Toxic Skin Reaction Form Indoor Ozone

It has recently been discovered that oil that is naturally found on a person's skin, has the ability to ensnare substantial amounts of indoor ozone, which it then is able to emit it in the form of chemicals that can cause a skin and lung irritation.

An assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences at Texas A&M; Health Science Center's Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy in Kingsville, Rajat Sethi, explains:

"They are saying that compounds on the skin react to the ozone and cause more irritation to the skin. They have identified those compounds."

The Study

The discussed study, which was published in the journal entitled 'Proceedings of the National Academies of Science', maintains that the findings are not cause for alarm just yet.

The co-lead author of the study and an adjunct professor at the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey in Piscataway and a member of the faculty of the Technical University of Denmark in Copenhagen, Charles J. Weschler, address this as follows:

"I would say this is not very alarming at this point. This chemistry has been going on since the dawn of man. As long as humans have existed, they've existed with ozone, and this chemistry has been occurring."

Although there is has been a multitude of studies done and reports written on the dangerous health effects of the ozone outside, hardly any studies have been conducted to address inside ozone.

Wescheler explains: "We're talking about ozone that people breathe, that people come in contact with, as opposed to ozone up in the stratosphere that protects us from the sun."

Indoor Ozone

Little do people realize that ozone has the ability to travel inside through an open window or other type of ventilation, it can also seep into the inside air through the sweat that falls off of office equipment that has not been serviced lately, such as laser printers, computers and photocopier machines.

Sethi presented the study during the meeting of the American Heart Association, in which he attempted to establish a link between 'outdoor ozone an increased risk of ischemic attack and angina', by stating that:

"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has claimed that indoor ozone exposure may be 100 times more than outdoor exposure."

In another study conducted by Weschler, "proton transfer reaction-mass spectrometry" was used in an attempt to evaluate compounds that were released into the air via the contact between the ozone and human skin oil.

The most universal fat and antioxidant that is found on human skin is called Squalene. When this particular antioxidant from a single person, comes into contact with ozone, together they are able to reduce the ozone concentration in a small by nearly 10 - 25%.

Once this interaction has occurred, by-products are then released back into the indoor environment.

"Some of these products are benign, something like acetone or fingernail-polish remover. Some of these compounds have not been identified before in terms of this chemistry, but we don't expect them to pose much of a health concern simply because of their structure," explains Weschler. Then again, "some of these compounds may be a health concern, but toxicity studies have yet to be done," he added.


Reactions can also occur on items where squalene was automatically left after someone had recently touched the item, such as a computer keyboard or counter top.

It was previously believed that vitamin E was the primary antioxidant that protected a person's skin from ozone. However this study has proven that it is in fact squalene.

"Squalene has been doing the heavy lifting when it comes to protecting us from the ozone. Some of these products [resulting from the interaction] we inhale and some stay on our skin. Toxicologists will be looking more closely at what some of the potential health effects are," noted Weschler.

The Assistant vice president of national policy and advocacy at the American Lung Association, Janice Nolen, also believes that this latest study does indeed demonstrate exactly how harmful the ozone can be:

"Ozone by itself is harmful straight out, and we've known for some time that ozone indoors reacts with a variety of things. This study tells us more about how ozone can affect us and reinforces why we don't want ozone indoors," she said.

In light of this study, Nolen does not recommend using any product, such as an air purifying device, that actually produces ozone.

"If it's a mechanism with a filter of some kind, then you're not going to be producing ozone," she said. "If you're using something that uses electric static or a chemical process, the odds are that you're going to be producing ozone."

But even filtering, she added, "is limited in its ability to help clean up indoor air."

Photo Credit: Savara Gallery

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