Air pollution poses an inescapable threat to both the environment and human health, including the well-being of our skin.
In fact, dermatological studies have consistently demonstrated that air pollution significantly contributes to premature skin ageing.
This predicament is a consequence of rapid urbanisation and expanding industrialisation. Both outdoor and indoor air pollution stem from human activities such as electricity generation, industrial processes, waste disposal, vehicle emissions, agriculture, and domestic fuel burning, to name just a few. The resulting pollutants include heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and ozone, as well as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter.
Here's how these pollutants harm the skin:
An influential oxidant that triggers an inflammatory response, leading to the onset of acne and dermatitis.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
These compounds, including moulds, bacteria, and viruses, provoke allergic skin reactions, rashes, and hives.
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)
Formed through the combustion of oil, gas, and coal, these substances disrupt the skin's protective microbiota, foster pathogens, and compromise the immune system.
Particulate Matter (PM2.5 & PM10)
These particles adhere to the skin daily. PM2.5 particles are so minuscule that they easily penetrate skin pores and reach the spaces between skin cells. This can lead to cellular-level inflammation, acne, dehydration, pigmentation, and fine lines. Over time, this damage can be severe enough to reduce collagen levels, weakening the skin's structure and altering DNA cells.
As I write this article outdoors on a blustery day in my city, I'm reminded of the importance of monitoring the Realtime Air Quality Index (AQI) to gauge air quality. Given the poor air quality today, it's wise to retreat indoors.
Notably, five cities in South Africa rank among the world's top 50 most polluted cities. While relocating to cleaner areas like the Karoo might not be feasible for everyone, a comprehensive anti-pollution plan can help mitigate the adverse effects of pollution on your skin.
A holistic counter approach to consider:
- Incorporate antioxidant-rich skincare products to combat the damage caused by free radicals.
- Apply sunscreen to safeguard your skin's natural barrier against particles and ozone rays.
- Never skip your evening cleansing routine to eliminate daily pollution build-up.
- Regular exfoliation helps detoxify pores and prevent pollutants from adhering.
- Layer serums and moisturisers to create a barrier against small particles.
- Look for products containing vitamins A, B3, C, and E, which act as antioxidants combating free radicals.
- Vitamin C supports collagen synthesis and, when combined with vitamin E, provides UV damage protection.
- Vitamin A or retinol can reduce fine lines and wrinkles.
- Add alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) for effective exfoliation.
- Activated charcoal or kaolin clay aids in detoxification.
- Embrace algae, a potent anti-ageing compound that boosts collagen and elastin production, reducing wrinkles and promoting cellular renewal.
- Harness the benefits of kelp, known for its anti-inflammatory properties, moisturisation, and elasticity maintenance.
- Choose products containing ceramides to counter metabolic processes that contribute to hyperpigmentation and age spots.
- Hyaluronic acid offers hydration, protection, and supports cell renewal.
- Microbiomes help restore balance, reducing occurrences of acne and eczema.
- Additionally, ingredients like resveratrol, coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), polyphenols, flavonoids, ferulic acid, astaxanthin, and glutathione protect the skin from free radicals.
- Enhance your skincare regimen with a diet rich in vitamins A, B3, C, and E.
- Integrate detoxifying seaweed into your diet; its iodine content aids in skin regeneration and the removal of free radicals, heavy metals, and pollutants.
- Add pre- and probiotics to fortify the skin's natural defences and establish a barrier against pollution.
- Opt for green and white tea, both effective combatants against oxidative stress.
The pursuit of clean air requires a sustained, global effort. However, by making simple changes and remaining vigilant about your air quality, you can significantly reduce its impact on your health and skin.
About the Author
Mpho is a passionate writer, communicator and advocate for natural beauty and wellbeing education.