What Is the Exposome and How Does It Affect Your Skin?

What is the exposome and how does it affect skin?
Reading: 6 minutes

The pollution in your commute to work, how late you went to bed last night, even what you had for lunch… Your daily choices and environment affect your overall health. And when it comes to your skin, they could even be increasing signs of aging.  

These everyday factors make up what’s called the exposome. Let’s walk through the definition of the exposome, how it affects your skin, and some expert tips from dermatologists for how you can fight back.

What is the exposome?

For those of us that aren’t scientists, we could probably use a refresher on what exposome means. Coined by molecular epidemiologist Christopher P. Wild in 2005, exposome describes the sum of factors we’re exposed to that influence our health. 

This explains how factors from our environment and lifestyle interact with our individual characteristics such as genetics and impact our health. Because while genetics play an important role in our well-being, they only factor into 20% of chronic diseases. The remaining majority can be attributed to the exposome — making it a pretty big deal. 

The good news is that although we can’t choose our genetics, we can update our lifestyle. 

How does it affect your skin?

The skin is the largest organ in our body. With an area of almost 22 square feet, it’s the barrier between our body and the outside world. So naturally, our daily environment and lifestyle choices also affect the health and appearance of our skin. In fact, 80% of visible skin aging can be attributed to one exposome factor: Ultraviolet radiation.

80% of visible skin aging is attributed to one exposome factor: UV radiation.

7 exposome factors that could harm your skin

Seven common exposome and lifestyle factors can negatively affect skin’s health and appearance: sun exposure, smoking, weather, diet, stress, lack of sleep, and pollution. 

factors of the skin exposome

Let’s see how each of them affects our skin and how we can fight back.

1. Your level of solar exposure

Sunny days are inarguably the best. But while soaking up the rays feels great and helps provide us with vitamin D, it’s also the main cause of the appearance of skin aging. 

Solar radiation, and especially UV radiation, accelerates the signs of skin aging (like dark spots and fine lines) more than anything else in your exposome. And not only that, it also increases the risk of skin cancer.

However, solar radiation isn’t just a seasonal concern. We’re constantly exposed to UVA and UVB rays while riding in the car, sitting inside a well-lit office, and even walking about on cloudy days.

Check your UV index right now here!

Solar radiation is the #1 culprit of visible skin aging.

How to fight back:

Sunscreen, always. We visited the Head of Dermatology at the Beteré Clinic in Madrid, Spain Dr. Paloma Borregón to get her expert take: “The cream that I use every day is sunscreen. There is no better anti-wrinkle or anti-aging treatment than a sunscreen.”

Get into the daily routine of applying a high SPF, broad spectrum facial sunscreen, and remember to reapply every two hours. This simple step can help to combat up to 80% of the visible signs of skin aging.

protect against the biggest cause of skin aging with sunscreen

2. You smoke

Tobacco smoke contains more than 3,800 different harmful chemicals: nicotine, carbon monoxide, tar, ammonia, the list goes on. Smoking is a habit that’s both harmful to your health and your skin. 

Did you know that 10 years of smoking can make your skin look 2.5 years older than it normally would? Wrinkles around the lips, crow’s feet, blemishes, and grayish skin color are all side effects that your skin could live without. 

10 years of smoking can add an extra 2.5 years to the look of your skin.

How to fight back:

We aren’t here to judge. But when it comes to improving your skin’s appearance and your overall health, quitting smoking is the way to go.

3. Your diet could be better

Food plays a primary role not only in our general health but also in the appearance of our skin. As a matter of fact, up to 30% of wrinkle formation can be linked to nutrition. And sweet tooths everywhere beware: excessive sugar consumption can contribute to unwanted lines as well. 

Up to 30% of fine lines can be attributed to poor nutrition.

How to fight back:

We are what we eat. A healthy diet can improve our energy level, mood, and body from the inside out.  So, following a varied, balanced diet can also improve the look of our skin. 

Vitamins and minerals help to protect us from oxidative damage caused by free radicals and can help delay the appearance of skin aging. Stocking up on superfoods for your skin, like seasonal fruits and vegetables, and cutting down on refined sugars will get you glowing in no time. 

