According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), up to 90 percent of visible skin changes or aging is caused by the sun. Which is why it's important to use sunscreen SPF to protect your skin from harmful UV radiation and prevent premature aging.
However, applying sunscreen is not enough. In addition to UV radiation, one of the major external causes of skin damage and aging that is often overlooked is pollution. Pollution can strip your skin of moisture, cause inflammation, and also create cellular aging that leads to loss of skin elasticity and firmness. Pollution no longer just affects the environment; pollutants found indoors and outdoors are detrimental to our skin.
Air Pollution and Skin Aging
Research has shown that air pollution exposure is significantly correlated to extrinsic skin aging signs, in particular to pigment spots and less pronounced to wrinkles. The list of pollutants in the air cover a broad range, both visible and invisible. They include cigarette smoke, car exhaust, smog, dirt, and dust. And that’s the short list. Carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) that are bound to the nanoparticles in the air from pollution are converted to quinones. Quinones are the redox cycle chemicals that in turn produce reactive oxygen species (ROS), which result in the same type of skin aging that is seen with chronic exposure to UV light.
Essentially, air pollutants can cover your skin like a dirty layer of film that you can’t see. When pollution covers your skin, it doesn’t just sit on the surface - these particles can be up to 20 times smaller than pores and can infiltrate deeper layers of your skin, causing inflammation, dehydration, and loss of elasticity and firmness.
Pollution breaks down collagen and the lipid layer in the skin, which impairs skin barrier functions," says Zoe Draelos, M.D., consulting professor of dermatology at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and author of the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology article "Aging in a Polluted World.
How Free Radicals Cause Skin Aging
A major concern in preserving healthy skin is the production of free radicals. Free radicals are unstable atoms that attack the cells in your skin, disrupting collagen production and causing premature aging. They damage your DNA, thin the skin, cause a loss in elasticity, produce age spots, and may even cause skin cancer. When we breathe in pollutants, they generate circulating free radicals and increase our inflammatory state by activating our immune response, which can accelerate signs of aging.
Pollutants and infrared radiation (IR) both increase levels of free radicals in your skin. Infrared light makes up 54% of sunlight, while UV is only 7%. While sunscreen blocks UV, it does nothing against IR radiation, specifically IRA type rays which penetrate deeper into the skin.
Ozone Pollution and Skin Aging in the City
People living in dense metropolitan cities like Los Angeles, Beijing, and London are especially affected by pollution. According to a study by King’s College London, London’s Oxford Street has the worst pollution in the world with nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels at up to ten times the legal limit. In the United States, the most common pollutants are ozone and particle pollution.
The Most Polluted Cities in the US by Ozone:
- Los Angeles - Long Beach, CA
- Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, CA
- Bakersfield, CA
- Fresno-Madera, CA
- Sacramento-Roseville, CA
- Houston-The Woodlands, TX
- Modesto-Merced, CA
- Dallas-Fort Worth, TX-OK
- Washington-Baltimore-Arlington, DC-MD-VA-WV-PA
- Las Vegas-Henderson, NV-AZ
- Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ
- New York-Newark, NY-NJ-CT-PA
- St. Louis-St. Charles-Farmington, MO-IL
- Tulsa-Muskogee-Bartlesville, OK
- Cincinnati-Wilmington-Maysville, OH-KY-IN
Source: The American Lung Association
Indoor Pollution Also Affects Our Skin and Our Health
The US Environmental Protection Agency has cited many studies that indicate indoor air pollutants can be two to five times higher than the levels found outside. Indoor pollutants can come from products that emit formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a colorless chemical with a strong pickle-like odor that is commonly used in many manufacturing processes. Formaldehyde easily becomes a gas at room temperature, which makes it part of a larger group of chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are bad for our skin and our health. Products in your home with formaldehyde can include:
- Pressed-wood products (plywood, particle board, paneling)
- Foam insulation
- Wallpaper and paints
- Some synthetic fabrics (example: permanent press)
- Some cosmetics and personal products
In addition to indoor air pollutants, the chlorine in water also kills moisture in your skin, especially when you take a hot shower. The heat opens your pores to allow chlorine to seep into your skin, causing it to crack and lead to wrinkles.
How to Protect Your Skin from Pollution
As a result of heavy pollution in densely populated urban areas and even pollution in our homes, anti-pollution is a growing concern for our daily skincare routine. So what can you do to protect yourself from all these pollutants and free radicals trying to ruin your skin? Here are a few ways:
- Wash up and Exfoliate: Remember that gross invisible layer of air pollutants on your skin? Cleanse thoroughly everyday to prevent buildup and clogged pores. Using a gentle, hydrating cleanser is important, so you don’t dry out your skin. Follow these simple steps to learn how to exfoliate your face.
Washing your face thoroughly every day is a critical piece of reducing the burden that pollution puts on your skin," says Erin Gilbert, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at State University of New York Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn.
- Neutralize with Antioxidants: The most effective way to fight free radicals is to balance them with lots of antioxidants. Antioxidants prevent free radical activity and support healthy skin. To help protect your skin from pollutants, use a day serum containing antioxidants after cleansing in the morning and do the same at night with a night serum to bolster the repair process. Choose skin care products that contain ingredients that protect against pollutants and free radicals like Vitamin C and E, as well as high-tech anti-pollution and anti-radiation ingredients, such as ECM-Protect.
Trufora Day Serum 85 (patent pending) is an anti-aging and pollution-fighting skincare product that helps prevent premature aging in your skin and contains ECM Protect, the antioxidant peptide designed to fight the damage caused by free radicals, UV radiation, cigarette smoke, and pollution. Trufora Day Serum 85 also contains Vitamins C and E, which help build collagen and combats hyperpigmentation. Along with a pollution-fighting skin care routine, be sure to eat antioxidant-rich foods, such as leafy greens and blueberries.
- Put up a Barrier: Protect your face with sunscreen (SPF) and cover up when you can. If you live in one of the top polluted cities listed above, then be sure to check the weather forecast for days with poor air quality conditions. You can protect your skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts when you go outdoors, which will help keep air pollution particles off your skin. For indoor protection against pollutants, vacuum regularly using a vacuum with a HEPA filter to clean up particles of dust. Keep your house well ventilated to keep the humidity inside low and use products that emit lower levels of formaldehyde.
- Stay hydrated: Pollutants have a tendency to dehydrate and irritate your skin, so it’s important to drink lots of water to flush out the toxins in your system. To keep your skin moisturized, use skin care products with hydrating agents to help strengthen the barrier function of your skin.