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Can air quality affect skin health? A dermatologist explains as more Canadian wildfire smoke hits the U.S.

How smoke, pollution affect your skin health
How to protect your skin from wildfire smoke and air pollution 03:49

As Canadian wildfire smoke continues to blanket parts of the U.S. and endanger the health of millions of people, experts say there is an organ that requires just as much attention as your lungs: your skin.

"Pollution can damage the skin by a lot of the same mechanisms that UV radiation can," Dr. Shayan Cheraghlou, a resident dermatology physician in New York City, told CBS News. "That's by generating reactive oxygen species that can cause premature aging of the skin, [and] can exacerbate underlying skin conditions like eczema or other inflammatory skin conditions."

Reactive oxygen species, according to the National Cancer Institute, are a "type of unstable molecule" that can damage DNA. Recent studies cited by the American Academy of Dermatology found wildfire smoke is associated with an increase in patient visits for skin conditions including eczema and psoriasis.

"Your skin is one of your first line defenses against the environment," Cheraghlou said.

Who is most at risk for skin issues stemming from poor air quality?

Experts say those with compromised skin barriers should be especially vigilant, such as older people and eczema patients.

"Older patients already have fewer lipids in their skin layer," Cheraghlou said. "It can get more burdensome for them and cause more problems."

What can you do to protect your skin from smoke?

Creating a barrier between your skin and the unhealthy air is essential, according to Cheraghlou.

"When the pollution is there, it's even more important to consider that you have a strong barrier protection, and that means moisturizing your skin regularly," he said. "Of course, you can't forget your sunscreen. Just because it's cloudy or because there's pollution doesn't mean that the sun's UV [rays] can't penetrate down and reach you."

Besides moisturizing and putting on sunscreen, staying inside is another good option, Cheraghlou said.

"If you don't need to be outside, if you do have one of these conditions that does compromise your skin barrier, it may be better to avoid doing so when pollution levels are as high as they were a couple of weeks ago, back here in New York City," he said.

How do you repair the damage already done to your skin because of air pollution?

Although Cheraghlou recommends focusing on prevention, he says there are some products that can help repair damaged skin and even further build up strong barrier protection.

"You can use topical antioxidant serums, like vitamin C serums or vitamin E serums," he said. "These help to scavenge those reactive oxygen species up and help prevent some of that damage from occurring in the first place."

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