What Exactly Is Pollution Doing To Our Skin?

[Photo: Rex]

With calls for Oxford Street to be pedestrianised, the impact of air pollution and our exposure to it is high on the health agenda. Is there a way we can protect ourselves from the effects of air pollution, particularly on our skin where the impact is most visible?

Anti pollution skincare and beauty has slowly found its way across the ocean from the Korean and Japanese markets and it’s looking to become even more popular. But what is it in these products that actually does the job and why do we need them?

We caught up with a couple of skincare experts to find out exactly how pollution affects our skin and how we can protect our skin from pollution.

“Healthy skin needs clear air.” Says Martine Burford, Founder and MD of award-winning British brand Ruby Red, “Polluted air basically reduces the oxygen in skin cells and affects collagen production.” We often hear about healthy skin from the inside out but pollutants can damage your skin from the outside. Exhaust fumes, dust and other dirty particles in the air can all start to cause damage.

Throughout the day, pollution in the air sticks to your skin and is absorbed by the skin’s natural barrier. Over time, this can irritate and weaken the skin’s natural barrier, reducing oxygen and increasing the level of free radicals that are produced by the body.

Despite our keen interest in our skin, the effects of free radicals are not always common knowledge. Noella Gabriel, co-founder & MD at Elemis explains why free radicals are so important to know about. “Free radicals are triggered both internally and externally.  Internally by consuming fatty, processed foods, alcohol and caffeine, and externally by polluted air or UV exposure. Free radicals can cause the skin to age by affecting the structural support to the skin, decreasing elasticity, resilience, and suppleness – all which causes wrinkles and ageing skin.”

Unless you’re living in the remotest of areas, pollution is unavoidable. Fortunately, there are ways to protect our skin and prevent damage from pollution. Martine advises “To keep your skin glowing, it’s important to deep cleanse to get the city grime out of the skin every night.” Use small, upwards circular movements with your cleanser, to really loosen dirt from your skin.

We love the Murad Environmental Shield Cleanser £25, which soothes environmentally stressed skin whilst protecting with vitamin C.

For best results, remove makeup first before cleansing so that your skin can really benefit from your cleanser. Try a double cleanse at least once a week, to really super charge your cleansing routine.

Try the Dermalogica Pre Cleanse (£27.85), a cult product that dissolves makeup and pollutants from the skin’s surface first, in order to prepare your skin for the full benefits from your regular cleanser. This bottle lasts forever as you only need a couple of drops to remove even the heaviest of suncreams.

Not only do we need to remove the pollution from our skin, we also need to reduce free radical production within our cells. “To combat free radicals, look for skincare products that are rich with antioxidants and vitamins A, C and E.” advises Martine, “These ingredients will help to slow down and protect from further oxidative damage.”

For a natural skin boost, the Ruby Red Renewal Shea Butter Soothing Skin Cream £20, provides intense nourishment for dehydrated, damaged skin. Free from parabens and synthetic perfumes, the organic shea butter is rich in antioxidants, whilst restoring elasticity and moisture to the skin barrier, alongside cell renewing enzymes of Lemon Peel essential oil and Honey.

What about make-up? For those of you who can’t live without foundation, the Bourjois City Radiance foundation £9.99, has an anti-pollution screen which reduces the presence of carbon particles on the skin.

In addition to SPF30, the hydrating formula provides a buildable coverage for an even and protected base. 

To reduce stress in the skin, Noella recommends trying out a gentle facial massage to help stimulate micro-circulation in the morning and restore skin’s equilibrium in the evening. 

Like many Elemis spa products, the aromatic essential oils in these Cellular Recovery Skin Bliss Capsules £65 have a beautiful therapeutic effect in the comfort of your own home - definitely one worth trying. 

These colourful capsules also contain Moringa Oil, which has 1700% more antioxidant power than any other oil to help repair the visible signs of ageing and counteract the damaging effects of everyday pollution.

And it’s not all about what you put on the outside either, Noella also suggests sticking to a diet which includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables in conjunction with anti-oxidants in your skincare to help against this free radical damage.


If you’re struggling to get your diet right, try a supplement like LQ Liquid Health to help increase your antioxidant intake. The LQ Skin, Hair & Nails £29.99 contains marine collagen, a powerful antioxidant proven to strengthen the skin’s outer layers, and resveratrol, the wonder polyphenol that’s derived from grapes (and found in red wine).  

Although it comes as a small bottle to drink daily, it’s also important to drink at least 2 litres of water per day to flush toxins through your system too. 

So, you heard it here first – remove pollutants from skin through daily cleansing and protect your skin barrier with antioxidants, both inside and out.

Is air pollution something that concerns you? Do you take any of these steps to prevent it? Tweet us your thoughts @YahooStyleUK.

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