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Best 10 Ways to Protect Your Skin from Pollution

Have you ever wondered if there are any pollution-free places left on Earth? The fact that spent oxygen canisters mar the snows of the Mount Everest and plastic bags ride the currents in the middle of the Pacific Ocean,  how much more if you live in a city full of irresponsible human beings? You would definitely run into some sort of pollution while you navigate your way through those busy streets!  


With this in mind, have you been following a skin care regime, or do's and don’ts to shield your skin from damage caused by pollution? Unfortunately, skin damage starts from the outside, and pollutants like dirt, dust, soot, smog, cigarette smoke, car exhaust, factory fumes, and other harmful contaminants in the air pose risks to our largest body organ – the skin. Pollutants can work their way into pores, which can result in premature aging and dull complexion. Moisture drains away and skin gets rough and dry. Pollutants can also increase the levels of free radicals produced by the body.


What are free radicals and why are they harmful?


Free radicals are unstable, uncharged molecules (highly reactive and short-lived) that attack human cells and damage DNA. Our bodies generate free radicals every day and can normally handle them unless antioxidants are unavailable, or if the production of free radicals becomes excessive. If any of the two took place, cellular damage can occur.


Free radicals cause cell mutations, harm the immune system, cause wrinkles, speed up aging, damage tissues and cause diseases like cancer, arthritis and heart disease. The bad news is that free radicals are everywhere! In the food we eat, in the water we drink and air we breathe.


How free radicals can damage your skin


Free radicals inhibit your skin’s ability to produce collagen, which keeps skin healthy and firm. It restricts your skin’s ability to regulate moisture, leaving skin tight, dry, wrinkled, splotchy and clogged. They are like precarious escaped prisoners that rob your skin of its radiance and moisture as you follow your daily normal routine.


Protecting your skin – Skin vs.The City


If you live or work in a big city, then the air around you feels like they’re conspiring to kill you softly, or give you an acne-infested face at the very least. Here are 10 ways on how you can protect your skin against pollution.


  1. Replenish Antioxidants


The antidote to free radicals is antioxidant. Antioxidants bind with free radicals, making them powerless. By blocking free radical activity, antioxidants can prevent or slow down oxidative damage to the body and help you maintain optimal health.


You can find antioxidants in many fruits and vegetables, but take note that some foods are richer in antioxidants than the others. It’s best to eat these foods raw or lightly steamed to preserve their antioxidant properties.  Here  are the primary antioxidant vitamins needed by skin.


Beta-carotene – asparagus, broccoli, beets, carrots, corn, sweet potato, watermelon, tomatoes, pumpkin, peaches, pink grapefruit, kale, cantaloupe and mangoes.


Vitamin C – broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, grapefruit, berries, kiwi, oranges, strawberries and honeydew.

Vitamin E – nuts, sunflower seeds, red peppers, spinach, broccoli, carrots, mustard, mangoes and pumpkin.


Other superfoods that are high in antioxidants are apples, goji berries, cranberries, wild blueberries, prunes, red grapes, plums, raisins, artichoke, pecans and dark chocolate.


  1. Try Antioxidant Lotions, Creams and Serums


Antioxidants counter the effect of free radicals. Antioxidant lotions, creams and serums may help the risk of premature skin aging and protect skin against sun damage. Unlike sunscreen, These skin care products build up in the skin and not easily washed away, which protect the skin longer. According to New York Dermatologist, Dr. Jessica Weiser, look for products containing ingredients, such as:


  • Vitamin C– a potent antioxidant that may help rebuild oxygen. In laboratory studies, it seems to diminish or even protect skin cells caused by UV rays.


  • Argan oil– antioxidants in argan oil help protect skin, hair and nails from damage caused by UV radiation. It can potentially fade sun spots and moisturize dry, leathery skin caused by overexposure to the sun. It can also help generate healthy cells.


  • Green tea– a powerful antioxidant that provides skin protection against the damaging effects of free radicals caused by pollution and environmental stress.


  • Coffeeberry– it contains polyphenol antioxidants that are believed to prevent cellular damage in skin when applied topically. Also, coffeeberry’s antioxidant content is thought to be three times higher than green tea.


Differences between Lotions, Creams and Serums


  • Lotions are meant to hydrate skin. They are not sticky and can be readily absorbed by skin. However, because  of the larger molecules in lotions, they do not penetrate the skin as deeply as serums will.


  • Creams contain higher viscosity, which means they are made of sticky mixture of oil and water  so they tend to feel heavy and greasy. However, they penetrate the skin and provide a barrier against moisture loss compared to lotions.


  • Serums are a great choice as you can apply them after cleansing and before moisturizing the skin. Serums are lightweight with a gel-like texture. They do not interfere with different skin care formulations and can be used safely when layering your skin care products.



  1. Cleanse your skin with a gentle cleanser thoroughly each day


Use a gentle cleanser to remove the layer of dirt, oil, gunk and grime off your pores. Cleansing prevents build-up and congestion in pores, as well as gives your skin a chance to breathe in oxygen that it needs to keep its natural glow. A good cleanser should clean deeply without harsh chemicals that throw off pH levels.


  1. Use sonic facial brushes


In a clinical study, it was  found that sonic facial brushes removed 35.8 times more pollutants than cleansing the skin with soap and water. This cleansing devise removes particular matter (made of tiny bits of soot and liquid droplets of acids suspended in the air) and prevents it from damaging the skin.


  1. Use botanical-based clay face mask


Using a replenishing clay face mask made of botanically-infused ingredients gives a healthy dose of skin vitamins and moisturizing agent.  It is a must-have skin care regime if you have an oily skin. It deeply cleanses your skin, pulling oil and dirt gently from the pores without drying your skin. Deep cleaning must be done once or twice a week. You can encounter several fancy lingos when looking for natural face masks, such as kaolin clay, deep sea mud mask, Moroccan clay and montmorillonite clay.


