A simple guide to protecting your skin in a polluted world

Pollution is a hot topic in the skincare world right now. Researchers have come to realise that not only is it detrimental to our health; it isn’t great for our skin either. When it comes to pollution in relation to skin, we’re talking specifically about the particles in the air: traffic fumes, dirt, dust and chemicals that are floating around us invisible to the naked eye, but there all the same. 


Pollution: Your Skin’s Enemy

While the sun is still considered the skin’s biggest troublemaker, when it comes to environmental factors pollution comes a close second. Pollution has a cumulative effect on the skin—the air is filled with particulate matter (PM), tiny particles of pollution that attack the skin’s protective barrier, weakening it over time and allowing the pollution to travel deeper down to wreak more damage.


To put the size of these particles into perspective the diameter of a strand of hair is around 30 times larger than the biggest particulate matter. They’re miniscule! And skin troubles such as dullness, enlarged pores, redness, sensitivity and even acne are either triggered or exacerbated by these pesky pollution particles. One survey published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology found that high levels of nitrogen dioxide (one of the main traffic-related pollutants) can be linked to age spots and pigmentation. And that’s not all, pollution causes oxidative damage and inflammation in the skin which can trigger accelerated ageing, too. “There are a lot of free radicals like ozones and oxides in pollution that might cause damage to the skin and speed up the ageing process. Also, if you’re breathing in a lot of carbon monoxide this can reduce the oxygen supply which in turn ages the skin, similar to the affects smoking has on the skin,” says Dr Adam Friedmann, consultant dermatologist at The Harley Street Dermatology Clinic.


As well as general skin ageing, pollution even plays a part when it comes to more specific skin issues. “There are a lot of irritants in traffic fumes and these fumes can cause worsening of dermatitis and other skin conditions such as eczema,” he adds.


It sounds like pretty scary stuff but there’s no need to panic, thankfully there are some simple and effective ways to prevent and remove pollution from the skin.


Pollution: Your Plan of Action


When it comes to tackling pollution, you need to take a three-pronged skincare approach: cleanse, exfoliate and protect:


1. Cleansing is key to removing as many of the irritating particles as possible, so ensure that you are double cleansing at the end of every day. Look to gentle, nourishing cleansers such as balms, milks or oils, rather than harsh soaps. Keeping the skin healthy and happy is half the battle when it comes to pollution. While city dwellers will suffer from pollution more than those that live in rural areas, none of us are immune to the toll pollution can take on the skin so wherever you live be sure to cleanse your skin well.


2. “Gentle exfoliation in the shower or bath helps to clean the debris off your skin,” says Friedmann. Try using the Skin Brightening Face Exfoliator at least twice a week. You can also use the Kessa Exfoliation Glove to remove dirt and pollution from the skin on your body.


3. Looking to a moisturiser that protects the skin is key. It should contain antioxidants and be designed to keep the skin’s moisture barrier hydrated and happy. Check the ingredient list of your day cream, if it has glycerin near the top of the list you’re onto a winner. The Radiance Anti-Aging Day Cream has antioxidant saffron flower that will help to neutralise some of those skin-damaging free radicals in the pollution, whilst glycerin helps to hydrate the skin and bolster its natural defences.


Combating Pollution with a Healthy Home

When we feel healthy and happy our body will be more able to protect itself from outside aggressors like pollution. Try to find activities that are stress relieving, perhaps for you that’s yoga or meditation, drawing or walking. Be sure to factor in enough sleep too and make it a priority, if you’re well rested your body will be able to protect itself more effectively.


It’s easy to apply antioxidants topically but look to bolster your protection by eating your antioxidants too. “If you keep a healthy diet, eating lots of vegetables and salads these will soak up the free radicals helping the look and feel of the skin,” explains Friedmann. Be sure to get a variety of fruit and vegetables in your diet, eat the rainbow!


Lastly, fill your home with plants. Yes, really! A NASA study looked at which greenery was best at purifying the air in our homes and found that plants including the peace lily, bamboo palm and spider plant were all effective at removing air pollutants commonly found in household cleaners and synthetic fabrics. 



Amy Lawrenson

Amy Lawrenson

Amy Lawrenson is a UK beauty editor with over 13 years of experience writing for magazines and websites including ELLE, Grazia, Women's Health and Byrdie. She has a keen interest in all things beauty and wellness, especially skincare because who doesn't want a clear, glowing complexion?