An Underappreciated Weapon Against Air Pollution: Our Dead Skin

By Patrick Morgan | May 17, 2011 8:21 am

We humans have a whole lotta skin: The average adult human body has about 22 square feet of it. If you could step out of your skin and plop it on a scale (kids, don’t try this at home), it would weigh 8 pounds. And every minute, 40,000 of your dead skin cells flake off your body and join their brethren among the dust that accumulates in your home. Knowing how much dead skin we slough off, some scientists decided to test what that skin is up to, discovering that the oils in dead skin cells actually help reduce indoor air pollution.

The idea of linking skin cells with air pollution doesn’t take too much of a mental leap: Past research has shown that the natural organic compound known as squalene, which is found in human skin, hair, and clothing, chemically reacts with ozone and neutralizes it. “More than half of the ozone removal measured in a simulated aircraft cabin was found to be a consequence of ozone reacting with exposed, skin, hair, and clothing of passengers,” according to the American Chemical Society.

In this new study, the scientists branched out to see if humans shed enough dead skin to make a measurable impact on air pollution. They collected dust from 151 daycare centers in Odense, Denmark, as well as the bedrooms of 500 children aged 3-5 (presumably after consulting with their parents). Chemicals like squalene and cholesterol were found in over 97% of the dust samples, and when they crunched the numbers, they realized that our household dust reduces indoor ozone levels by 2 to 15 percent.

So the next time you battle a bout of dandruff or suffer through the flaky after-effects of a sunburn, remind yourself that it’s not all bad: your sloughed-off skin flakes are busy cleaning the air.

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Not Exactly Rocket Science: When diving into food, why not absorb it through your skin?
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Image: flickr / agnte

  • Brindes

    So people that shower too much (2, 3 times a day like myseklf) would endup not only consuming unecessary water but also removing something (skin) that would help clean the atmosphere? Danm

    Btw, what a great feet in this article picture! lol

  • Denis

    2,3 times a day? Are you a professional jogger, a dung digger or what?!

  • coryy

    I dunno, as a professional gardener who likes to work out, but has to be presentable in between morning gardening and evening exercising, I get how 3 showers can happen:

    morning, 7-noon: digging in the mud, weeding. Go home. bare minimum, wash up arms/face before lunch. Go outside and muck barn stalls.

    3pm: pick up kids from school. shower beforehand or other moms look at you funny.
    4-7 schlep children to various sports.
    7 pm –workout, go home, shower. Go grocery shopping.

    Depending on how muddy I got at work, it might be necessary to shower between lunch and barn chores, especially if it was a “accidentally have spider nest drop in your hat” or “weed the koi pond” day. Algae flavored sandwiches are not my favorite.

  • Msafwan

    luckly skin doesn’t cause asthma…

  • Matt B.

    Finally, my habit of not dusting is vindicated. I’ll have to tell my mom that my whole lot o’ skin is cleaning the air.

  • SusanA

    Now, I wonder if the positive effect of squalene can outweigh the negative impact of allergens like house dust mite in house dust? I’ve been telling people to dust more – should I be saying dust less, maybe?

  • shadegem

    What gets me is that hair is also effective. It would also be a lot easier to create something out of long strands of hair than small flakes of dead skin. I wonder what the difference in efficiency is though…
    In any case, I shed hair like crazy, so now I can tell my roommate that all the hair vacuumed up and clogging the bristles on the vacuum cleaner was being useful.

  • Mui

    I shower once a day in the summer (at night to cool off before bed for comfy sleeping), and every other day in the winter.

    No, I don’t smell either.

    The reason for the difference is in the winter I don’t got hot and sweaty. If you workout I can understand a shower afterwords. Though if I do play tennis it’s in the evening, and a weeknight so I’m not going anywhere. So that contributes to the once a night summer shower.

    Yes, I also where pants for more than one day because jeans don’t get stinky or dirty after one day.

  • geeta

    Noting Matt B in #5 – I wonder if the dead skin gets ‘saturated’ or ‘warn out’ after so many cycles of ozone cleaning; much like air/water filters. If so, you just might have to look for another justification.
    And the hair, being dead even while attached to the skin,presumably contributes to the de-pollution process before falling off. Does the cleaning action do something to the hair – the color/texture etc? Maybe hairy customers should get a concession on their next air ticket

  • gautam cuncoliencar

    you guys are loosing it !


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