Atmospheric Aging: What Is It and How to Defend Your Skin Against It

BY Gracee Tolentino · May 4, 2017

Woman watching New York Skyline-1

We all know that the atmosphere is an important part of what makes Earth livable. Not only does it block much of the sun’s harmful rays from reaching Earth, it also traps heat, which makes the Earth’s temperature comfortable and conducive to life. But over the past century, greenhouse gases and other air pollutants have been causing big changes to the atmosphere. Think global warming (yes, it’s really happening), ozone hole and acid rain. Another thing these elements are potentially causing? Premature skin aging.

To get to the bottom of atmospheric aging, we talked to Nicole Akers, AVP of education and development for SkinCeuticals. Here she talked about the the silent skin agers caused by a combination of sun and pollution, which pose a constant threat to healthy-looking skin.

Dermstore: Tell us more about atmospheric aging. What’s exactly in the atmosphere that we should be concerned about?

Atmospheric skin aging is a collective term for the visible signs of skin aging caused by exposure to atmospheric or environmental aggressors, which include UVA/UVB rays, Infrared-A and Ozone (O3) pollution.

Ultra Violet (UV) Rays – UVA rays induce free radicals that cause discoloration and a breakdown of skin’s structural support while UVB directly damages skin by causing sunburn. UVB is most intense between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and plays a key role in the development of skin cancers. 95% of sunlight is UVA and has been shown to penetrate deeper than UVB.

Infrared Radiation (IR)  Infrared radiation, with a wavelength longer than ultraviolet rays and visible light, accounts for 54% of the total solar energy reaching the skin. In comparison, UVA and UVB only make up 7% of the total solar energy. IR-A is a type of infrared that penetrates the skin deeper than UV, with 50% reaching the dermis. IR-A stimulates the generation of free radicals as well as the collagen-degrading enzyme, MMP-1.

Ozone Pollution  (O3)  Ozone is a colorless gas found both in the earth’s upper atmosphere and at ground level. Depending on its location in the atmosphere, ozone can be categorized as “good” or “bad.” Ozone pollution only comes from ground level ozone and is created between sunlight and chemical reactions found in automobile emissions and chemicals found in household and commercial cleaning products. Ozone pollution oxidizes lipids, depletes skin’s natural antioxidant reservoir, activates inflammatory pathways and causes collagen degradation.

How do these elements impact our skin? And what are their visible effects?

This environmentally induced oxidative stress damages skin in several ways. It destroys cutaneous proteins, such as collagen and elastin, and essential lipids. It also causes inflammation in skin and creates mutations in DNA. This compounded effect leads to accelerated signs of skin aging, leaving skin susceptible to the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, loss of radiance, elasticity, and skin density and diffuse and local pigmentation.

Who are susceptible to atmospheric aging? Why?

People who are more regularly subjected to these environmental stressors are most vulnerable to atmospheric aging. People that have occupations that require being in the sun, or those who recreationally spend a lot of time outdoors for a large portion of the day are highly susceptible. Additionally, those who live in highly populated and industrial cities are more prone to atmospheric aging. Near ground level, ozone is created when volatile pollutants emitted by cars, power plants, industrial refineries and chemical plants react chemically with sunlight. This ground level ozone is carcinogenic, and aggressively attacks tissue on contact.

Can we avoid atmospheric damage? How?

To avoid atmospheric damage, we need to have a comprehensive approach to skincare to prevent the damage of free radicals, and protect the skin on the surface. Sunscreens are used to protect on the surface—broad spectrum sunscreens reflect and absorb UVA/UVB rays from the skin’s surface to protect against photoaging, but they do not provide complete protection from free radical damage. Antioxidants are used to prevent damage from the inside—efficient antioxidants neutralize free radicals and strengthen the skin’s internal defense against environmental aggressors such as UVA, UVB, IRA and pollution, allowing skin to self-repair for visible anti-aging correction.

We know sunscreen alone won’t be able to block these elements, that’s why it’s important to use an antioxidant with our sunscreen. But what exactly do antioxidants do? How do they work?

Antioxidants strengthen the skin’s internal defense against atmospheric skin aging. The main function of antioxidants is to neutralize free radicals in the skin. They protect the skin from the negative effects of UVA/UVB by reducing the amount of sunburn cells, reducing DNA mutations and decreasing cellular damage. They protect the skin from IRA by reducing the amount of collagen-degrading enzymes, and they protect from ozone by reducing the skin reactivity and reducing cellular damage. This information has been confirmed by in vivo clinical studies in human patients.

What makes certain antioxidants more potent than others? How should we choose the best one for us?

When choosing an antioxidant, the best antioxidants will have proof of penetration into the skin, will have proven protection against UVA, UVB, IRA and ozone, and provide quantifiable and visible anti-aging results. The ideal antioxidant will meet the formulation parameters that have been proven to be essential to penetrate skin for effective protection. Many antioxidants boast multiple antioxidant formulations, but the ideal one will have clinical data that prove that these different antioxidants perform synergistically and are better together vs. a single antioxidant formulation. Finally, the best antioxidants will have been subjected to various tests to clinically measure protective capacity and efficacy.

Aside from applying topical products, what else can we do to protect our skin and reverse existing damage?

Aside from topical skincare products, the best way to protect skin is to wear appropriate protective clothing, such as hats and sunglasses. There are several ways to reverse existing damage, the least invasive way would be to use a combination of skin care products to correct wrinkles, pigmentation and skin texture. Additional procedures that are available include lasers, fillers, neurotoxins, etc.

Need help finding the right sunscreen and antioxidant combination for you? See Nicole’s recommendations below.


If You Have Normal to Dry Skin

TRY: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic

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 up to 72 hours.

TRY: SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense

This tinted sunscreen glides on smooth and doesn’t leave behind any oily or white residue. Water-resistant for up to 40 minutes, the lightweight formula melts into skin, boosting radiance and increasing your skin’s defenses to keep you protected from premature signs of aging and damaging sun rays.

If You Have Oily or Combination Skin

TRY: SkinCeuticals Phloretin CF

Designed for oily or combination skin, this serum offers a mixture of vitamin C, ferulic acid and phloretin to provide a potent barrier against free-radical damage caused by sun and pollution. Like C E Ferulic, this antioxidant serum remains effective for 72 hours.

TRY: SkinCeuticals Physical Matte UV Defense

Aside from delivering superb sun protection, this tinted sunscreen also leaves a shine-free matte finish—even in the most humid temperatures. It also features color spheres in a universally flattering tint (looks great on all skin tones!) that also minimize the appearance of large pores.

If You Have Sensitive Skin

TRY: SkinCeuticals Phloretin CF + SkinCeuticals Sheer Physical UV Defense

Formulated with only physical sun filters, this transparent formula sinks into skin without leaving that dreaded white tint or any sticky, oily residue. This weightless sunscreen spreads evenly and dries to a matte, shine-free finish making it ideal for normal, oily, combination and sensitive skin types.


For All Skin Types

TRY: SkinCeuticals Resveratrol B E

This nighttime treatment is a first of its kind to combine a concentration of pure, stable resveratrol with baicalin and pure vitamin E. The combination provides optimal antioxidant performance to prevent free-radical damage and signs of accelerated aging. This patented, antioxidant cocktail neutralizes free radicals, strengthens your skin’s natural antioxidant defenses and reveals visible radiance and firmness.

Gracee Tolentino

Gracee Tolentino is the managing editor of the Dermstore Blog. After spending 10 years of her writing and editing career working in the travel and food industries, she finally found her true calling: beauty, health and wellness. In her spare time ... Read More >

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