  • Kaolin clay– ideal for people with sensitive skin as it is very gentle.
  • Deep sea mud mask– rich in exfoliating vitamins and minerals that cleanse and brighten skin.
  • Moroccan clay– ideal for oily skin because it helps remove stubborn oil and dirt.
  • Montmorillonite clay– works for people with sensitive and acne-prone skin or are suffering from acne.


  1. Apply UVA and UVB sunscreen daily


Exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays increases free radical activity. In fact, one of the biggest triggers for cell mutation is the UV rays. UV and air pollutants are like super-villain tag team. So, start with a broad spectrum SPF 30 or higher and wear it all year round. It will create a barrier on the surface of the skin to prevent pollution from getting into the pores.


Sunscreen for sensitive skin


If you’re having trouble finding a sunscreen for sensitive skin as the sunscreen’s complex formulations usually cause  skin redness, irritation and shingles to your skin, look for “friendly sunscreen filters” such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Vitamin E, betacarotene packed with antioxidants, mulberry leaf  extract and retinyl palmitate are good examples of natural sunscreen for sensitive skin.


  1. Home Exfoliation


Exfoliation, sometimes called, ‘resurfacing’ removes the dead skin cells to allow growth of new skin. Home exfoliation includes abrasive scrubs like sugar or salt grains, micro beads and ground fruit pits. The mildest scrubs are micro beads because of the round and smooth particles.  Ground fruit pits are the strongest scrubs because of their rough edges.  Scrubs are not recommended for sensitive skin and can worsen skin conditions like pimples, acne or broken blood vessels.


Topical Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) help shed dead skin cells that can stimulate growth of collagen and elastin.


Not exfoliating your skin regularly makes it prone to acne, blackheads and whiteheads. Skin is not as radiant because the pores become easily clogged with excess oil, dead skin cells and dirt. Worse, skin care products like moisturizers, sunscreen and serum are unable to deeply penetrate skin.


Do not go crazy in exfoliators though! If your skin is irritated, pink or red, that could mean it has lost its protective barrier so use scrubs sparingly. Don’t let it be the reason to open the door to your skin and invite pollutants in.


  1. Moisturize skin to improve skin’s defense against pollutants


Pollution can starve your skin of oxygen and dry the skin’s natural oils. The lack of humidity in the air can zap your skin’s moisture and strip the skin of barrier lipids, resulting in dry, dehydrated and tired-looking skin.


Generally, moisturizers retain skin moisture in various ways:


  • Occlusives such as body butters, mineral oil, jojoba oil and petroleum jelly
    • Usually found in moisturizers specially-formulated for dry skin
    • Alleviate dehydration
    • Coat the skin
    • Lock in moisture by preventing it from evaporating from the skin.  
    • Occlusives are heavy, so they can be a bit messy to apply, however, they are a good choice when moisturizing at night or during the winter season.


  • Humectants such as glycerine, lactic acid, sorbitol and urea
    • Ideal for people with oily skin
    • Absorb water from the atmosphere
    • Pull up water to the skin surface from deep tissues
    • It’s downside is that it can be irritating to the skin due to high concentrations


  • Other compounds like monolaurin
    • Contains a mixture of lipids
    • Helps repair and replenish the skin’s natural barrier against damage and moisture loss


Most moisturizers contain combinations of these compounds, along with other ingredients like  collagen, keratin, sunscreen and alpha hydroxyl acid. You can also opt for a moisturizer that contains antioxidant ingredients, such as vitamins A, C and E, which help fight free radicals. Moisturizers that contain aloe and amino acids can help boost your skin’s ability to retain moisture.


  1. Use a toner


Fight environmental aggressors and wipe away airborne pollution that gets trapped in pores using a toner. Dr. Hadley King, a New York City board-certified dermatologist said that the secret weapon to healthy skin is a toner. It is helpful and is a must skin care product for people with oily and acne-prone skin. It also provides deep cleansing after wearing heavy skin care products like sunscreen or makeup.  A toner can also:


  • Shrink pores
  • Restore the skin’s pH balance after cleansing
  • Add a layer of skin protection by closing the pores and tighten cell gaps after cleansing
  • Moisturize the skin as some tones are humectants
  • Refresh skin as toners can be used to remove oil and dirt, leaving skin revitalized


  1. Use an eye cream


Some people may think that an eye cream is just a luxury skin care product that you can go without. But listen, the skin around the eyes is thin and so delicate, which is why it is much more prone to damage. Unlike the skin in other parts of the face, it doesn’t contain oil-producing glands so wrinkles develop more quickly in the form of crow’s feet.  Exposure to the sun’s UV rays inhibits the production of collagen and exposure to toxins like pollutants and cigarette smoke can make the matters worse.


The skin around the eyes is more sensitive to topical skin care products. An eye cream’s emollient formula can detoxify, rehydrate and firm the skin around the eyes, reduce puffiness and diminish the appearance of crow’s feet. A good eye cream is mildly formulated and fragrance-free. You may also opt for an eye cream with these ingredients:


  • Hyaluronic acid – hydrates skin
  • Ceramides – locks in moisture
  • Retinol – promotes skin cell regeneration
  • Vitamin C – stimulates production of collagen
  • Vitamin E – nourishes and calms skin
  • Neuropeptides – boosts production of collagen and elastin


Pollution  is no joke. Air pollution is bad for the lungs and it is bad for the skin too.  It can make you look old – and so much more! Although pollution is impossible to avoid, you can still look fresh and keep a healthy, dewy skin with a proper skin care routine. Counteract cascade of complexion by following our tips above.

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