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It’s the end of a long, hot day. You get home and sweep a cleansing cloth quickly over your face to freshen up and… yikes. What is that awful grey residue?
A lot of us are getting better at being aware of our health and how the environment affects us. Knowing how your skin reacts to conditions around you can be helpful in deciding what type of products to use as well. This awareness has led to one of the biggest trends in skincare this year: anti-pollution skincare.
What It Does
Bad news first. Pollution can lead to much more than the obvious clogged pores. The biggest issue is the damage it can do to your skin barrier. A healthy skin barrier is the key to healthy skin. When it’s doing well, it will keep your skin from getting dry, and keep acne and infection-causing bacteria out. When it isn’t doing well, your skin can be red, flakey, irritated, acne-prone, or oily.
The chemicals often found in the air have the ability to seep deep into the skin’s layers. Nitrogen dioxide (found in car exhaust) is almost 20 times smaller than a skin pore. This means that the damage it can cause goes much deeper than the surface of the skin. Exposure to pollution can break down collagen, that wonderful substance that keeps your skin elastic and smooth. It can also produce free radicals, which lead to premature aging and hyperpigmentation. Some chemicals also just make it harder for skin to carry out its normal, repairing functions. If your skin is already compromised by a condition like eczema, exposure to pollution can worsen it, and make it harder to heal after a flare-up.
Where It Comes From
Unfortunately, pollution isn’t limited to urban centres, because there are sources that go beyond cars and factories. The biggest culprits are obvious: industrial sources (manufacturing, factories, power plants, refineries) and transportation sources (cars, trucks, trains, planes). However, many of us are exposed to other sources as well, such as pollution from household activities like cooking (cooking fuel, specifically) or lighting a fire in your fireplace. Cigarette smoke can also affect your skin, even if you aren’t the one smoking. There are even natural sources, like particles from dust being blown by the wind, or residue from a fire.
So what can we do to protect our skin from the chemicals we might encounter daily, and how do we fight the effects of pollution?
How To Fight It
Let’s talk ingredients. Here are some of the substances commonly found in skincare that can help when dealing with pollution:
Topical Vitamins: These help prevent free radicals from forming (which cause stress and damage to the skin), stabilizes them, or helps to repair the damage they cause. Some of the most popular topical vitamins found in skincare are vitamin A (retinol), vitamin B3 (niacinamide), and vitamin C (ascorbic acid). They’re arguably some of the most efficient ingredients for anti-aging, brightening, and fading hyperpigmentation. However, before using any of these, you’re going to want to do a little research - some of these can make the skin sensitive to sunlight, and some might not play well with other ingredients, so make sure you read the directions on the packaging.
Botanical Antioxidants: Besides neutralizing free radicals, antioxidants extracted from plants can provide nutrients and other good-for-your-skin substances like amino acids and vitamins. Green tea helps to soothe irritated skin and reduces inflammation. Resveratrol (found in grape skins) smooths wrinkles and promotes the regeneration of cells, so it’s a good choice if you’ve got some fine lines to zap.
Fermented Ingredients: Why put fermented things on your face? The process of fermentation makes them super effective, they penetrate well into the skin (due to their small size), and they’re unlikely to irritate sensitive skin. They’re a staple in Korean skincare for their anti-aging benefits, so look for ingredients like yeast extracts and fermented rice water.
Charcoal and Clay: These ingredients have long been used for their purifying properties - exactly what you want if you want to get the grime of pollution off your skin. Kaolin, a white clay, can often be found in masks, and cleanses gently without drying.
Looking for something to help protect your skin and repair some of the damage caused by pollution? Check out these antioxidant packed products:
If the idea of putting anything remotely salty on your skin makes you cringe, keep in mind that the pink salt in this micellar water isn’t your average salt. Himalayan pink salt has a high mineral content that helps to detox your skin. It also has a low sodium content, making it work for those who worry about drying out. In addition, the formula is full of berry extracts, which brighten and even skin tone, and are full of damage-fighting vitamins.
This is one of the ultimate anti-pollution treatments, as it does everything you need it to do. Niacinamide brightens skin and fades sun spots and acne scars. The star ingredient, prickly pear seed oil, is full of antioxidants and nourishing vitamin E, and it hydrates and smooths as well. All in a lightweight formula with Huxley’s signature fresh scent.
If your anti-pollution skincare wish list includes something that helps fight acne, this is your go-to toner. The “green” ingredients (chlorophyll, parsley, and kale) help nourish and regenerate tired skin, as well as prevent excess sebum buildup and acne. Purify your skin with a quick swipe!
Aim For Overall Health
There is a wealth of products out there that can help combat the damaging effects of pollution. However, the best protection overall is generally maintaining healthy skin. A strong and balanced moisture barrier along with consistent sunscreen use is most important in the long run, whatever your environment.