High air pollution does more than just irritate your lungs, research confirms it also affects the way you look. By using ESA-provided pollution maps along with ultraviolet radiation data, cosmetics firm L'Oreal plans to investigate the future possibility of producing skincare products customised for local conditions.
Working with the French Regional Centre for the Fight against Cancer and the Mexican National Institute of Public Health, in 1999 the company began a nine-month study in and around Mexico City. To study the effects of ozone and nitric oxide on the skin, 96 people in a highly polluted district of the city were compared to 93 subjects living in a less exposed urban area 75 km away.
"We saw many differences between the two groups," explained François Christiaens of L'Oreal. "We observed increased oxidation of the sebum - the oily secretion that lubricates and protects skin and hair - and the very dry or very greasy skin features of our volunteers living in Mexico City."
Christiaens explained the consequences are cosmetic, as skin and hair smoothness and brightness change, and also more serious, as oxidation compromises the skin1s natural defences and could also enhance irritation and allergic reactions.
Differences were sufficient that researchers grew interested in acquiring more precise information on regional air pollution levels. This in turn increased the existing interest in satellite data, already used for UV forecasting.
From autumn next year L'Oreal says it will receive regularly updated high-resolution maps of global UV doses and pollution levels, as part of a wide-ranging ESA Data User Programme project called Tropospheric Emission Monitoring Internet Service (TEMIS). Using space-based atmospheric instruments such as SCIAMACHY, the project will chart global concentrations of trace gases, aerosols and UV for a wide range of end users.
"We want to base our methods on state-of-the-art, high technology methods," Christiaens concluded. "We hope to get more precise - on a smaller grid and taking account of cloudiness - information on ground UV doses and pollutant levels. As a consequence, we may fine-tune our laboratory experiments to provide more customised products to consumers."