Clogged shower drains and a receding hairline might just be the result of living in a polluted city. Good air quality is certainly no longer self-evident. In fact, small air-polluting particles float in the air, better known as particulate matter (PM) in cities. Particles made by humans, such as soot, are most common and cause serious air pollution. It is estimated that no fewer than nine out of ten people around the world breathe in polluted air. This is not only an attack on our health, but now also appears to be related to hair loss.

More About Particulate Matter

Particulate matter (PM) is a term used to describe a mixture of solid particles and droplets in the air. It consists of particles of different sizes, origins and chemical composition and is divided into two categories. The first category consists of PM10; particles with a diameter of 10 microns or less. The second category is PM2.5; particles that have a diameter of 2.5 microns or less. Both PM10 and PM2.5 are considered to be important pollutants released by the burning of fossil fuels including gasoline, diesel and other fuels such as coal, oil and biomass. Other industrial activities – such as construction, mining and the production of materials such as cement, ceramics and bricks – can also cause an increase in particulate matter.

Air Pollution Study

It is known that particulate matter is bad for our health. Every year around 4.2 million people die worldwide as a result of inhaling particulate matter that penetrates deep into the lungs and the cardiovascular system. But does particulate matter actually have other consequences? Researchers decided to study it in a new study. “Recently the amount of particulate matter in Korea has increased considerably,” says research leader Hyuk Chul Kwon. “It is therefore recognized as a serious problem in Korea. Moreover, we know that there is an important link between air pollution and serious diseases. But little research has actually been done into the effect of specific exposure on human skin or hair. And so I decided to take a closer look at this.”

can air pollution cause hair loss

Can Air Pollution Cause Hair Loss?

In the study, cells located on the surface of the human scalp – the so-called follicle of papilla cells (HFDPCs) – were exposed to different concentrations of particulate matter (PM10) and diesel particles. “So we did not look at the hair follicles themselves, but at the cells at the base of the hair follicle,” Kwon emphasizes. “These cells are responsible for hair growth and hair retention.” After the cells were exposed to the pollutants, the researchers left them for a day. They then determined the levels of different proteins in the cells the next day. The results show that the presence of particulate matter and diesel particles lowers the levels of beta-catenin – an important protein involved in hair growth. Three other proteins – cyclin D1, cyclin E and CDK2 – that are involved in hair growth and hair retention, also appeared to occur in fewer numbers. “Our study shows that particulate matter suppresses the genes involved in hair growth,” summarizes Kwon. “Moreover, it appears that the higher the concentrations of contaminated substances, the greater the decrease in proteins.”

High concentrations of dust = Balding?

This means that if someone is frequently exposed to high concentrations of fine dust, this could even lead to baldness. “At the moment we have only done research in a laboratory,” he says. “We therefore need more research to understand what the precise impact is on people who are regularly and frequently exposed to pollutants in daily life, in the real world. We know that men generally suffer from hair loss due to the hormone dihydrotestosterone,” says Kwon. “But to find out whether particulate matter also has more impact on hair growth in men than women, more research will first have to be conducted.”


However, it may be wise to take some measures yourself. Certainly also in view of the impact of particulate matter on your health. But what can you actually do yourself? “You can try to limit exposure to air pollution,” Kwon suggests. “Although it is difficult to avoid the pollutants outside, you can spend less time on busy streets, especially during rush hour. And if you exercise outside, you can try to find other less polluted parks or areas. You can also better avoid traffic lights. You can also make changes indoors. “Make sure that you ventilate your house properly, that pollutants do not get stuck and, moreover, cannot come in,” advises Kwon. And maybe there will soon also be products on the market that can help against hair loss caused by particulate matter. “We are now developing different materials,” says Kwon. “It may be possible to make the necessary products out of it in the future.”


1. Effects of particular matter on human dermal papilla (Hyuk Chul Kwon). Presented at the 28th EADV Congress, Madrid, 9 October, 2019

2. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Particulate Matter (PM) Pollution

3. Air pollution. World Health Organisation

4. Ambient air pollution: Pollutants. World Health Organisation

Brian Johnson MD

Brian Johnson MD

Dr. Brian Johnson is a professor of dermatology. He has conducted numerous research studies about hair loss and it's effects on the human psyche. Dr. Johnson has written for Maclean's, Motherboard, the National Post, and the Huffington Post.
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