Dioxin Myth: Environmental Dioxin Poisoning is Responsible for Mounting Cases of Acne in Adult Women

November 11, 2005

A California company is claiming that dioxin poisoning is at the root of increasing numbers of cases of adult acne in women. The company's press release claims that dioxin exposure can cause the body to produce excess amounts of keratin, the protein found in hair, fingernails and skin. This buildup of keratin, according to the press release, clogs pores and causes pimples and blackheads.

Here are the facts:

  • There is no scientific evidence linking ambient levels of dioxin exposure to adult acne in women. The one health effect clearly linked to extremely rare, high levels of dioxin exposure is a reversible skin condition known as chloracne. The level of exposure needed to cause chloracne is hundreds of times greater than the very low level to which the general public is exposed.
  • People who have developed chloracne were exposed to unusually high levels of dioxins through workplace accidents or, as alleged in the case of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, intentional poisonings. Chloracne does not appear to affect women preferentially to men.
  • Figure 1 compares the average US body level of one dioxin compound--2,3,7,8-TCDD-to levels recorded in rare cases of high exposure to this compound. The US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) states that 2,3,7,8-TCDD body levels of at least 800 parts per trillioni are likely necessary to induce chloracne.ii The latest CDC data show the average American's body level of this compound is less than 5.2 parts per trillion.iii


More information on rare cases of high dioxin exposure is available by clicking here.

  • Virtually everyone on Earth is exposed to extremely low levels of dioxins, with no apparent ill health effects. Throughout human history, people have been exposed to natural sources of dioxins including forest fires, volcanoes and campfires.
  • Dioxins have never been manufactured for commercial use. They are trace by-products of various types of combustion and manufacturing. Over the past few decades, industry and government have worked together to reduce industrial dioxin emissions to the environment. As a result, dioxin emissions, as monitored by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have plummeted by 92 percent since 1987. According to EPA data, the most significant quantified source of dioxin exposure in the US today is backyard trash burning.

End Notes:

iA part per trillion is roughly equivalent to one drop of ink in an Olympic-size swimming pool.
iiMocarelli et al. (1991). Serum Concentrations of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin and test results from selected residents of Seveso, Italy. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, 32, 357-66, as cited in:
iiiUS Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (2005). Third National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals.

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