Skin and the City: How Pollution Affects Your Skin

In addition to the constant rush-around, city life also means being exposed to constant pollution.

You probably love living in the city, but it can also take its toll. It means a faster pace, rushing between apartment, office, meetings and social get-togethers, navigating bumper-to-bumper traffic to reach the next stop.

Stress and anxiety seem to follow you around, quietly gathering strength, until you have to climb in your car and travel to the closest small town in the middle of nowhere to breathe it all out and inhale some fresh air.

In addition to the constant rush-around, city life also means being exposed to constant pollution. According to Environmental Protection Agency, currently, our levels of particulate matter (small particles found in the atmosphere, in this case, in the air) are worrying, and nitrogen dioxide levels are on the rise in our cities and large towns. For instance, London reached their annual limit for air pollution one month into 2018.

The phrase “air pollutants” is a little vague, but it would be incredibly boring to list and explain each type of air pollutant. Under the umbrella term “air pollutants”, we find gases, particulate matter (the tiny particles mentioned earlier), heavy metals and traffic/toxic pollutants. Does that sound bad? It should sound bad.

With these facts in mind, you might want to consider how to be more environmentally friendly. Especially when you realize how much pollution can impact your own well-being! Pollution is often talked about especially during the haze season for its effects on health. Have you ever wondered what it does to your skin?

Invisible particles

The amount and types of pollution that bombard the skin have increased over the past and include things like smoke, smog, ozone, pesticides, factory and car emissions, even pollen. And don’t think that you’re not at risk when you’re indoors—microscopic particles like dust, pet dander, cooking oil fumes, mold spores, and household cleansers are all types of pollution too.

Pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and carbon oxide attack skin cells and generate free radicals, causing inflammation, dehydration and loss of skin elasticity. In addition, air pollution consists of tiny particles, sometimes twenty times smaller than your pores. These micro-particles cover your skin with an invisible film that dulls and poisons it.

Every time your skin comes in contact with these pollutants (like, every single day), there is the potential for damage.

In fact, pollution exposure affects your skin in a way that’s very similar to sun exposure—both produce free radicals, and when they come into contact with your skin, they cause oxidative stress, which can damage all layers of your skin, from superficial irritation to the destruction of skin cells deep in the dermis.

Day after day, as our skin is exposed to these attacks, pollution causes the breakdown of collagen, which is responsible for the firm and elastic skin, leading to premature signs of aging. 

Pollution also impairs a layer of skin known as the lipid layer that serves as a barrier, this allows more bacteria to cause inflammations.  Due to the tiny nature of these particles, air pollution isn’t always easy to notice. When you can see the haze often, what you are looking at are the larger particles and water vapor, tiny particles go unnoticed by the human eye.

All that particulate matter can poke tiny, microscopic holes in your skin barrier, allowing all the bad stuff in and the good stuff, like water, out, dermatologists report.

And when pollution gets into your skin, it can cause a host of problems, from dullness and clogged pores to dark spots, hyperpigmentation, inflammation, and collagen damage leading to lines and wrinkles. It can also exacerbate skin conditions like acne and eczema, and cause flare-ups in sensitive skin.

What we can do about it

You can help to counter the damaging effects of pollution through your skincare routine. Load up on antioxidants like vitamin C, E, A and B3 that can help to fight off free-radical damage, and lipids that can restore your skin barrier. It is, however, also important to get rid of the pollution particles that cause inflammation in the first place.

We must pay attention to the way we cleanse our skin as it helps to remove pollutants. Our advice is to use a mild cleanser, delicate yet effective. A great option is to go for squalene-based cleansers, as they tend to give back to the skin some of its key components and thereby minimize the damaging effects of cleansing.

Wash and clean your skin on a daily basis to remove all traces of grime and bacteria you may have picked up from the air during the day. Washing and moisturizing your face should be the first thing you do after you come back home after a day in the city. In case you find yourself with dull skin, exfoliate regularly to remove dead cells.

Fight against the pollution with anti-oxidant rich products and food to prevent break down of collagen. This includes eating food like blueberries, leafy greens, dark chocolate and pecans. You should also drink plenty of water to flush toxins from your body as well.

Protect yourself

Besides making a conscious effort to be environmentally friendly, we can take proactive actions to protect our skin from pollution.

Your first line of defense against pollution is your skin’s moisture barrier, which is the top layer of skin designed to block pollution from entering deep into your dermis.

Think of your skin barrier as a brick wall. If the wall cracks or breaks down, it allows water to seep out and pollutants to sneak right in. That’s why it’s important to incorporate the right type of skin care into your daily regimen that helps to strengthen your skin barrier.

The best option is to limit the impact of pollution on your skin altogether. Make it a point to use skincare products that feature anti-pollution properties. As pollution compromises your skin barrier function, use anti-UV to protect your skin made more vulnerable by external factors.

Are there any anti-pollutant ingredients as such? Not really. However, there are anti-pollutant beauty products which are rich in antioxidants and moisturizing agents to fight free radicals due to pollution and to strengthen the epidermis barrier.

Also, ingredients like mallow and hyaluronic acid that create a protective film on top of the skin can come in handy, especially combined with other ingredients with soothing activity.

Finally, make sure skin is always well-hydrated inside and out, as this helps its barrier function to work properly.

Our advice is not to rely only on healthy eating, drinking water and regular exercise to keep your skin healthy. Making the right choices about our skincare regimen is an equally or even more important part of a successful beauty routine. Protect your skin and it will protect you!

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