Most of us have heard repeatedly about the effects of sun damage on our skin and so are vigilant about slathering on the SPF all year round. Phew, our skin is safe! Think again. Unfortunately, there is also pollution damage. Yes, pollution and skin is another thing to worry about. Air pollution is not only a major health concern that can lead to respiratory ailments but on a more vain note, smog, smoke and exhaust cause damage to our skin creating extra beauty challenges in modern living. This of course, is not really a surprise, when our bodies are exposed to toxic chemicals and by-products, it can never be good for our tissues.
Aging by Smog
Air pollution has be found to lead to extrinsic skin aging, displaying how the world around us impacts our skin and bodies. Over a decade ago, I went to a conference in which one of the speakers was a researcher for a major cosmetic company. In his research, he found that pollution exposure led to inflammation and therefore free radical creation. Since then there has been much more research to support this and pollution’s effect on our skin pretty clearly impacts our complexions. One study of 400 Caucasian women ages 70-80 found a positive correlation between air pollution exposure and the severity of skin aging characteristics, wrinkles and pigmentation while other studies have revealed traffic pollution exposure to be associated with extrinsic aging. From an esthetician’s perspective, this means that those of living in big cities much take this into account when looking at anti-aging strategies.
Pollution and Pigmentation
I am obsessed with pigmentation. My own and others – but while sun is the most commonly cited culprit, research has found pollution caused by exhaust to increase the appearance of pigmented spots. In fact, one study reveals that an increase in soot and particles from traffic was associated with 20% more pigment spots on forehead and cheeks than its control group. This is not surprisingly because pigmentation is usually a response to inflammation. So, while sun is often blamed for causing dark spots and uneven skin tone, pollution must also be considered when trying to prevent hyperpigmentation.
An Increase in Sundamage
UV damage is known to wreak havoc on our skin and increase risks of skin cancer. But this is not stand alone risk. Some atmospheric pollution is known to be ozone depleting, thus, enhancing sun exposure. It has been predicted that for every 1% decrease in ozone there is a 2% increase in UVB radiation and a 2% increase in skin cancer. Therefore, air pollution not only has a direct impact on skin damage but also secondary effects that heighten the risk of other environmental assaults on the skin.
What Can We Do About This?
Decrease air pollution! Right. While, respect for the environment is embedded into the Holistic Vanity belief system (we must be holistic to achieve true beauty), I know its unrealistic to rely only on environmental strategies. Politics..sigh. So, what can we do that is immediate and within our control?
Well, first we must be religious about cleansing our skin. This is why it is so important to wash our faces at night. Many women think its just to remove makeup but its actually much more important for removing environmental pollutants of the day. If you are very concerned with this, you can also cleanse right when arriving home.
Second, protection is the name of the game. Heavy moisturizers and face oils not only lubricate your skin but also provide a barrier that helps to protect it against the elements. Remember, I am referring to natural moisturizers as chemical-based products have their own damaging effects. Along with this, if you wear mineral makeup or a mineral SPF, this too acts as a protective shield. Mineral sunblock unlike chemical sunblock is physical. This means that it sits on the skin and blocks UV rays unlike chemical sun screen agents that allow UV radiation to permeate the skin but neutralizes them. This barrier against sun also is a barrier against air pollution residues (and avoids hormone-disrupting sun screen chemicals!). Multipurpose natural products that are safe, protective and healthy? After learning all about aging pollution, all I can say is Yes please.