It doesn’t matter now if you are living in a big city or a small village. Air pollution is everywhere. In the big cities, we are exposed to constant emission from vehicles, skyscraper buildings and factories. In more rural areas, we are close to either factory emission or forest fires.
Although there are actions we can take on reducing our contribution to air pollution, our actions won’t give instant results.
There are ways to avoid being exposed to too much pollution, yet we are not always in a condition where we can avoid it altogether. Some of us have to get through the most polluted areas to get to school, work or meet-up place.
Besides health, air pollution can also damage our skin, as it is the “frontline” of our body. Air pollution contains various microscopic particles called particulate matter, such as nitrogen dioxide and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. These particles usually come from traffic fumes, cigarette smoke, ultraviolet radiation, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, oxides, particulate matter, and ozone.
These tiny particles could easily penetrate our skin barriers and induce oxidative stress, which is an over-production of destructive reactive oxygen species (ROS) and the inability of the body’s natural antioxidant network to neutralize ROS before they damage the skin (or other organs). ROS includes particulate matter, ozone and aryl hydrocarbon receptors (AhR).
Once the barrier is penetrated, lipids and collagen (which delivers hydration and plumpness to the skin) will start to break down. It can result in clogging pores, skin ageing, skin inflammation, hyperpigmentation and dullness. Moreover, it can get fatal as it leads to irritation, rashes, eczema and breakouts.
Although human skin originally acts as a biological shield against pro-oxidative chemicals and physical air pollutants, repetitive or intense exposure to pollutants can cause negative effects on the skin.
For example, exposure to UV radiation has been associated with skin ageing and skin cancers. Cigarette smoke leads to premature ageing, psoriasis, acne, skin cancers, and allergic skin, it can cause atopic dermatitis and eczema. Polyaromatic hydrocarbons can cause extrinsic skin ageing, pigmentation, cancers and acneiform eruptions.
All in all, air pollutants are silent aggressors that don’t just sit on the skin surface but seeps deep down and damage our skin cells.
We may not be able to escape the pollution, but we can reduce its effect on our skin to the minimum (and perhaps reverse the effect) by incorporating these essentials to our skincare routine.
1. Detoxifying face mask
One of the most popular products marketed under the anti-pollution issue is the face mask. There are many forms of anti-pollution masks, from sheets to clay to peel-off masks. But, clay masks are the most popular as it contains ingredients that could suck out the pollutants and impurities from the skin.
Detoxifying ingredients include charcoal (who haven’t tried this popular black mask, huh?), green tea, sea salt, lemon and more. Even though masks usually sit on your face for just 10 minutes, it is deemed as a beauty quick fix as it can purge some of the toxins from the skin.
However, once the mask is off, your skin is fully exposed to the air. In order to actually protect skin against pollution, you need a leave-on product to create a physical shield. These products include serums, moisturisers, sunscreens, etc.
Polluted or not, cloudy or sunny, during the day you MUST use sunscreen. Not only heat and visible light, the Sun also shines in ultraviolet (UV) light, which can harm living creatures on the ground, let alone our skin. Ozone in the Earth’s upper layer of atmosphere blocks much of the UV light. However, the increasing air pollutants have weaken the ozone shield, leaving more UV light penetrating the ground. Wearing sunscreen helps to prevent damage caused by the UV rays and helps to keep the collagen from degrading from our skin as well.
3. Antioxidant ingredients
Vitamin C, idebenone, niacinamide pomegranate, mangosteen or berry extracts functions as antioxidant ingredients. They don’t necessarily protect the skin, but they play a big role in detoxifying our skin from the pollutants.
Antioxidants help to block the formation of free radicals (unstable atoms that can damage cells and potentially lead to premature ageing) and pigment. They also prevent the breakdown of collagen and elastin.
4. Barrier protection
It is important to have an intact skin barrier because it acts as a shield against pollutants. One of the ways to build and maintain a strong skin barrier is by using moisturisers and not over-treating the skin with retinol or acids (as they peel the skin layers and if used too much, it could damage the skin barrier).
To amplify the use of moisturisers against air pollutant, make sure that your moisturiser has ingredients that reinforce the skin’s natural barrier. Products such as probiotics and ceramides boost the barrier. Hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid keeps the barrier intact by keeping the moisture in our skin as pollutants tend to tears tiny holes on our skin barrier, which causes moisture loss).