How Does Pollution Affect My Skin?

woman washes her face because of pollution and skincare

Pollution and skincare

As much as it can be odd to consider the smooth film that keeps all our body together (our skin, if I didn’t paint a grisly enough picture) as an organ, it is actually the largest organ in our body and can be incredibly susceptible to damage.

While solid things can give our skin cuts and scrapes, environmental factors like pollution can affect our skin far more than you might have thought. We wear sun cream to protect from the sun, but protecting our skin from something like pollution- which gets worse each year, seems much less pertinent in our everyday skincare. We want to change that.

Pollution as an umbrella term can include the toxins in the air that we breathe, the toxins in the food and water we drink, and also the toxins that our skin soaks up. So many toxins so little time! (If we don’t laugh we’ll cry.) While some of this is out of our control, we do, thankfully, have the ability to give our skin a helping hand in the fight against pollution. Keeping our skin healthy doesn’t have to be emission… ha ha…

 

Let’s talk pollution, shall we?

It’s hard to track exactly how much of an effect pollution has on our  individual skin, as well as exactly which type of pollution is affecting us the most, but you can feel comfortable concluding that pollution damage is usually higher in more urban areas. I mean, that makes sense, right? More car exhausts, more factories puffing away, more people blowing cigarette smoke in your face, you know, classic urban area stuff. Although, Londoners may feel proud to hear that Oxford Street- once one of the world’s most polluted streets, with Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) levels often reaching up to ten times the legal limit, has lowered its NO2 levels by 97% since 2016. [1] Doesn’t it make you want to shed a tear… or is that just bus exhaust in your eyes? Moving on…

It’s extremely important to keep our skin protected from pollution even if we live in less urban areas, as there’s always some risk of pollution these days, and we should be keeping our skin healthy and strong anyway to keep it looking amazing. If you live in much greener areas we would always still recommend protecting your skin, but go lighter and treat your skin to that cleaner, fresher air that you have unlimited access to. (I’m not jealous, honest.) Overdoing the protection where it isn’t necessary won’t do your skin any favours.

You might even want to research pollution levels in your area so you know how much you need to be taking protective measures, just don’t use it as an excuse to act all smug if you live in rating 1 Cornwall or Norwich…

And what do these dreaded pollutants do to our skin?

A lot, irritatingly (pardon the pun). While some pollutants in the air, or particulate matter,  like smog, are too large to soak into the skin, others are so small that they get sucked up straight through our pores. Our skin is a barrier, and pollution is annoyingly good at damaging this barrier.

When these particles pass through our skin barrier they cause inflammation, dehydration, and just general disruption and unhappiness. A healthy and strong skin barrier is what keeps our skin, well, healthy and strong. Anything that disrupts, infiltrates or upsets our barrier is going to have a surprisingly profound effect on our skin. Air pollutants do exactly this.

Alongside breaking down our collagen levels- which keeps our skin plump and babies-bottomy, and causing premature ageing, they can also lead to dehydrated skin, sensitivity, dullness, uneven skin tone, and even acne. They can also combine with UV rays from the sun to cause even more damage- what a horrendous double act.

A joint study was carried out by Olay in which they found that those living in a highly-populated area aged 10% faster than their rural counterparts. [2] Ouch. Plus, those with sensitive skin as well as those suffering from inflammatory skin issues such as eczema and psoriasis, are even more susceptible to the skin barrier-breaking effects of air pollution. [3] As if eczema sufferers aren’t going through enough? Surely, there must be a way to keep everyone in urban areas from ageing at the speed of light? I mean, we’d of course love for the first step to be a drastic reduction of pollution and polluting outlets, but even with the increase in electric cars and green pledges, we don’t see that happening quite soon enough. So what can we do?

 

SOS- Save our Skin

Thankfully, addressing some of our pollution skin woes are much simpler than filling every car exhaust we see with cotton wool. The main fact of the matter is this: to help defend our skin against air pollution and its effects, we must maintain our skin barrier and keep it healthy and strong. This can be achieved in a number of ways.

Do

 

  • Utilise detoxifying ingredients, such as charcoal and antioxidants to prevent any free-radical damage. Vitamin E products are great as they are packed with lovely antioxidants. Antioxidant foods are also fantastic at helping to maintain healthy skin. Balance Box meals are packed full of skin-healthy and antioxidant-rich foods to help support your skin barrier and keep you smooth and supple. For the skin, we recommend: Superdrug Vitamin E SPF15 Moisturising Cream and The Ordinary Pycnogenol 5%

 

  • Enjoy saunas when you can (what a chore… not). Utilise your sweat to flush out any toxins you have hiding in your pores, but be sure to moisturise afterwards.

