Perhaps you’ve seen new skincare products on the shelf marked “anti-pollution.” They’re appearing in both high-end designer lines and natural skincare brands.
Is pollution a concern for our skin health? And if so, do topical products do anything to help, or is it just another marketing hype?
How Pollution Affects Skin
Air pollution can contain exhaust fumes, heavy metals, or cigarette smoke that can put the skin in contact with free radicals. These free radicals can accelerate skin aging, skin damage, and exacerbate skin sensitivities.
Your skin tissue can defend itself against free radicals to an extent, by tapping into the body’s store of antioxidants to neutralize them. But continued assault – through poor diet, stress, chemicals in skincare products, sun exposure, and the free radicals in polluted water and air – can deplete antioxidants in your body, thus limiting your skin’s ability to handle the free radical attack.
The effects of air pollution on our skin increase in urban areas with higher levels of air pollution. Research shows that air pollution can affect the appearance and severity of eczema symptoms, and plays a significant role in some cases of acne and psoriasis.
Topical Defense for Your Skin
Your regular moisturizer, sunscreens, and cosmetics can form a barrier against skin contact with free radicals. Your daily cleansing routine will also remove residues on the skin that may contain particles from exposure to air pollution.
But will adding an anti-pollution skin product do more?
Most ingredients that marketers now call “anti-pollution” are some of the same antioxidant ingredients we’ve seen before, such as Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and retinol. It is possible that these antioxidants may bind with free radicals on the surface of the skin before they do damage to skin cells.
In addition, some moisturizing products improve their barrier function by adding ceramides and hyaluronic acid. These can also help protect against skin damage
You might find you are already using skin products that contain these ingredients, so there may be no reason to switch to a special “anti-pollution” version. If you do want to try an anti-pollution skin product, follow the same rules you always do: read the label for ingredients you might be sensitive to and test the product on a small patch of skin before applying it to your entire face or body.
Helping Your Skin’s Natural Defenses
The best thing you can do to help your skin and your entire body withstand and heal from daily exposure to environmental pollution, is to take a “whole health” approach.
- Eat a diet rich in natural antioxidants found in fresh fruits and vegetables; healthy fats found in nuts, avocados and fatty fish; and stay hydrated with plenty of clean, fresh water, broths and juices.
- Moderate your sun exposure and wear sunscreen on exposed skin whenever you are outside.
- Stick to a regular cleansing and moisturizing routine with products your skin tolerates well. Reduce your skin’s exposure to chemicals by choosing natural skin products that are hypoallergenic, fragrance and dye free.
- Wear rubber gloves when cleaning your home with chemical products, and choose natural cleaning products whenever possible. Ventilate your home with fresh air while your clean.
- Consider an air filter at home if you live in a dense urban area with lots of air pollution. At least the air you breathe and live in at home can help protect your health.
We’re glad that researchers and skin care experts are taking into account the full range of factors that affect skin health, including pollution. By staying smart, you can learn to choose the best products for your skin, and incorporate lifestyle habits that protect your health from pollution and other stressors.
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About the Author
Olivia Hsu Friedman, LAc, Dipl.OM, DACM, Cert. TCMDerm, is the owner of Amethyst Holistic Skin Solutions and treats Acne, Eczema, Psoriasis, and TSW. Olivia treats patients via video conferencing using only herbal medicine. Olivia is Chair of the Board of Directors of the American Society of Acupuncturists, serves on the Advisory Board of LearnSkin, and is a faculty member of the Chicago Integrative Eczema Group sponsored by the National Eczema Association.