City pollution is killing your skin. Here’s how to save it.

I lather SPF on my face daily. I cleanse, tone and moisturise even if I’m in a rush, exhausted or drunk. And my skin still sucks. Sound familiar?

Apparently I’ve been suffering the effects of air pollution and it seems I’m not alone.

pollution beauty photo

Every day, city dweller skin is bombarded with tiny toxic particles, poisonous gases and harmful chemicals which can penetrate deep down, depleting skin’s oxygen levels and hindering collagen production. Depending on your genetic makeup you’ll see the effects of smog in eczema flare ups, wrinkles, dehydration or age spots. If not now, perhaps in ten years time. For many, the effects of pollution on the skin is on a par with UV damage. If you don’t believe me, take a look at research which warns about this potential pollution Armageddon for skin.

As for my skin, the clearest it has ever been was in the Indian Himalayas. It wasn’t the weather (too sunny by day and too cold by night), nor was it the diet (chapatis 24/7). Yes, you guessed it, it was the clean, mountain air. Even when I returned home caked in mud from a forest trek my skin still felt cleaner than in any other city I’ve lived.

Today I’m based in the undulating hills of the British countryside but whenever I travel to a city, my eczema goes into free-fall, my skin turns reptile dry and the only souvenirs I take home are wrinkles.

Expaters, if you’re living in one of the most polluted cities in the world – Riyadh, Delhi, Cairo, Beijing and Lahore are some of the worst culprits – and you can’t retreat to the Himalayas for a weekly skin detox, you might want to consider a few lifestyle changes:

smog beauty pollution photo

  1. Drink plenty of water. Water is nature’s best source of hydration and is essential for cell growth, improving circulation and skin elasticity. The European Food Safety Agency recommends at least two litres per day for women and two and a half for men. These intakes are merely a guide however, and if you’re living in a hot country, taking part in strenuous exercise, breastfeeding or pregnant you may need more. Chlorine can be used to safely treat drinking water, however where possible and if in doubt go for mineral or properly filtered water.
  2. Gentle and thorough cleansing. I used to opt for the roughest brush head on my Clarisonic and scrub daily with exfoliants but it seems I got it all wrong. In fact, our skin builds up its own natural defense barrier and over zealous scrubbing scratches this away. Instead, opt for a gentle but thorough cleanse, in the morning and as soon as possible when you reach home in the evening.
  3. Sleep. As a mother of two I get annoyed when people advise me to sleep more (as if I didn’t want to). Nevertheless, I’ll be honest, in my book there is nothing comparable to sleep in terms of rejuvenating skin cells.
  4. Avoid the sun. It’s when air pollutants come into contact with the sun’s ultraviolet rays that the damaging free radicals are created. Avoid overexposure to the sun where possible and use a sunscreen with a minimum sun protection factor of 30.
  5. Consider a vitamin C boost. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant which assists collagen production, which in turn helps the skin to retain its elasticity and reduces wrinkle formation. I now take supplements if I’m based in a city for long periods of time.
  6. Use a daily anti pollution serum. The number of anti pollution skin products is on the rise. REN’s Flash Defence Anti-Pollution Mist works by providing a protective, breathable barrier, while Chanel’s La Solution 10 is a soothing blend of 10 ingredients including silver needle tea, a powerful antioxidant. My personal favourite is EpiGen Daily-Detox Serum by QMS (full review here) which is the only product on the market I know of that uses ‘a physiological reprogramming process that occurs in the cell’. In other words, it tricks your skin into healing itself from within.

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