While governments continue to struggle with the problem of pollution in our cities we are slowly starting to wake up to the damaging effects of pollution - on our skin-, and becoming aware of the need to be more aware of what’s out there in the air, and be a little more defensive about our skin.
The different types of pollutants and the harm they inflict
Environmental pollution comes in multiple forms. Look out for solar ultraviolet radiation (UVR), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), heavy metals, nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter (PM), ozone and cigarette smoke - all of which can affect our skin. PM2.5, which is very prevalent in smog, is too large to penetrate skin, but causes major damage to the skin's barrier function.
There are also studies showing that pollution can cause an increase in hyperpigmentation. There is one well-known study in Germany that compared urban with rural residents, and when other things like UV were controlled, the city-based women experienced around 22 per cent more hyperpigmentation.
What should we be doing to lower the risk to our skin health?
Cleansing is vital, especially during hot weather. Given that the combination of UV and pollution is especially potent in summer, it’s important to make sure you cleanse fully at night to remove particulate matter trapped in layers of SPF and makeup, especially if you exercise outdoors. Be mindful of the choice of product. To be effective, any anti-pollution product needs to contain (or be coupled with) UV protection - plus ingredients that are able to hydrate, strengthen and protect the natural skin barrier, bind to and neutralise heavy metals, combat inflammation, and deliver the right antioxidants in the required concentration and form to combat free-radical destruction of cells.
But that’s not all. Particulate matter can also clog pores, compromise skin function and even lead to premature signs of ageing, including lines and loss of firmness.