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The Best Ways To Protect Your Skin From Pollution
All you have to do is walk out onto a busy city street to feel the effects of the environment on your skin. Our bodies are constantly under assault from pollution and toxic elements in the environment, and the skin is the first to suffer the consequences. We face such an increased level of toxic elements every day that our bodies haven't even evolved enough to neutralize the pollutants on their own. This means effects ranging from irritation and premature aging to organ damage or even cancer. These result from oxidative stress, which is defined as an over-production of destructive ROS (reactive oxygen species) and an inability of the body's natural antioxidants to neutralize them. The good news is that there are ways to protect against the damage (and repair at least some of the damage that's already been done).
If you think the effects of pollution on your skin aren't a big deal, think again. The World Health Organization (WHO) revealed that 92% of the world's city-dwellers live in cities that do NOT comply with WHO's air quality standards. And 6.5 million deaths (that's 11.6% of all global deaths each year) are associated with indoor and outdoor air pollution. That number has more than doubled since 2012.
What exactly is it about pollution that makes it harmful?
The term "pollution" refers to a mix of many components, which makes it difficult to say exactly which elements are responsible for damaging the skin. Some pollutants include benzo(a)pyrene, urban dust, ultrafine dust, and diesel exhaust. Surprisingly, however, the real threat often doesn’t come from the particles themselves; it comes from the chemicals that attach to them. Urban dust, for example, contains a cocktail of 224 toxic chemicals from polyaromatic hydrocarbons to pesticides and heavy metals. Cigarette smoke is another major pollutant, and that has been shown to consist of over 6,000 chemicals! While the particles of pollution are usually too large to penetrate skin, many of the chemicals attached to them are unfortunately not.
What do air pollutants do to your skin?
There's a clear correlation between spikes in air pollution and increases in the number of people suffering from skin problems such as acne, hives, and eczema. Pollutants also cause skin sensitivity, dryness, dullness, premature aging, discoloration, and increased risk of cancer. It's clear that air pollution isn't just bad for the skin on a cosmetic level: it also poses a real threat to skin health. Studies have shown that people living in highly polluted areas (even those who make better lifestyle choices) have significantly worse skin hydration than people living in suburbs. City-dwellers were also found to have compromised skin barrier function. While there is sadly a lack of in-depth research in the area of air pollution and skin health, there is clear scientific evidence that decreases in skin barrier function and skin hydration are among the most immediate and significant threats air pollution imposes on our skin.
Ways to protect and restore your skin from pollution:
1. Cleanse well.
I recommend a two-step process for cleansing. First, use a cleansing wipe or makeup remover pad. Then repeat or wash your face with a cleanser to remove any remaining makeup, dirt, grime, or pollution left on the skin. (Cleansing brushes work better than just using your hands to wash your face.)
2. Add niacinamide (vitamin B3) to your regimen.
Vitamin B3 is one of the hardest working ingredients, and is at the top of the list when it comes to reducing the effects of urban dust, cigarette smoke, and diesel dust. It significantly reduces damage caused to skin cells, protecting them and helping them recover more efficiently. Vitamin B3 also strengthens the skin barrier and actively repairs UV damage, giving your skin all-around protection against environmental stressors. I suggest taking Vitamin B3 orally (in doses of 500-750 mg, twice a day), or topically with products from brands like Olay, NIA24, SkinMedica, or SkinCeuticals.
3. Start taking SOD supplements.
One form of SOD (Superoxide dismutase) I often recommend to my patients is GliSODin. It's an oral supplement that contains melon SOD combined with wheat gliadin. It's been shown to increase the body's antioxidant defenses and also has anti-inflammatory properties.
Not only should you be drinking lots of water, but using excellent products is also key when it comes to keeping your skin healthy. With proper hydration from the inside and out, you'll make sure your skin functions at its best in protecting and strengthening the natural skin barrier.
5. Never skip sunscreen.
Harmful UV rays are still one of the biggest environmental stressors. An SPF product should always be part of your daily routine.
6. Get plenty of antioxidants.
Antioxidants do a lot of important work when it comes to protecting your skin. They include vitamins A, C, D, B-complex, and B3. You can get antioxidants from many fruits and vegetables as well as supplements and topical products.
7. And don't forget about adaptogens.
Adaptogens help balance out and modify the effects of stress on your body. They include SOD, CoQ10, resveratrol, ashwagandha, curcumin, and ginseng, among others. The best way to incorporate these into your regimen is through fruits, vegetables, and spices. They're also available in supplements such as Nutrafol. Though it was designed for hair growth, I often recommend it to my patients as an anti-pollution supplement.
Protecting your skin from pollutants should be a priority.
The threat from pollution is real and it's not getting better any time soon. Protect your skin and your health by eating an antioxidant-rich diet, adding supplements, properly cleansing your skin, and using products with ingredients specifically tested against the most common toxins in pollution. And do what you can to live an eco-friendly lifestyle so that we can restore our planet while we still have time.
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