Almost every week we're hit with fresh reports about the levels of pollution in the UK. At the end of January, the government rated eight regions across the UK as having 'high' or 'very high' levels of pollution.
Dr Anjali Mahto, Consultant Dermatologist & British Skin Foundation spokesperson explains that pollution can cause premature skin ageing:
"As skin is your outermost barrier, it is one of the first and largest targets for air pollution. Environmental pollutants include dust, ozone, carbon monoxide (from vehicle emissions and smoking), sulphur and lead. Prolonged and repetitive exposure to these agents can have negative effects on the skin. Scientific studies in both animals and humans have shown that these components of air pollution can contribute to premature skin ageing (wrinkling, pigmentation spots) and worsening of inflammatory skin diseases such as eczema, psoriasis and acne. One major mechanism is via the generation of reactive oxygen species that can damage DNA in skin cells."
Dr Noor Almaani, consultant dermatologist at The Private Clinic of Harley Street adds:
"The pollutants we are exposed to affect the skin through the production of oxygen free radicals and the depletion of antioxidants (vitamin E, C and Squaline). They interfere with the skin's ability to produce collagen, which is why they remain at the heart of age related deterioration. Pollution also activates certain molecules that lead to skin pigmentation (dark spots), and can also damage the most superficial layer of the skin leading to dryness, irritation and wrinkles."
Moreover, skincare brand Olay recently conducted a study of over 200 women, across both the least and most polluted districts of Beijing. The scientific evidence revealed that 95% were aware about the effects of air pollution on skin, specifically citing skin sensitivity, discoloration, dryness, dullness and roughness as potential concerns.
So, short of a mass exodus to the countryside, what can we do to minimise the damage? Dr Mahto and Dr Almaani explain all…
1. Cleanse, cleanse and cleanse
Cleanse your skin every night to remove dirt and environmental toxins from the skin surface, says Dr Mahto.
Dr Almaani adds:
"After a day in the city, I would recommend cleansing the skin with a gentle wash off product to rid the skin of any clogged particle matter. In my experience, products such as the Eve Lom Cleanser and Estee Lauder's Perfectly Clean rinse off formula are ideal antidotes to polluted city skin. However, it is important not to overdo your cleansing and exfoliating regime, as this can lead to the removal of the skin's natural protecting oils."
2. Up your exfoliation game
Exfoliate once weekly (less if you have dry or sensitive skin) to give your skin a deeper clean, advises Dr Mahto.
"This will also improve the penetration of any products that are later applied to the skin."
3. Use an antioxidant serum
Antioxidants are substances or nutrients that interact with free radicals and stop them before skin cells are damaged. They come in many forms and, luckily for us, are very easy to add to our diet and beauty regime. "Look out for beauty products containing antioxidants such as vitamin E, C and Squaline, as well as eating antioxidant rich foods such as blueberries, beans and nuts," Dr Almaani recommends.
"Antioxidants such as vitamin C and resveratrol have the ability to neutralise damage caused by reactive oxygen species," says Dr Mahto. "They certainly have a role in your anti-ageing armory."
4. Always use SPF
Use a regular sunscreen (at the very minimum SPF 15) – don't forget your skin also needs UV protection to help reduce risk of skin cancers and signs of premature ageing, advises Dr Mahto.
Dr Almaani recommends sun-protecting creams such as Anthelios Ultra Fluid Lotion SFP60 and Clinique Super City Block, both of which protect and nourish the skin.
5. Lock in moisture
It is vital to keep the skin well hydrated in order to maintain a good skin barrier which will protect against free radicals.
"Moisturise daily, particularly if you have a tendency to dry, inflammatory skin conditions e.g. eczema and psoriasis," advises Dr Mahto. "This will keep your skin hydrated helping to maintain the integrity of the barrier function of your skin."
Dr Almaani suggests also drinking lots of water and regular application of moisturisers. "I would recommend, Dior One Essential City Defence and Epionce Eye Renewal Cream."
6. Invest in your skincare routine
Investing time and clever products will pay dividends when limiting the effects of pollution on our skin.
Dr Anjali Mahto adds:
"For many of us settled in city life, it is worth thinking about taking extra precautionary measures to protect against noxious chemicals we are exposed to on a daily basis. We may not be able to control the environmental factors that lead to skin inflammation and ageing, but it is in our hands to try and limit these."