Gross But True: Your Dead Skin Can Reduce Indoor Air Pollution

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researchers find skin flakes can reduce indoor ozone levelsErrr…I guess the real question is, why would anybody think of researching the effect of dead skin on indoor air pollution in the first place? Well the answer to that will just have to wait. In the meantime, thanks to the intrepid media team of Bernstein and Woods (what are the odds?) over at the American Chemical Society, we have the story of new research into the effect of dead skin on indoor air pollution. The results may leave you with a deeper appreciation for the role of dandruff in our sustainable future, because it turns out that your dead skin can reduce indoor ozone levels by up to 15 percent (and yes I know it’s Woodward, not Woods, but still…).

Dead Skin and House Dust

As noted by Michael Bernstein and Michael Woods (check out their article on the ACS website) we all shed about 500 million cells of skin cells every day – that’s each one of us – which comes out to about .003 ounces of skin flakes per person per hour. The collaborative study by scientists in the U.S., Denmark and Sweden looked at dust samples from hundreds of bedrooms and day care centers as part of a broader Danish research project relating to indoor air pollution and children’s health. Given the rate of human skin shedding, the researchers predicted that skin flakes would account for a significant proportion of the material in house dust.

Dead Skin and Ozone Pollution

Human skin contains squalene, a component of natural skin oil. That’s not the same as squalane, by the way. Previous research in an enclosed indoor setting (a simulated aircraft cabin) suggested that squalene reacts with ozone and neutralizes it. Skin flakes are one direct source of squalene, but hair and clothing can also be involved. In the Danish study, researchers found squalene and cholesterol in more than 97 percent of the dust samples they collected. Accounting for a number of variables related to the presence of cholesterol in dust (such as cooking, for example), they concluded that squalene in house dust results in a measurable “scavenging of ozone” in the indoor environment.

Okay, Gross. Now What Does it Mean?

With the world’s population set to increase by billions within this century, the new research indicates that there is going to be a lot more house dust in our future. But look on the bright side, there is also going to be a lot more squalene around to fight indoor ozone pollution. Seriously now, the research does suggest that there are any number of undiscovered, uninvestigated natural systems out there that could help us manage the impact of human activity on our planet.

Image: Skin flakes by Quinn.anya on

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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