 

  • Use detox masks. That’s right, getting your mask on has never been more important. Choose a mask packed with free-radical and pollution-fighting ingredients to help protect and replenish your skin. Try to do a mask whenever you have the time. Cucumber slices on the eyes are optional but advised for the full visual effect. We recommend: This Works Evening Detox Clay Mask

 

 

  • Do face peels. Acid face peels may sound like a torture method but are actually fantastic at-home treatments to help protect and clean the skin without damaging the skin’s barrier. We recommend: The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution

 

 

  • Try face sprays. When you’re in a rush or can’t deal with the indescribably foul feeling spending over 5 minutes in Piccadilly Circus gives you, face sprays are amazing to use quickly on the go to protect and cleanse the skin. We recommend: This Works In Transit Pollution Shield

 

  • Explore skin products to see what works for you. We’re loving niacinamide products at the moment for their restorative and strengthening properties, as well as their ability to exfoliate, moisturise, and help to keep acne at bay. Always keep your eye out for new pollution-busting potions and lotions. We recommend: Spectacle Performance Crème and Medik8 C-Tetra Lipid Vitamin C Antioxidant Serum 

 

  • WEAR AN SPF! Yes, you. Every day. Even on grey days. Even in the UK. Every day. We know how damaging UV rays are to our skin, and when they’re paired with pollution the double act is even worse. SPF products will help to protect the skin from the damaging effects of UV and keep that barrier strong. Trying to avoid the sun as much as possible or work in a windowless office? Consider a Vitamin D lamp to get the fantastic effects of Vitamin D without the sun damage. For the skin, we recommend: Heliocare 360 Fluid Cream SPF 50

 

  • Apply products to not just the face, but also the neck and decolletage. Pollution and UV don’t discriminate- they’re going to go after whatever skin they can get to. The skin on our body is just as important as on our face, and the neck and decolletage are easily visible. To reduce any sagging, wrinkles and additional damage, don’t leave them out of your skincare routine.

 

  • Keep your inside air clean, too. As much as outdoor toxins are often worse, indoor toxins exist as well. Usually resulting in a lack of ventilation mixing with chemicals in cleaning supplies and dust galore (who can seriously say they dust the house every day? Not I.), the pollutants in our homes can still play a toll on our skin. Consider an air purifier to keep your air ventilated and clean, or get your green fingers on some house plants for a more natural and quieter alternative. We recommend: Patch Plants Susie Snake Plant and Levoit H133 Air Purifier

 

    • Take pollution protection as seriously as sun protection. Our skin deserves it.

 

Don’t

 

  • Over-exfoliate, as this will only upset your skin barrier and weaken it.

 

  • Use overly perfumed products. Fragrances can cause and trigger a number of different skin conditions and weaken our protective skin barrier, making it far more susceptible to pollutant damage. Keep anything funky smelling far away from your face. Please.

 

  • Overuse petroleum products. I used to be a stickler for petroleum jelly on my lips, and I distinctly remember my grandmother telling me she used to use it every day on her face as a moisturiser. The mind boggles. Petroleum jelly is actually water-repellent as opposed to water-soluble. Forming an impenetrable barrier over the skin, it traps toxins, dirt and pollutants, but keeps moisture out. Recipe for disaster really.

 

  • Go too ham on skin treatments. Keep your skin routine relatively short and simple and don’t overdo it on the acids and exfoliants. Too much of a good thing still stands with skincare, so make sure you’re not overcleaning and stripping the skin.

 

Keeping your skin protected against pollutants doesn’t need to feel like a list of chores. Once you sort out routines for yourself then it will become as easy and as normal as brushing your teeth twice a day.

We’d always recommend supplementing your skincare with skin-loving food, such as those full of antioxidants, because nourishing our bodies from within can help to rejuvenate our skin. At Balance Box, we always strive to ensure your body is healthy, happy and fighting fit to face the invisible enemies in our air. Choose your perfect box here.

 

[1] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/fines-for-diesel-engines-produce-dramatic-advance-in-air-quality-mvpztm777

[2] https://olay.co.uk/skin-care-tips/dry-skin/how-does-pollution-impact-your-skin

[3] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352647520301623