It’s no secret the air we breathe is a cause for concern. No matter where you go pollutants have infiltrated the air *everywhere* and can compromise your health, your skin, not to mention the environment you live in. And now, according to recent research, turns out pollution is also the culprit behind a few very common, sometimes serious, hair frustrations.
But here’s the good news: Saving your strands from air pollution is actually incredibly easy when you get to the root of what’s really causing harm. Which is why, today, we’re taking a deep dive into all things air pollution. Read on to learn everything there is to know, including the main ways air pollution affects your hair and what you can do to fix it.
WHAT IS AIR POLLUTION?
Let’s get down to basics. Air pollution is the presence of particulate matter in the air – aka, particle pollution made up of a combo of solid particles and water droplets – that is harmful to humans, animals and the environment. This includes acids, chemicals, soil, dust, minerals and metals. Some of these, such as dust and soot, are visible to the naked eye, while microparticles of metals, minerals and other elements float by unnoticed. But just because you don’t always see pollution it doesn’t mean it isn’t there causing harm.
WHAT CAUSES AIR POLLUTION?
There are two main causes of air pollution:
1. Natural Causes (i.e., forest fires, volcanic eruptions, dust storms)
2. Man-Made Causes (i.e., cars, planes, factories, burning of fossil fuels… the list goes on)
You might be thinking: “I live in the suburbs, far from any factories or airports, etc. Is my hair still at risk?” Unfortunately, yes. Air pollution is EVERYWHERE. It’s true, living in suburban areas saves you from the same kind of excessive exposure city dwellers get. But the hard truth is, you’re still exposed to some level of pollution on the daily, even if it’s just cars passing by as you walk down the street.
HOW DOES AIR POLLUTION AFFECT HAIR?
Turns out air pollution affects hair in a very similar fashion to hard water by leaving behind minerals and metals that build up on the hair. How does this happen? For that, we asked our in-house chemist, Dr. Joe Cincotta, Ph.D., to break down the science for us. Here’s what he said: When particles from fossil fuels and diesel fuels (even dust and dirt from the Earth) are released into the air, they contain an assortment of minerals and metals that are positively charged. Hair, on the other hand, holds a negative charge.
“Anytime you blow dry, color process or use any kind of heat process on your hair, it becomes more and more negatively charged. Because metals and minerals have a positive charge on them, they are attracted to your hair and stick to the surface like a magnet,” Dr. Joe says.
Essentially, these minerals and metals cling to the hair. And when left undealt with, build up over time and result in a myriad of issues, including:
One Hair Loss Cause? Air Pollution
According to a recent study, pollutants in the air have been linked to hair loss. After exposing hair to high levels of particulate matter, researchers discovered these pollutants reduced levels of beta-catenin in the hair, a key protein needed for growth. Not only that, but they also lowered levels of additional proteins related to growth and retention.
Color Fade + Color Distortion
Just as pollutants in the air can be extremely aggressive on your respiratory system and your skin, they make no exception for your strands. In fact, they can even “influence the deterioration of the cuticle and modification of the hair color, both natural and dyed.” (Biotech Marine) In not-so-technical terms, pollutants can damage your cuticle, causing it to become raised. When this happens, it’s much harder for your strands to retain your color, resulting in it leaching out at a much faster rate. Not only that, but just the presence of metals and minerals on your hair can result in a filmy build up that dulls, darkens and distorts your color.
It’s true, air pollutants can actually speed up the aging process of your hair. There have been a lot of studies about how oxidative stress and free radicals break down our body’s “youthful” defenses and can result in premature skin aging. Well, the same is true for hair… environmental pollutions (and UV rays) produce free radicals that can prematurely age hair, causing it to turn grey.
Integrity of the Hair
The health and strength of your strands are also at risk when it comes to air pollution. You’ll be shocked by how many common hair probs are the direct result of mineral and metal build up on the hair: coarse, rigid texture; lack of movement and bounce; droopy curls; brittleness and breakage; clogged follicles; dehydration; frizz.