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Skin 101: the Effects of Pollution & Smog on Skin

I’ve been reading a lot about the effects of smog and pollution on skin and the news isn’t good lol… We all know free radicals aren’t great for our body and skin, but our body produces antioxidants to fight these nasties. The problem is that most of us are exposed to more free radicals than our body can handle (e.g. excessive sun exposure – UV rays bouncing off everything through holes in the ozone layer) and the sun isn’t the only problem. Pollution molecules or ‘dust’ particles are generally so small, they easily penetrate the skin through pores and sweat glands. These dust particles are also free radicals because they cause damage. These particles lead to inflammation and spots. Pollution dust and smog carry other heavy metals and chemicals, overwhelming our skins defence mechanisms. So much so, they can start to evaporate lipids in the skin (in other words, oils). We needs lipids because they protect our skin cells from moisture loss and keep them strong, with the end goal of protecting us from viruses and bacteria. When this protective barrier function is lost, our skin becomes dry, sensitive to detergents and skincare products.

Free radicals reactive oxygen species and reactive nitrogen species are generated by our body by various endogenous systems, exposure to different physiochemical conditions or pathological states. A balance between free radicals and antioxidants is necessary for proper physiological function. If free radicals overwhelm the body’s ability to regulate them, a condition known as oxidative stress ensues (ncbi, 2010)

New studies are looking into the link between sensitised skin that can’t protect itself and the development of skin cancer. It makes sense that if your skin can’t protect itself, it will be prone to more damage (and in this case serious life threatening damage). The Journal of Drugs in Dermatology has recently published a study that links pollution to skin pigmentation. Have you ever wondered why some women in Asia for example, are fanatic about using sunscreen and sun care in general, yet still get pigmentation? Well there you go! There is a very plausible link between pollution molecules and skin inflammation, that causes pigmentation. Free radicals carried by pollution also oxidise proteins in the skin causing collagen to break down, meaning we age faster 🙁 Because there’s not enough bad news, here’s some more for you LOL I was super alarmed by the fact that because free radicals break down your lipid barrier, your skin can overproduce oils to compensate for the loss, and hence you have more serious cases of acne. Great. Just the information I need when I thought my acne days were over sigh

The word ‘smog’  is made up of two English words; smoke and fog. Smog is not ‘regular’ pollution, it’s air pollution (photochemical haze caused by the action of solar ultraviolet radiation on atmosphere polluted with hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen especially from automobile exhaust) caused by smoke and/or chemicals mixing with fog. When there’s little to no wind, smog hangs over a city, while pollution and debris keep accumulating. The heavier the smog gets, the harder it is to get rid of. Cities in valleys tend to have this problem more than other geographical locations. 

Los Angeles hangs in the midst of smog!

So what can we do? Luckily, it’s not all doom and gloom 😉 Making sure your morning skincare routine contains as many antioxidants as possible but also, those antioxidants that have been proven to pack a punch! For example, vitamin C, caffeic acid, ferulic acid and/or green tea. Antioxidants will diffuse free radicals from causing damage and stop inflammation. One of my all time favourite products to use in the morning is Futurederm’s Vitamin CE Caffeic 16+2 Silk Serum, which contains 16% vitamin C (as L-ascorbic acid), 2% vitamin E, 0.5% caffeic acid, grapeseed oil (another antioxidant) and avocado oil. If using a vitamin C product, I try and look for one which combines vitamin C together with at least 2% vitamin E. Why? The molecules ‘recharge’ each other, so they work longer in the epidermis to brighten and tighten skin. I’ve been using the Futurederm vitamin CE serum for years! The serum has a serum base so it goes on super smoothly and leaves a matte finish. Lately, I have also been using Antipodes Worship Serum (I apply this serum after my Futurederum Vitamin CE serum). I recently reviewed the Antipodes serum, but in a nutshell, it contains a blend of super fruit antioxidants. It’s especially good oily and acne prone skin because of it’s consistency and texture. It’s difficult to describe, but it reminds me of smooth fruit pulp! it’s not sticky and doesn’t leave a shiny reside on the skin. I figure using two antioxidant rich serums has to do wonders lol! Added to this, my daily moisturiser also contains antioxidants lol! I haven’t reviewed this newbie yet, but I’ve been using Go-To’s Very Useful Face Cream. It contains CoQ10, vitamin E and Alma Berry.

There are also ‘urban’ or ‘city’ skin protecting products on the market now. This generally means the skincare products contain free radical fighting antioxidants and ingredients which form of film of sorts on your skin, to stop pollution from coming into contact with your skin. These ‘films’ are usually constructed from modern polymers, that are ‘flexible’ (read: non-mask like) and taken from ‘nature’ (they can be derived from corn, yeast or even the moringa plant). They will protect skin from pollution dust, but not UV rays… that’s where sunscreen comes in! Can you include pollution protection with UV protection? You betcha! The Shiseido Perfect UV Protector Wet Force SPF 50+ Sunscreen (my favourite sunscreen at the moment, there’s a full review here) now contains ‘Multi Defence Protection’. There’s an ingredient in the formula that absorbs PM2.5 (atmospheric particulate matter, it’s super tiny microscopic pollution matter) and prevents them from contacting skin. Some people describe the Shiseido Perfect UV Protector as drying, so it does fit in the general trend of non-moisturising ‘urban defence’ skincare products. The HydroFresh version of the sunscreen is supposed to be less drying, but I haven’t tried this version just yet. Unfortunately, these new formulations of sunscreens from Shiseido are hard to get a hold of here in Aus, but the Elizabeth Arden Prevage City Smart with DNA Repair Complex SPF 30+ is quite popular here and is a good alternative. It makes sense that your ‘pollution’ defence product (if it contains filters that prevent pollution dust and particles from coming into contact with the skin) is the last step/product in your skincare routine. Formulas will continue to become more sophisticated in the near future and I am sure we will see hydrating sunscreens and pollution protecting moisturisers soon.

