If you think we’re just scaremongering, here are the facts. Back in 2014, a study found that women living in highly polluted areas could expect their skin to age 10% faster than the skin of those living in rural, cleaner spaces. Last year, meanwhile, a report published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology demonstrated the link between traffic-related air pollution and increased unwanted pigmentation on the skin in the form of age and dark spots (lentigines). “Traffic pollution is emerging as the single most toxic substance for skin and the dream of perfect skin is over for those living and working in traffic-polluted areas unless they take steps to protect their skin right now,” comments Dr. Mervyn Patterson, cosmetic dermatologist at Woodford Medical Clinic. “Unless people do more to protect their skin, they will end up wearing the pollution on their faces in 10 years time.”
So why is pollution so bad for our skin? “Your skin is your outermost barrier, so it is one of the first and largest targets for air pollution,” explains Dr. Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson. “Many of the aggressors present in urban pollution, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), volatile organic compounds (VOC), oxides, particulate matter, ozone, as well as cigarette smoke, can actually penetrate into our skin's pores. And prolonged and repetitive exposure to these agents can have negative effects on the skin," she adds.
Scientific studies have shown that air pollution can contribute to free radical damage, which breaks down the collagen fibers in our skin, causing premature skin aging, wrinkling, and pigmentation spots. It can also damage the skin’s protective outer layer, causing dryness, redness, and irritation, as well as worsening of inflammatory skin diseases such as eczema, psoriasis, and acne.
But aside from wearing a gas mask every time you leave the house, what can you do to protect your skin from the perils of toxic air?
Don’t skip cleansing
It’s sometimes tempting to fall into bed without washing your face first. But if you’ve been pounding the streets all day, all those microscopic pollution particles will be glued to your skin. All the experts agree that cleansing your face, neck, and décolleté every single night to remove dirt and environmental toxins from the skin surface is the most important thing you can do to protect your skin. And who wants to go to sleep with all that city grime still stuck to their face? Dr. Mahto advocates a double cleansing routine to get rid of a build-up of dirt and pollution. “I use a gentle foaming cleanser first to remove my makeup and surface dirt and then I follow this with a cotton pad soaked in micellar water, swiped over my face, neck, and chest.”
Try Elemis Gentle Foaming Facial Wash, which is mild enough not to strip the skin of moisture, followed by La Roche Posay Micellar Water to remove any excess grime. And once a week, use an exfoliation treatment to give your skin a really deep clean, leaving it smooth and glowing.