4. You’re stressing out your skin

Our not-so-favorite emotions such as stress and anxiety are also reflected through our skin. Stress can cause skin conditions such as eczema and acne, or exacerbate symptoms of existing issues such as atopic or seborrheic dermatitis. 

Cortisol is the hormone produced in response to stress. And high cortisol levels can suppress your immune system, increase oxidative stress, and impair your skin’s barrier function. So it’s no wonder that stress may correspond to skin discoloration, reduced elasticity, and fine lines.

Chronic stress can increase the appearance of skin discoloration and fine lines.

How to fight back:

It’s time to slow down and take a breath. Easier said than done, but to maintain our daily rhythm we need to recharge our batteries. Find time for yourself a few minutes each day to do something that brings you joy. Try carving out a calm moment to take care of yourself and be intentional when applying your skincare products.

Stress and cortisol levels can also be lowered through physical exercise or a good night’s sleep. Bringing us to our next point…

5. You’re not getting enough sleep

Packed schedules and late-night scrolling can take their toll on our mood and our sleep. But, prioritizing rest is vital for both feeling and looking your best.

A lack of sleep can weaken the skin‘s protective barrier and hinder its response to other external exposome factors. And sleeping less than five hours a day can actually increase the pesky signs of skin aging such as a dull complexion, dark under-eye circles, and fine lines.

Sleeping less than 5 hours a day increases the signs of skin aging.

How to fight back:

Fortunately, this is one of the skin-affecting exposome factors that you can control. 

At night, your skin switches from protect-mode to repair-mode to recover from the day’s stresses. Melatonin and human growth hormone (HGH) production are boosted, which in turn accelerates skin regeneration and the production of antioxidant enzymes. So catching a few extra z’s will naturally help your complexion.

As if all that isn’t promising enough, at night your skin is also more receptive to topical skincare products, as it’s more permeable. Try introducing antioxidant-rich topical melatonin into your nightly routine, such as a rich serum, beauty sleep cream, or even a nighttime eye cream for that fully rested look.

6. You’re exposed to pollution

Every day we’re exposed to high levels of pollution. Especially those of us who live in big, bustling cities. And pollution is a part of our exposome that’s closely linked to premature aging of the skin. 

The pollution caused by tobacco, heavy metals in the environment, and CO2 emissions, are just some of the main culprits. Their microparticles suspended in the air adhere to the skin. Over time, this can cause cell damage via oxidative stress on your skin and increase the appearance of wrinkles, damper skin’s firmness and elasticity, dull your complexion, and cause uneven pigmentation. In fact, many studies indicate that pollution is a major cause of dark spots. Yikes!

Studies indicate that pollution is a major cause of dark spots.

How to fight back:

Combine good cleansing with rejuvenating products that contain antioxidants into your daily skincare routine. Cleanse your skin daily, and especially at night, to get rid of pollution particles sticking around. Then add restorative antioxidants such as vitamin C, found in the daytime serum Flavo-C Ultraglican ampoules, and melatonin, in the 3-in-1 night time serum Melatonik, to aid in combating the signs of aging caused by oxidative damage.

7. You’re exposed to extreme temperatures

You know what they say. If you can’t stand the heat… your skin might feel the same way? Extreme high temperatures can cause oxidative damage, contributing to premature aging of the skin.

Exposure to extreme heat is associated with signs of premature skin aging. 

How to fight back:

If your job depends on high-heat situations, there’s not much you can do here. But, a little proactive self-care can’t hurt. Try adding targeted, exfoliating serums to help even out skin tone and restore luminosity — our Brightening Routine is a great place to start.


Healthy, radiant skin is the reflection of vibrant overall health. Focusing on how you can improve your daily experience with exposome factors such as sleep, pollution, and diet can do wonders for your skin’s appearance and well-being. And just for good measure, here’s our favorite reminder one more time: don’t forget to use sunscreen daily.

References:

Khmaladze I, Leonardi M, Fabre S, Messaraa C, Mavon A. The Skin Interactome: A Holistic "Genome-Microbiome-Exposome" Approach to Understand and Modulate Skin Health and Aging. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2020 Dec 24;13:1021-1040. doi: 10.2147/CCID.S239367
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