My morning free radical ass-kicking skincare routine! 😀 I’ve switched from my usual morning eye cream (Tatcha Deep Hydration Firming Eye Serum, because I’ve run out) to Bobbi Brown’s Extra Eye Repair Cream. It’s more nourishing for Winter thanks to additions of Shea butter, grapeseed oil, primrose oil and meadowfoam oil, but also contains antioxidants like green tea, olive fruit extract and wheat bran (mind you, Shea butter and grapeseed oil also contain antioxidants). There’s also caffeine to boot! 🙂 

What else do we need to keep in mind protecting our skin from free radicals, pollution and smog? How we remove our makeup in the evenings and our nightly cleanse. While I love using micellar water in the mornings (as you can see from the blue cap in the photo above – my favourite is Bioderma’s Hydrabio) it’s not great for the evenings, because it doesn’t get deep into your pores where pollution particles and dust are hiding. Unless, you use a moisturiser or sunscreen in the morning that contains polymers to create a flexible shield to protect your skin – pollution particles are attracted to polymers like glue, yet they stick to the surface without coming into contact with your skin, so they are easily washed away using micellar water.

If you use a pollution protecting product in the morning, you will wash away up to 90% more pollution particles in the evening during your evening cleanse.

Any oil makeup remover will work brilliantly to remove makeup and pollution protecting products. Oil based cleansers break down polymers brilliantly, and will help your second cleanser, to actually get into your pores and do a better job at it. I LOVE using my Foreo Luna in the evenings, to help get my cleanser deep into my pores and to get rid of all of that sweat and grime. I use Antipodes Juliet Skin-Brightening Gel Cleanser in the evenings (and some mornings when my skin is feeling more oily than usual) as it contains gentle fruit acids. Rationale’s Catalyst Gel Cleanser is also brilliant. I’d like to try Sunday Riley’s Ceramic Slip Cleanser next, as clays do a fantastic job at drawing out impurities.

Above: L’Occitane’s Immortelle Cleansing Oil (the pump bottle – an old favourite of mine!), Antipodes Juliet Skin-Brightening Gel Cleanser, my Foreo Luna and Beauty of Joseon Radiance Cleansing Balm is a newbie and I love it! Expect a full review to come soon 🙂

O3 exists in the stratosphere and in troposphere (Baudouin et al., 2002; Madronich et al., 2011). Normally, O3 is found in low concentrations at ground-level, originating from the stratospheric O3 and hydrocarbons which are released by plants and soil. However, O3 may be formed as a by-product of certain human activities, with the interaction of sunlight (UVR), hydrocarbons, VOCs and NOx, representing a major active component of the pro-oxidant smog (Baudouin et al., 2002; Schroeder et al., 2006; Madronich et al., 2011). The actions of O3 could be amplified in the presence of other air pollutants, where concomitant exposure to UV irradiation and O3 could reveal synergistic oxidative stress effects in skin (Baudouin et al., 2002; Burke and Wei, 2009).Experimental evidence shows that O3 can induce damage in the epidermis of murine skin, reduce the level of antioxidants such as a—topopherol (vitamin E) and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and increase malondialdehyde (MDA) a lipid peroxidation product (Thiele et al., 1997a,b; Weber et al., 1999; Schroeder et al., 2006). These effects lead to barrier perturbations, the production of lipid ozonation products and inflammation (Podda and Fuchs, 2004; Schroeder et al., 2006; Valacchi et al., 2012). The first target of O3 is the stratum corneum that contains a high level of unsaturated fatty acids and lipids (Packer and Valacchi, 2002; He et al., 2006), with the generation of ROS. O3 stimulation results in disturbed activity of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), responsible for the degradation of extracellular matrix components such as collagen and elastin, implicated in extrinsic skin aging (Rittié and Fisher, 2002; Schroeder et al., 2006). Tropospheric O3 exposure has been associated with urticaria, eczema, and contact dermatitis, in a study showing the cutaneous effects of O3 by collecting data from almost 70,000 patients (Xu et al., 2011).  *This excerpt was taken from a fantastic article titled ‘Air Pollution and the Skin‘, published in the journal ‘Environmental Science’. You can read it in full here – it’s SO informative and quite easy to understand, even if you aren’t a scientist or Dermatologist 😉

Once your face is all clean and lovely, remember to use a moisturiser with lipids in the evening (since they have probably ‘broken down’ during the day) so your skin can rest and heal through the night, ready for battle again in the morning 🙂

I hope you found this post informative Beauties! I need to do more Skincare 101 posts me thinks. It’s difficult when you are tired from work (like most of you, I work full time) but I will do my best. Let me know if you have any questions or if you want to share what products work for you, especially those that are full of antioxidants or are pollution blockers!

Catch ya next time,

Beauty Bee~

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