Yes, Skin Pollution is Real and You’re Probably Affected

Skin Pollution
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There are a number of things which are harmful to our skin, from skimping on sleep to going to bed with makeup. However, what most of us don’t realize is that air pollution can also age our skin prematurely, especially for those living in an urban environment, such as Hong Kong or London where skin pollution tops the list.

We are used to our skin being dehydrated and scoured by wind, cooked by the sun, lashed by the rain, dried by the cold and made greasy by the heat. But now, pollution is considered the biggest factor in premature aging skin.

The toxic fumes emitted by vehicles, power plants, manufacturing processes and more are producing tiny particulates that wreak havoc with skin wellness. The hidden airborne pollutants can irritate and inflame our skin, clog our pores, and worsen effects of aging.

Pollution has grown 8% in the last five years globally. Only now are we understanding how bad it is for our skin. So just what does excessive exposure to daily pollutants mean for your skin?

What Air Pollution Does to Your Skin

It Accelerates Wrinkles And Age Spots

Studies of people in Germany and China showed a 25% increase in age spots on their cheeks with just a 10 microgram increase of NO2 per cubic metre. The UK has illegally high levels of NO2 across the country – London broke its yearly limit in a week! As such, air pollution has been identified as the major driver for age spots, more so than UV, nutrition or even smoking.

When it comes to wrinkles, these particulates cause inflammation that results in the expansion and contraction of the skin at the cellular level, which over time accelerates the breaking down of elasticity that occurs naturally during aging.

It Creates Sensitive Skin

There isn’t really a more sensitive way to put this: If you live in a city your skin is getting attacked by microscopic dirt all day long. This, of course, leads to major irritation.

These particulates are 25 micrometers in diameter – a hair is 70 micrometers. That means your pores are pretty much swimming pools for these aggressive chemicals to swim around in, wreaking in havoc.

It Leads To Breakouts And Dehydration

These particles, though tiny, are solids, and to flush them out, your body has to use its available water supply. This means your skin is being actively dehydrated by these particles, which is another major sign of aging.

What’s more, continued exposure causes the skin to go into damage control, increasing the blood flow. This leads to redness and patchiness, caused by an increase in the size of the blood vessels serving the skin. In extremes, this becomes rosacea. During chronic inflammation, the body strips more collagen than the skin can create, accelerating aging.

Oily Skin and Large Pores

Oily skin will ‘capture’ more pollutants because the oils will help them stick to the skin, creating a conduit that helps them pass deeper into the skin. Larger, more open pores also act as tunnels to help the particulates drive deeper to the subcutaneous layers.

Fair and sensitive skin will also be more vulnerable. As such, a rigorous skin care regime is the first defence to overcome many of the base weaknesses in the skin and ensure you have the best canvas to work from.

So how do we treat this from happening?

How To Prevent Skin Pollution

The thing is, when it comes to our skin, a lot of us think about cure-over-cause.

No-one wants that, and moving on from the SPF cream we are used to, a new breed of anti pollution skincare ingredients aim to enhance environmental protection. It will give you protection from urban dust, smog, smoke and exhaust fumes, as well as the problems of which we are already aware.

Micellar Water

Micelles are tiny oil-based particles that can get deep into the pores, like the pollution, and eke it out. Micellar water based cleansers will help you to get a deep clean. For best results, look for one that uses glycerine in its formulation so as to steer clear of irritants that can sometimes make up the composition of cleansers.

Mineral Sunscreen

The reason most sunscreens don’t work to protect from pollution is because they are absorbed fully into the skin, and don’t create a layer or shield between pores and pollutants. Mineral sunscreens create this barrier, so they’re recommended for protecting from pollution. That said, you have to be just as careful about the ingredients. Watch out for formaldehyde, parabens and lanolin, and find one that has been dermatologically tested and free from allergens.


Putting antioxidants directly onto the skin prevents oxidative damage, that is, the damage done by free radicals like pollution. Antioxidants help to prevent inflammation and reinforce that barrier between the skin and the aggressors. You can find enriched creams and serums, so try and take one with Vitamins C and E and Polyphenols – put this on under your sunscreen and you have effectively doubled your protection.

DNA Repairing Enzymes

Pollution results in DNA damage. That’s why it’s important to use products enriched with DNA repairing enzymes, that can help redress this balance and help the body fight back. These products aid in cellular recovery and skin renewal, helping your skin rejuvenate by supplementing its natural processes using naturally derived ingredients. Photolysomes from plankton are a particularly favoured active ingredient, so watch out for those when you shop.

Filtered Water

If there’s pollution in the air, you can bet it’s in the water. Get a whole home water filter, and you’ll get rid of these free radicals at the point your water supply enters your home, allowing you to wash your face freely from any faucet. What’s more, water hydrates the skin, encourages cell growth, improves circulation, helps to minimize dark circles under the eyes and improve skin’s elasticity. By filtering your water and drinking plenty of it, you solve a lot of the problems up front.


Idebenone is a powerful antioxidant that is more effective than any other in neutralising free-radical damage. Idebenone was originally devised by Japanese scientists as an Alzheimer’s medicine. While it’s had limited success on that front, a handy upside is that it is now featured in anti-pollution skincare as a powerful active ingredient in breaking down pollutants.

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