How to pollution-proof your skin

July 8, 2016

Pollution… cough, splutter. It’s well known to be bad news for the environment, but research shows it could also be doing a serious number on your complexion.

Common pollutants – we’re talking industrial emissions, exhaust fumes, cigarette smoke, dust particles – have been linked to premature skin ageing, eczema, dermatitis, acne, psoriasis and DNA damage. Eek.

A recent review of studies on pollution and health effects, published in the Journal of Dermatological Science found that ozone depletes antioxidants from the skin, and that specific cosmetic products are required to protect skin from air pollution-induced damage. The results aren’t pretty… but your skin can be, if you know how to arm yourself for defence.


Step one: Understanding how pollutants harm your skin helps you know how to protect it.

OK, white coat and lab goggles on please. “Particulate matter (PM) is a term that explains the airborne pollutants in the atmosphere, and PM 2.5 (which refers to their size) particles are able to penetrate the hair follicles and skin pores,” says Swisse Skincare Specialist, Selina Mithen. The main pollutants in the atmosphere are: are polycyclic aromatic compounds (PAH’s), volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), Nitrogen oxides (NOx), and Ozone (O3). Between them they cause damage in a number of ways, including weakening the skin barrier, free radical damage and inflammation. 



Step two: Deep clean

We’re talking taking your time with your cleanser to wash away surface pollutants (and it’s not just city gals from industrialised countries who are affected, the Journal of Dermatological Science study collation showed it’s a global problem).

Using a cleansing brush a few times a week is a good idea if you’re usually a quick-swipe-with-a-wipe type. And apply a deep-cleansing mask twice a week, such as the Swisse Manuka Honey Mask, “The action of this mask is to draw impurities from the skin with the chelating effect of charcoal and help maintain healthy skin with the addition of Manuka honey, known for its soothing, antibacterial effects,” explains Mithen.  


Step three: Create a barrier

Since pollution is attacking your skin’s natural barrier you need to create one. Wear an SPF moisturiser, BB cream or make-up base that contains antioxidants, which protect your skin from damage by free radicals – exactly what all those PAH’s and VOC’s are.


Step four: Do the double

If you’re using anti-ageing products, pick ones that contain antioxidants as they’ll give double whammy protection, both against premature ageing and strengthening the skin barrier. Herbal extracts in your moisturiser can also help prevent and soothe skin breakouts that can be triggered by PAH exposure. Take that, pollution.