It’s long been known that air pollution isn’t great for our health. But it’s now being widely recognised that it’s directly damaging our skin too. Dr Anita Sturnham, Dermatologist for pH balanced skincare brand, Sebamed, gives her advice on how we can rescue our skin from everyday pollutants.
Just as we might choose our skincare for its anti-ageing or natural benefits, products that have anti-pollution properties are a critical part of caring for our skin.
This is because the toxins in pollution, such as ozone and sulphur, are irritants which can breakdown the skin’s natural barriers, damaging its texture and appearance.
And it’s hard to avoid – we expose our skin to pollution on a daily basis as soon as we step outside.
What happens when our skin is exposed to pollution?
Toxins in the air and particulate matter, which include small dust particles and pollen, can all disrupt the skin’s protective barrier, called the acid mantle. This is the fine film on the surface of human skin which helps defend it against bacteria and viruses.
When the acid mantle is damaged it becomes less effective and can cause the skin’s pH to become more acidic, drying out the skin and potentially ageing it quicker.
Pollution also breaks down keratin in the upper layers of skin and collagen in the deeper layers, which help it to retain moisture and elasticity. This can result in the skin losing firmness, increase in fine lines, wrinkles, uneven skin tone and the appearance of dark spots.
To counteract the damage, I recommend keeping protection from pollution in mind at each step of your skincare routine.
Dr Anita Sturnham’s top anti-pollution skincare secrets
Don’t overdo face exfoliation
It’s important to note that harsh use of acids, facial brushes, beads and grain exfoliators, can obliterate your epidermal barriers, making your skin cells much more susceptible to pollution damage. It’s best to restrict exfoliation to once a week and hydrate skin with products rich in plant-based phytoceramides and fatty acids. These skin boosters seep into the epidermis and to help strengthen it.
Choose a gentle cleanser
Starting with the epidermis – the top layer of your skin – there should be a strong focus on reinforcing the skin’s protective barriers.
Studies show that cleansers can penetrate the outermost layer of the skin and remain there after the cleanser is washed away. Not only does this increase the risk of dry and irritated skin but also it can also disrupt the skin’s natural defences.
Ensure you choose gentle cleansers, which contain pH friendly and naturally derived ingredients. These allow for effective but gentle cleansing.
I suggest using Sebamed’s Clear Face Antibacterial Cleansing Foam and following it with the Sebamed Clear Face Facial Toner to rebalance your skin’s pH level. A good quality toner will also 'prep' your skin, to ensure that your nutrient-rich serums penetrate deeper and work more effectively for your skin.
Shield your skin
The outer epidermal skin layers contain an important network of lipids that bind skin cells together. But ozone oxidises these lipids, releasing inflammatory chemicals called cytokines, which further breakdown the barrier function of the skin and activate a series of DNA-damaging events.
Use a daily shield which offers UVA and UVB protection. I’m a huge fan of products that use natural mineral SPF blockers, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Many ‘next generation’ SPFs are also being designed to protect against pollution, using new actives, such as Osmo’city – formulated from marshmallow root to stop fine particles from clinging to the skin.
Your night-time care
To tackle skin-health at a deeper level, choose a moisturiser which contains hyaluronic acid that you can apply to your skin at the end of day, such as the Sebamed Clear Face Care Gel. Hyaluronic acid works to increase the moisturising binding capacity of the skin, as well as to hydrate and strengthen the epidermal layers.
In the face of increasingly toxic air, there’s no doubt that the ‘anti-pollution’ category is here to stay. But by taking care of our skin, we can reinforce its natural defences against these toxins and create our own anti-pollution regimes tailored to our skin.
Sebamed has a range of pH balanced cleansing and skincare products to suit various skin types.