We all know the toll that too much sunshine, alcohol and eating badly can take on our complexion; think wrinkles, age spots, sagging skin. But if you live or work in a large city, it turns out there’s another huge factor that’s prematurely ageing our skin: air pollution. Not just harmful to our lungs, toxic fumes are causing untold damage to our skin, too...
So what are the facts? Back in 2014, a study
found that women living in highly polluted areas could expect their skin to age 10% faster than the skin of those living in rural, cleaner spaces. Last year, meanwhile, a report
published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology
demonstrated the link between traffic-related air pollution and increased unwanted pigmentation on the skin in the form of age and dark spots (lentigines). “Traffic pollution is emerging as the single most toxic substance for skin and the dream of perfect skin is over for those living and working in traffic-polluted areas unless they take steps to protect their skin right now,” comments Dr. Mervyn Patterson, cosmetic dermatologist at Woodford Medical clinic. “Unless people do more to protect their skin they will end up wearing the pollution on their faces in 10 years’ time.”
So why is pollution so bad for our skin and what can you do to limit the effect? “Your skin is your outermost barrier, so it is one of the first and largest targets for air pollution,” explains Dr. Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson. “Many of the aggressors present in urban pollution, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), volatile organic compounds (VOC), oxides, particulate matter, ozone, as well as cigarette smoke, can actually penetrate into our skin's pores. And prolonged and repetitive exposure to these agents can have negative effects on the skin”, she adds.
Scientific studies have shown that air pollution can contribute to free radical damage, which breaks down the collagen fibres in our skin causing premature skin ageing, wrinkling and pigmentation spots. It can also damage the skin’s protective outer layer, causing dryness, redness and irritation as well as worsening of inflammatory skin diseases such as eczema, psoriasis and acne.
But aside from wearing a balaclava (as well as a gas mask) every time you leave the house, what can you do to protect your skin from the perils of toxic air? Don’t skip cleansing
It’s sometimes tempting to fall into bed without washing your face first. But if you’ve been pounding the streets of the Big Smoke all day, all those microscopic pollution particles will be glued to your skin. All the experts agree that cleansing your face, neck and décolleté every single night to remove dirt and environmental toxins from the skin surface is THE most important thing you can do to protect your skin. And who wants to go to sleep with all that city grime still stuck to their face? Use a gentle foaming cleanser first to remove makeup and surface dirt and then follow this with a cotton pad soaked in toning water, swiped over face, neck and chest.”