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Anti-pollutants to protect your skin

How does pollution affect skin?

Pollution can affect skin in different ways. It can damage the skin barrier, resulting in low levels of vitamin E and squalene (important antioxidants). It also causes collagen and elastin to breakdown aggravating existing skin problems such as dehydrated skin, hyperpigmentation, inflammation, sensitive skin and skin diseases like eczema, etc…[2]. Plus, it is also constantly attacking the skin, even at night [3].

The most problematic way is when pollutants lead to free radicals [4] which accumulate on the surface of the skin. When the quantity of free radicals is more than what the skin barrier can handle, the cells are put in oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs when free radicals outnumber antioxidants. This leaves the free radicals able to react with other molecules in a process called oxidation which can be either good or bad.[5] When oxidation functions correctly, it helps the body fight pathogens. When it is bad, it can lead to sensitivity, premature aging and other issues such as dehydration, rough skin texture and dullness.

In polluted areas cholesterol, squalene, and vitamin E which are the main antioxidants on the skin’s surface, are recruited to fight off the oxidative stress, this leads to a lower level of these three antioxidants. If the skin isn’t well taken care of, then the skin barrier will weaken overtime and thus it will become unable to perform its major function: protection.[6]

Which types of skincare can help combat or prevent the pollution effects and how?

Anti-pollution skin products work on reducing the effects daily pollution causes on skin. Daily pollution is not a single entity and includes exhaust fumes, cigarette smoke, industrial pollution and more.[6] Anti-pollution skin products work on reducing the effects daily pollution causes on skin. That’s why an antipollution skincare routine should focus on: removing pollution, repairing the damage caused and protecting against future exposure.

With this in mind, antipollution skincare should contain:

SPF: Should always be applied as it protects the skin from UV rays. Applying sunscreen should be done directly on skin, before putting on other skincare or makeup. It’s better to do it every day as it helps preventing skin damage.

Vitamin/antioxidant rich: Pollution creates free radicals which are harmful to the skin. The way to combat this is by using products that contain antioxidants, such as vitamin A, C and E. These help the skin repair the damage caused by free radicals while also giving the skin a radiant appearance.

  • Chia seed extract has a strong antioxidant capacity thus it helps the skin eliminate ROS; chia oil increases skin hydration, reduces loss of water, and improves skin barrier function to lessen fine lines and wrinkles.

  • White tea is antioxidants rich and is able to eliminate up to 80% of free radicals.

Active charcoal/coffee beans: Charcoal helps draw out toxins which managed to pass the skin barrier and into the pores. Coffee beans are commonly used in scrubs or face masks and are highly adsorbent.

Collagen/elastin: Pollution degrades these two proteins which affects the skin’s elasticity and firmness. Signs of aging such as wrinkles are a consequence of this.

  • Micro-algae rich in vitamin C and B12 aid the repair and they also promote the formation of collagen. As a result, the skin becomes tight and firm.

  • White tea extract reduces the activity of the enzymes that breakdown collagen and elastin.[2]

Anti-inflammation: Pollution promotes skin inflammation and redness.

  • Ginger: known anti-irritant, it also helps with/is beneficial to the skin texture.

  • Red raspberry: found to help resolve/proven to be useful against inflammation, it also contains strong antioxidants such as vitamin C.

These are just some examples of ingredients/compounds that can help reduce the effects of pollution on skin!

In summary different ingredients and types of products help with specific aspects of pollution damage!


(1) Araviiskaia, E.; Berardesca, E.; Bieber, T.; Gontijo, G.; Viera, M. S.; Marrot, L.; Chuberre, B.; Dreno, B. The Impact of Airborne Pollution on Skin. J. Eur. Acad. Dermatol. Venereol. 2019, 33 (8), 1496–1505.

(2) Mistry, N. Guidelines for Formulating Anti-Pollution Products. Cosmetics 2017, 4(4), 57.

(3) Garnier. How Does Pollution Affect Your Skin? – Skin Care – Garnier (accessed Nov 7, 2019).

(4) ELLE Beauty Team. The 12 Best Products To Pollution-Proof Your Beauty Regime (accessed Nov 7, 2019).

(5) Dix, M. Oxidative Stress: Definition, Effects on the Body, and Prevention (accessed Nov 19, 2019).

(6) Clarins. What is Anti-Pollution Skincare? - Clarins (accessed Nov 7, 2019).

(7) March 2018, J. C. 12. Here’s How Living In Urban Cities Is Drastically Damaging Your Skin (accessed Nov 13, 2019).

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