The skinny on how shed skin reduces indoor air pollution

May 9, 2011

Flakes of skin that people shed at the rate of 500 million cells every day are not just a nuisance — the source of dandruff, for instance, and a major contributor to house dust. They actually can be beneficial. A new study, published in the American Chemical Society's journal, Environmental Science & Technology, concludes that oil in those skin cells makes a small contribution to reducing indoor air pollution.

Charles Weschler and colleagues explain that humans shed their entire outer layer of every 2-4 weeks at the rate of 0.001 – 0.003 ounces of skin flakes every hour. Those flakes contain skin oils, including cholesterol and "squalene," and are a major constituent of the dust that accumulates on tables and other surfaces in homes and offices. Past research suggested that squalene from passengers' skin had a role in reducing levels of — a pollutant that can irritate the eyes, nose and throat and worsen asthma symptoms — from the air in airplane cabins.

"It is only within the last five years that we've grown to appreciate the central role that squalene (from human skin oil) plays in oxidation chemistry within indoor environments," the report notes. "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."

In the new study, the scientists set out to make the first extensive determinations of cholesterol and squalene in dust in homes and daycare centers and to figure out how these substances affect pollution. The scientists analyzed dust samples collected from 500 bedrooms of children aged 3-5 and the 151 daycare centers the children attended in the city of Odense, Denmark and its surroundings as part of the Danish Indoor Environment and Children's Health Study.

Among their findings: "Squalene in settled dust … contributes, in a small way, to the indoor removal of ozone," reducing indoor ozone levels roughly 2 to 15 percent.

Explore further: Indoor air purifiers that produce even small amounts of ozone may be risky for health

Related Stories

Skin oil -- ozone interactions worsen air quality in airplanes

September 5, 2007

Airline passengers and crews who gripe about poor cabin air quality could have a new culprit to blame: the oils on their skin, hair and clothing. A study in the current issue of ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology suggests ...

We're surrounded! House dust is a rich source of bacteria

April 8, 2008

If you’ve always suspected there are unknown things living in the dark and dusty corners of your home and office, we are now one step closer to cataloguing exactly what might be lurking in your indoor environment. Buildings ...

Houseplants cut indoor ozone

September 8, 2009

Ozone, the main component of air pollution, or smog, is a highly reactive, colorless gas formed when oxygen reacts with other chemicals. Although ozone pollution is most often associated with outdoor air, the gas also infiltrates ...

Recommended for you

Ice sheets may be more resilient than thought

September 3, 2015

Sea level rise poses one of the biggest threats to human systems in a globally warming world, potentially causing trillions of dollars' worth of damages to flooded cities around the world. As surface temperatures rise, ice ...

Clues from ancient Maya reveal lasting impact on environment

September 3, 2015

Evidence from the tropical lowlands of Central America reveals how Maya activity more than 2,000 years ago not only contributed to the decline of their environment but continues to influence today's environmental conditions, ...

Climate ups odds of 'grey swan' superstorms

August 31, 2015

Climate change will boost the odds up to 14-fold for extremely rare, hard-to-predict tropical cyclones for parts of Australia, the United States and Dubai by 2100, researchers said Monday.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.