; and cyclin D1, cyclin E and CDK2, responsible for hair growth and hair retention. The higher the level of pollutants in the air, the lower the number of proteins in the scalp cells, researchers found. 

The pollutants included particulate matter that arises from the burning of fossil fuels such as petrol, diesel, coal, and oil, and from other polluting industrial processes, such as mining and building.


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“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,” Hyuk Chul Kwon, lead researcher from the Future Science Research Centre in the Republic of Korea, said in a statement.

In a 2015 study, Rajendrasingh Rajput of Mumbai’s Hair Restore Transplant Clinic found a similar connection between air pollution and hair loss: “Young patients recently shifted to metro cities are presenting with prickling in the scalp, itching, dandruff, oily scalp and pain in the hair roots,” he wrote, citing “sensitive scalp syndrome,” a condition resulting from “exposure to increasing levels of air pollution including particulate matter, dust, smoke, nickel, lead and arsenic, sulfur dioxide nitrogen dioxide, ammonia and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) which settle on the scalp and hair.” He added, “Indoor air-conditioned environments cause volatile organic compounds (VOC) released from various sources to settle on the scalp.”

With the world moving toward a climate apocalypse, and everyday life only set to get worse, it only makes sense that humans start losing the one thing we could use to tear out in frustration — our hair.

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Written By Rajvi Desai

Rajvi Desai is The Swaddle’s Culture Editor. After graduating from NYU as a Journalism and Politics major, she covered breaking news in New York City. Back in the homeland, she spends her free time trying to dismantle societal beauty standards, laughing uproariously at comedy shows, and fervently following her football team, Arsenal.

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