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What is anti-pollution skincare, and how do I integrate it into my daily beauty routine?

Image by Twylamae
Words by Ashleigh Fenton

Life in the big smoke.

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about with the destruction of the environment and the impending doom of the human race, now we have to worry about protecting our skin from the same substances that are killing the planet. Greenhouse gases no longer just affect the ozone layer; pollutants found indoors and outdoors are becoming increasingly detrimental to our skin.

According to the World Health Organisation, 91% of the world’s population lives in places where air pollution exceeds safe limits.

A huge problem with keeping our skin healthy in these highly polluted zones is the production of what dermatologists call ‘free radicals’. When your skin absorbs pollutants, it generates unstable molecules called free radicals. These particles attack your skin cells and increase your body’s inflammatory state by activating your immune response.

You don’t need me to tell you that none of that is good.

Air pollutants create an invisible but filthy layer of film that covers the exposed areas of your body. Your skin serves as a natural barrier against external factors and while it’s a good security system for keeping most things out, it’s not completely impervious. Particles including dirt, dust and soot can be up to 20 times smaller than your pores and can invade deeper layers of your skin.

The pollution that manages to penetrate these first tiers of defence compromises your skin’s barrier function and causes moisture loss, inflammation and dehydration. This can heavily disrupt collagen production, which leads to more serious long-term issues like cellular ageing.

In simple terms, pollutants mean a loss of skin elasticity and firmness, accelerated signs of sensitivity and discomfort. The free radicals damage your DNA, thin the skin, form age spots and pigmentation, and may even cause skin cancer.

But hey, that’s cool. Luckily, beauty experts are much more astute than politicians are at measuring how much industrial pollution can affect the health of our bodies. Here are some simple tips, routines, and product recommendations to help you address the damage those free radicals are doing to your skin.

1. Cleanse and exfoliate:

Cleanse thoroughly every day, ideally once in the morning and twice at night. This will make sure that invisible film is completely gone. Exfoliating every 2-3 nights will help remove dead skin cells, helping your skincare to work more effectively, and your skin to shine brighter than Rihanna’s diamonds.

Product recommendations: Kate Somerville Gentle Daily Wash, Perricone Nutritive Cleanser, Tatcha Rice Polish Powder, Amorepacific Enzyme Peel Cleansing Powder.

2. Neutralise with antioxidants:

Antioxidants support healthy skin by balancing free radicals and preventing them from damaging the function of your skin cells. The most effective way to help protect your skin from pollutants is to choose skincare products high in antioxidants and vitamins. Vitamin C reduces inflammation, while Vitamins A and E repair collagen, keeping your skin youthful and plump. Finding these ingredients in a serum is the most concentrated way to get them into your skin, however a mist is a good starting point if you’re wanting to protect your skin on the go or top up throughout the day.

Product recommendations: Dr Sturm Anti-Pollution Drops, Sunday Riley C.E.O. Antioxidant Moisturiser, Ren Anti-Pollution Mist.

3. Protect from UV:

In addition to pollution one of the major external causes of skin concerns and ageing is UV damage. Now you’re protecting your skin from pollution, you can’t forget about defending your skin against harmful sun rays. Using an SPF30+ or higher will help you keep your skin looking and feeling hydrated and juicy.

Product recommendations: Mecca Cosmetica To Save Face SPF30+, Dermalogica SPF50+, Radical Skin Perfecting Screen SPF30+.

4. Good old H2O:

Pollutants can dehydrate and irritate the skin, so drinking lots of water to flush out the toxins in your system is important! The benefit of antioxidants in your diet also plays a big role in the fight against pollutants. Eating lots of berries, leafy greens, citrus fruits, and seafood containing antioxidants and omegas will help to protect you from the inside out.

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