Pollution is never a good thing, but are we aware of the damage it’s doing to our skin? Melanie Morris takes a deep breath to find out more. Some depressing news just in… the longer we stay on this planet, the more it becomes a problem to our skin and its appearance. We already know that sun, smoking and sugar are aggressors and can turn us into premature prunes, but what about the air that we breathe? Yup, that too is an issue, and becoming more so by the minute. Air pollution is a 21st-century evil, and possibly a whole lot more so than even the most enlightened might consider. ‘The rise in pollution has been staggering,” says Lavinia Popescu, senior director for research and development with Elizabeth Arden, “and as 70% of the world’s population lives in urban environments, it’s having serious effects on skin ageing.”
To put things in context, The World Health Organisation has devised an Air Quality Index (AQI) that looks at the concentration of pollutant particles in real life where scores work thus:
0-50 Good air quality
50-100 More than a couple of hours’ exposure a day can trigger conditions such as asthma and other respiratory issues
100-200 Skin sensitivities, lung and cardiac conditions can occur within two hours of exposure
200-300 It is advisable to stay indoors
300+ It is inadvisable to go outdoors
Currently, Paris scores an AQI of 40; London is a surprising 81 compared to New York’s 24, while Bejing (188) and Mumbai (288) rank in the higher risk category. Dublin currently ranks comfortably in the late teens/early twenties, but Ireland has frequently fallen below WHO guidelines for various potentially harmful emissions including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (from burning solid fuel), and ozone, which can cause breathing problems, damage lungs and may lead to asthma. So, why is this also bad for our skin? “Air pollutants are tiny particles – often up to 20 times smaller than the size of a human pore – that work their way in through the skin’s epidermis and cause premature ageing,” says Dr Dandy Engelman, consultant dermatologist. “This can lead to deterioration of skin quality, hyperpigmentation and increased lines and wrinkles. In fact, urban pollution may cause more than double the skin damage that we get from the sun.”
“Sunscreen, and UV protection alone won’t ensure the skin against pollution, so in 2016 we need to think smarter and incorporate products into our daily regimes that will protect, detoxify and strengthen the skin against environmental aggressors.
Antioxidants have been a skincare buzzword for years and here’s why they’re so essential. If you remember back to science class, you’ll know all cells are made up of atoms, which in turn consist of protons, neutrons and electrons; the latter being the little elements that buzz around the outside of an atom. These electrons often need to ‘buddy up’ to other electrons to stay stable, when free radicals steal their power. Antioxidants offer this buddy-up service, which then prevents any of the cellular damage or degradation that could occur otherwise.
The skin needs continual, high levels of antioxidants to fight against free radical damage (amongst many other essential actions, like healthy liver function). When it comes to fighting environmental pollution, the skin not only needs quantity, it also needs quality, because different antioxidants target different types of pollution. So, the perfect cocktail includes antioxidants to combat five different categories: Particulate Matter, Oxides, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons and Ozone
Prevage, the high-tech brand within the Elizabeth Arden stable, has always been a player in the skin protecting/regenerating category, so it comes as no surprise that they’ve created a product to tackle pollution. The new City Smart SPF50 Hydrating Shield contains a variety of antioxidants to work on all aggressors to repair the skin, including Idebenone, Prevage’s hero antioxidant ingredient. The formula includes broad-spectrum UV to protect, and also, a DNA Enzyme Complex, featuring marine ingredients (including super-charged plankton and powerful marine bacteria) to strengthen the skin and make it more resilient. “The combination of ingredients, and blend of anti-oxidants, offers cells exposed to urban dust five times greater protection,” says Popescu of the product that’s been three years in the making.
“The choices we [in Ireland] make as consumers about how we heat our homes and travel to work and school will affect our local air quality,” said Patrick Kenny, air quality manager at the Environment Protection Agency back in 2013. This claim hasn’t changed, but what must also now evolve is how we treat our skin in light of such new insights and challenges. And just as we’ve all learned to embrace SPF, now is the time to become pollution protected.
Get smart with these Skincare pollution fighters and protectors
Prevage City Smart SPF50 Hydrating Shield, €65
Tested in conditions with an AQI of 500+, this game changer product screens out 98% of harmful UVB rays; it provides broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection and improves skin tone whilst also reducing discolouration, thanks to a rich feed of anti-oxidants and exclusive DNA enzyme-boosting complex.
Kiehl’s Cilantro and Orange Extract Pollutant Defending Soothing Mask, €34,
A delicious leave-on, overnight mask, this uses oil from the coriander (cilantro) seed to boost skin barrier function, and antioxidant-rich orange extract to renew and nourish. Use up to three times weekly.
Clarins Repair Booster, €39
One of three elixirs (others are Detox and Energy) to restore the skin from external aggressors. Add a few drops to any skincare to reduce the feeling of discomfort, strengthen the skin and reduce environmental inflammation and redness. Can be used day and night.
SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic, €15
A hero product in the antioxidant category, apply this impactful serum on cleansed skin each day as step one of a protective, effective skincare regime.
The Body Shop Himalayan Charcoal Purifying Glow Mask, €25
Inspired by Ayurvedic traditions, this mud mask contains bamboo charcoal to draw out impurities from the pores, plus antioxidant-rich green tea and cleaning, anti-bacterial tea tree oil