woman in a polluted city

What is anti-pollution skincare?

Have you ever felt dirty after a walk in the city? Like the dust and smog is sitting on your skin? Well, you have good reason. Air pollution has been proven to damage our skin, even if we can’t see it.

Don’t worry, though, you don’t have to get on the quickest train to a remote countryside location! There are a few things you can do to help combat air pollution and skin problems it could cause. And one of them is using anti-pollution skincare.

Air pollution and skin

In early 2019, the UK government published its Clean Air Strategy, outlining what they would do to reduce air pollution.1 This plan shouldn’t come as a shock to anybody – if anything, it is a bit late, as the UK has breached EU pollution limits for the past few years.

It seems we may be waiting for a while for air pollution to clear, change takes time. So, it makes sense to arm your skin with the things it needs to protect itself.

How does pollution affect skin?

Ever had someone say: ‘what you don’t know can’t hurt you’? well, the effects of pollution on skin beg to differ! Although you can’t see the many pollutants in the air, or even feel most of them, a lot of studies have been done on the damage they can do to your skin.

Rather tellingly, the director general of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that air pollution is “one of the most pernicious threats to global public health”2, and together with sun exposure, is a big factor in a number of skin issues.

And it’s not just city dwellers who feel the effects. Pollution can come from a variety of sources, like vehicle emissions, wood burning, electric utilities, incinerators, forest fires, pesticides, cigarette smoke, aircraft emissions and so many more.

One of the biggest offenders is the microscopic particle called diesel particulate, which mainly comes from the soot emitted from lorries and cars. But really, pollution is a mix of lots of different types of particles that sit in the atmosphere, on our skin and in the air we breathe. Some are even smaller than our pores and can sneak their way into the layers of our skin – a scary thought!3 Pollution effects on skin include:4
  • Worsening of conditions like eczema
  • Premature signs of ageing
  • Inflammation
  • Dryness

Now you know about the effects of air pollution and skin, let’s talk tactics on how to protect your skin from pollution.

How to protect skin against pollution

Here are some tips on how to protect skin from sun and pollution naturally.

Get back to basics

You’ll be pleased to know that a big part of tackling our skin pollution predicament is down to following a normal skincare routine.

  • Cleansing is key, making sure you take off all your makeup and sun cream will in-turn clean away all that smoggy residue that your skin may have accumulated throughout the day.

  • Look for a gentle cleanser – you don’t want a harsh one that could damage the skin barrier, as that’s the best defence your body has against pollution. Your skin should feel clean, but not tight or dry after you’ve cleansed. Then finish off with a moisturiser or lotion that suits your skin type – easy!

Defuse the situation

I’m sure we don’t need to talk about how important sun protection is for your skin. And, it only becomes even more essential when it comes to tackling pollution, as UVA and UVB rays may intensify the damage these pollutants cause.

We recommend upping your sun protection game and finding one that offers even more protection from pollution effects on skin. As well as the usual titanium and zinc, you should also look for creams or sprays that contain iron oxides.5

Put up your barriers

As we have already mentioned, our skin barrier is super important for helping to keep pollutants out of our bodies. To help keep it strong and intact, try:

  • Easing up on the exfoliating – frequent physical exfoliation can harm the barrier

  • Topping up the fatty acids – key lipids like cholesterol and ceramides settle between each cell on the skin surface, helping to defend from external pollutants

One way you can enrich your skin with these lipids is by wearing a cholesterol-dominant foundation, but these can be a little hard to find! Try looking for the buzz words ‘barrier’ and ‘defence’ on the labels.

Time for some damage control

Unfortunately, some particles will get through to the skin… it’s inevitable. So, you need to be ready to do a little damage control with pollution protection skin care.

Your body will treat pollutants as a threat and will likely react with inflammation, aka your natural defence system. Melanin is produced to be used as a ‘shield’, which can cause excessive skin pigmentation (brown spots) and an uneven skin tone.

Inflammation can also affect collagen absorption and production, which can lead to fine lines and wrinkles, and can even cause damage to our DNA.

So, what can you do about it?

It turns out nature may have the answers. Anti-inflammatories are often botanical, as plants are the real pros when it comes to self-defence. As they can’t get up and run from their problems, they have had to develop multiple complex defence mechanisms against UV rays and environmental pollution.

Effective anti-pollution skincare ingredients include those rich in natural antioxidants called polyphenols like green tea, pomegranate, honey and vitamin E, so you can absorb all their natural defensive goodness.

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Last updated: 24 July 2020

This article has been adapted from longer features appearing in Healthy, the Holland & Barrett magazine. Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care.
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