Your skin is fighting a losing battle every day. We are all aware of the dangers and damage UV does to our skin, but are you aware of how pollution is damaging your skin? Known as the "hidden ager", free radicals from pollution are the second most harmful aggressor to the skin after UV rays. Exposure to pollution can cause wrinkles and loss of elasticity due to reduced collagen production. It can also contribute to a more uneven skin tone and increase pigmentation and the appearance of dark spots. Great! Something else to worry about.
So how does pollution actually damage our skin?
To fully understand the damage pollution is doing to our skin, I have to get a bit technical and throw around a few scientific sounding words. Stay with me I'll go slow.
The tiny particles that create air pollution damage the protective hydrolipidic film that covers the skin's surface and defends against bad bacteria from sweat, sebum and water. These particles then infiltrate the deeper layers of the epidermis, causing trauma which results in damaged cells, also known as inflammation. The leftover bits from these damaged cells are called free radicals.
The free radicals are unstable atoms (sort of like they're missing a bit) and they go hunting to complete themselves by taking a "bit" from a normal atom. This atom then becomes unstable and goes looking to complete themselves, and so the progress grows and increases the amount of inflammation. This makes it more difficult to heal and replace cells.
Free radicals are a normal progressive process which happens throughout our bodies in every organ and is a part of the aging process. They cause the breakdown of collagen (what keeps our skin plump ) which is seen in the skin as wrinkles and loss of elasticity. However, the increase in free radicals from pollution can cause premature breakdown of collagen. This then impairs the skin barrier functions so even more cellular damage is caused by pollution and more free radicals are created. And the more free radicals we have, the faster we age, a never-ending, ever-worsening cycle!
What can we do to prevent this damage from pollution?
There's not much you can do to limit your exposure to the damage pollution is doing to our skin, apart from living indoors beside an air purifier… Pollution is part of the modern world we can't avoid. 92% of the world's population live in locations where pollution levels are above those recommended by WHO air quality guidelines. But protecting our skin is something we do have a great deal of control over. With increasing awareness of how pollution is damaging our skin, skin care brands are researching and producing more products to address this modern-day skincare concern.
A few changes to your skin care routine can have a big impact on your skin's health.
1.Wash it off!
Washing your face thoroughly every day is critical to reducing the burden that pollutions puts on your skin. It's important that you use a mild cleanser as anything stronger (unless you have very oily skin) can damage the skin's barrier, and we now know how important that is! In the PM its worth doing a double cleanse. The first to remove makeup and dirt and the second to remove the any harmful pollutants. I like to use a milk cleanser to remove makeup, then I use an oil cleanser or a gentle wash with my Clarisonic brush. If you live in a city its worth using an electric brush as they give a deeper clean. Clarisonic claims their brushes clean up to 6x better than washing with your hands.
Environmental pollutants damage healthy skin cells, which can lead to a buildup of dead skin cells and interfere with the skin's natural renewal process, depending on your skin type and age you should use a gentle exfoliant a couple of times a week to get rid of any old and damaged skin cells. Exfoliants can be physical ( grainy) or chemical (an acid) I've recently become obsessed with glycolic acid. It dissolves the dead skins to unearth the fresh, properly functioning ones underneath.
Antioxidants are the key to combating the evil free radicals. Vitamins C and E neutralize the free radicals preventing them from damaging the skin. Use a serum rich in these antioxidants in the morning for protection and in the pm they help to boost the skins repairing processes.
Pollution can deplete the skin of lipids which are crucial for sealing in moisture and maintaining the skins protective barrier. Without these lipids, the skin becomes especially vulnerable to pollutants. Hydrating agents help strengthen the skins protective barrier. Look for products containing hyaluronic acid - which can hold up to 1000 times its own weight in water, thus helping your skin stay hydrated.
While I hope you are all using SPF every day, this alone won't protect the skin from the damage pollution is doing to your skin. We need to use specific anti-pollution products that sit on top of the skin shielding it from pollution particles. A new product I've just used is The Ordinary's EUK134. (I will be posting soon about my OBSESSION with this brand). This is one of the strongest antioxidants available and The Ordinary uses an extremely high concentration (0.1% compared to the 0.05% found in other products). EUK 134 basically finds free radicals on the skin and converts into harmless water and oxygen before they can cause damage. It also regenerates itself so it continues to provide protection till you wash it off.
From my research, this seems to be the strongest and most effective anti-pollution product on the market. To maximise its effectiveness you do have to be careful how you use it. EUK143 should be the last product you use in your skincare regime. You can't use it immediately after using acids like Vitamin C (that you should be using in your serum). It is best used on top of your daily moisturiser and/or SPF. Ideally, you would layer your moisturiser after you serum, then your SPF and then EUK 134. You can also mix a few drops into your SPF.
Other products I recommend that will help protect your skin and prevent damage are
Murad Environmental Shield Essential C Cleanser
The Murad "Environmental Shield" range is all designed to protect your skin against pollution. I particularly like the Essential C Cleanser. It has loads of antioxidants, removes environmental impurities and a gorgeous citrus smell. Murad also offers a great Environmental Shield "Starter Kit" Which allows you to try out the range of products without having to buy all the full size products.
Pixi Glow Tonic
Pixi Glow Tonic exfoliates and purifies the skin with Glycolic Acid. It gets rid of the damaged dead cells and gently accelerates cell renewal to reveal a brighter, glowing complexion.
Ren Flash Defense Anti Pollution Mist
A fine mist that instantly shields and protects the skin from the ageing effects of harmful free radicals and environmental pollution. Spray it over your face before and after putting your make up on, and top up if you head out to lunch in a busy city and again before heading home.