Can Air Pollution Age Your Skin?
Can air pollution age your skin? The short answer is yes, you bet. But of course, I’m going to give you an even better answer with insight into how and why air pollution impacts your skin, as well as what you can do to avoid its detrimental effects.
Air pollution plays a surprisingly significant role in the skin’s aging process. I think it’s so easy to overlook pollution as a major factor in our skin’s health because it seems so intangible—and it’s invisible. Every other skincare rule seems much more concrete: drink water, eat fresh produce, use skincare products that hydrate your skin, apply sunscreen daily, etc. Those things are a given, and we can easily remember them. But pollution? Most of the time, you can’t even see it. It’s unlikely that you’ll think twice about pollution as it relates to skincare, especially if you don’t live in a city. Once you understand how and why pollution impacts your skin, you can be more mindful of it and even take incorporate some protective measures into your skincare routine if you wish. First, let’s review what air pollution actually is.
What Is Air Pollution?
Air pollution consists of any toxic chemicals or compounds that are present in the air. Air pollution is caused by emissions from transportation, agriculture, mining, construction, etc. But it’s not just us humans polluting the air. The air can also be polluted through natural environmental processes that we have absolutely no control over, such as volcanic activity, wildfires, and wind currents that pick up pollutants from the ground. As you can probably guess, air pollution is generally much higher in cities than in rural areas.
To zoom out from the smaller picture of caring for our skin, air pollution can also be harmful to our overall health, leading to health issues such as respiratory, pulmonary, and cardiovascular diseases, as well as allergies. Air pollution is just as harmful to the health of our environment and is a major cause of global warming. Just a few more reasons to pay attention to air pollution if your skin does not seem like a good enough excuse. Being beauty-obsessed, I admit that I’m driven by vanity! I have purposefully included antioxidant-rich, protective ingredients in Adélie’s serums, such as Coenzyme Q10 (CO Q10), tocopherols and various antioxidants, to stave off the aging effects of air pollution.
How Does Air Pollution Affect Our Skin?
Is true our skin ages naturally as we get older—a process we call intrinsic aging, which is mostly determined by genetics. But there is also extrinsic aging, which research has determined is 85% what's really aging your skin and is based largely on environmental factors, such as smoking, sun exposure, radiation, and air pollution. While we can’t slow down Mother Nature when it comes to our intrinsic aging, we can take an active role in slowing down our extrinsic aging.
Exposure to air pollution not only breaks down the collagen in our skin, but also reduces the synthesis of collagen in the body—a perfect storm when it comes to premature aging. Our skin is so vulnerable to external factors like air pollution because it is our outermost barrier. When our skin is not protected, air pollutant particles stick to our skin and are even absorbed through our pores, which is why it’s so crucial to adopt some protective measures like the ones I’ve provided below.
What You Can Do to Protect Your Skin from Air Pollution
- Eat lots of fresh vegetables and fruits. Try to eat foods that are high in antioxidants, which are plant-based nutrients that protect the skin (and body!) from free radicals. Goji berries, blueberries, and (my favorite!) dark chocolate are naturally high in antioxidants. Did you know, for example, that the Mayans believed in preserving the skin and aging gracefully by focusing on nourishment that was high in antioxidants? Fruits and vegetables containing free radical-fighting Vitamins A, E and C are also a great choice, such as carrots, citrus fruits, and—as always—leafy greens, to name a few.
- Apply skincare products containing antioxidants. Remember how we talked about how in order to hydrate your skin, you need to hydrate both inside and out? This is the same principle. Not only should you consume antioxidant-rich foods, but you should provide antioxidant-rich nutrients to your skin topically as well. Think of it as feeding your skin. This is called “anti-pollution skincare.” Adélie’s Cielo de Nómadas does an amazing job, for example, protecting and nourishing the skin in just a few drops. It is rich in antioxidants to protect your from environmental stresses throughout the day.
- Double cleanse. Particularly on high pollution days, you may want to double cleanse. Your first cleanse ideally will be will an oil-based cleanser. As you may know from your old science class, oil dissolves oil, so an oil based cleanser really helps to cleanse off makeup as well as debris. Follow with a non-drying water-based cleanser and/or toner. For your oil-based cleanser, you should see an oil listed as the first ingredient. For your water-based cleanser, you should see a deionized/purified water, hydrosol, or floral water. To oil cleanse, simply massage the oils into your face for a few minutes, drape a comfortably wet washcloth over your face and loosen up debris, and gently wipe off. Use the toner to spritz and cleanse any remaining residue after the oil cleansing step.
- Create a physical barrier to pollution by wearing an antioxidant-rich serum and sunscreen. Having a layer of product on your skin will trap or repel some of the nanoparticles in the air. I really hope you’ll wear an antioxidant-rich serum anyway because it’s so important to keep your skin hydrated to avoid premature aging, as well as a broad spectrum sunscreen to protect the skin from photo-aging and risk of melanoma.
- Decorate your home with some indoor plants. Plants increase oxygen and reduce toxins from the air we breathe. Some plants that you might want to consider for their air purifying potential are english ivy, spider plant, boston fern, rubber plant, and chrysanthemums. They bring some life and color into the house, too, as an added bonus!
- Make one small change to reduce air pollution. Just one small change is still a step forward for the environment. Recycling, unplugging appliances when not in use, turning off lights when not in use, taking shorter showers, walking, biking, or taking public transportation instead of driving—find just one thing you can commit to and do it!
Have any questions about how air pollution can age your skin? I’d love to help! Just leave a comment below!