There’s just something inexplicably magical about looking out at the cityscape as the sun is about to set. That is, until you realize that the orange-tinged horizon is actually filtered with smog and that toxic chemicals regularly mingle in the air you breathe. We all know the devastating effects of pollution to the environment and to our health, but one thing we may not be aware of is that aside from our lungs, another organ that bears the brunt of the harmful effects of pollution is our skin.
In a 2017 study, experts found that aside from ultraviolet radiation, pollutants like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (chemicals that are released when burning coal, gasoline, trash or tobacco), volatile organic compounds (present in paints, coatings and car exhausts, among others), oxides, particulate matter, ozone and cigarette smoke cause significant damage to the skin—our body’s largest organ and outermost barrier. These pollutants cause premature skin aging and conditions like acne, psoriasis and skin cancers to allergies and pigmentation. Pollution also heightens the dangers of free radicals, which disrupt collagen production and destroy the skin’s natural barrier.
“Air pollution consists of gas and particulate contaminants that are present in the atmosphere,” explains Heather Hickman of Dermalogica. “These pollutants come from a variety of sources and can lead to inflammation and can result in hyperpigmentation, degradation of collagen that makes up the structural components of the skin, dehydration and increased sensitivity to the skin—a phenomenon called inflammaging.”
“Like ultraviolet and infrared light, pollution or ground-level ozone induces oxidative stress, damaging cellular structures—proteins and lipids—in the stratum corneum,” adds Nicole Akers of SkinCeuticals. “But more than that, existing research also suggests that ozone depletes natural antioxidants on the skin, such as vitamins C and E. As we know, antioxidants neutralize free-radical damage and oxidation that lead to collagen and other protein damage. With depleted levels of antioxidants, skin is less able to defend itself from environmental aggression.”
But if you think you’re safe just because you live in a rural area or the suburbs, think again. According to NASA, almost 80 percent of the world’s population breathes polluted air. The good news is that there are simple steps you can take to protect yourself from the harsh effects of pollution. And with the rise of skin care products that specifically counter and neutralize the impact of pollutants, damage-proofing your skin is not as daunting as you think.
To help you get optimum protection for your skin, we’ve rounded up our top picks for products that provide the best defense against pollution.
For a Deeper Clean. After a full day of running around the city, your face becomes a hotbed of dirt and grime that builds up over time. To keep your skin clear and clean, use this powder exfoliant that features enzymes and alpha hydroxy acids which draw out deep-seated pollutants, plus charcoal and botanicals that purify skin and reverse the signs of premature aging. Best of all, its gentle formula makes it ideal for everyday use!
Repairs Damage As You Sleep. This moisturizer features a potent blend of titanium dioxide, antioxidants (vitamin C and marrubium plant) and skin-nourishing botanicals (sunflower, cucumber and barley) to ramp up your skin’s defenses against environmental and repair damage while you sleep. It brightens your complexion, diminishes fine lines and dark spots and reverses pollution-related dehydration.
To Amp Up Your Antioxidant Defense. Aside from 15 percent pure L-ascorbic acid, this Dermstore bestseller also features vitamin E and ferulic acid, which makes this serum an antioxidant powerhouse, providing as much as 8x the skin’s natural protection! It has all the typical benefits of vitamin C—neutralizes free radicals, enhances collagen production and brightens complexion—plus, its super-concentrated formula makes it effective for up to 72 hours.
Spray Anytime, Anywhere. A mist that delivers instant hydration, sets your makeup and protects your skin from free radicals and environmental stress? Yes, please! Featuring quercetin to boost cell regeneration, biosccharid gum to deflect pollutants and zinc and manganese amino acids to protect from oxidative stress, this mist is specially formulated to strengthen your skin’s natural defenses and reduce the signs of premature aging.
Sunscreen With Antioxidant Benefits. Enriched with vitamin C that acts as an antioxidant, this hydrating sunscreen mist offers broad spectrum coverage against UV rays, counters the effects of free radicals and delivers much-needed nutrients for your skin. Oil-free and water-resistant, keep this sunscreen in your purse for an instant boost and no-fuss reapplication.
Calms as It Purifies and Protects. If you haven’t discovered the joys of face masks yet, this will get you started. This intensive, detoxifying face mask is loaded with nourishing botanicals and potent antioxidants to purify skin and flush out toxins. It improves elasticity, hydrates and leaves you with softer, heathier-looking skin.
Boosts Skin Immunity With Probiotic. This ultra-hydrating mist features a nutrient-rich formula that’s infused with probiotic strains to help strengthen the skin’s natural barriers and defend against environmental stress. It boosts the skin’s immunity, calms inflammation and blocks free radicals.
Also Delivers 24-Hour Hydration. This gel-cream moisturizer is specially formulated to act as the skin’s barrier and provide daily protection against free radicals and pollutants. It’s enriched with neroli oil to detoxify skin, moringa extract to neutralize free radicals and powerful humectants that deliver 24 hours of hydration, keeping dry, dull and dehydrated skin at bay.