Your skin is the mirror of your health. As the soft, flexible barrier that surrounds the body’s tissues, skin is porous enough to soak up moisture, absorb medications from adhesive patches and release protective oils. But the same property also makes skin vulnerable to assault by chemicals in the environment. Our top layer of skin is made up of brick-shaped cells called corneocytes that fall off as they are damaged and get replaced from the bottom up. These bricks are held together by a mortar made from proteins and lipids that seal in moisture. If the surface of our skin gets too dry or damaged the mortar can crack, which lets out valuable moisture and lets in toxins or infectious microbes. Air pollution, which reaches an all-new level almost every day, hurts your skin.

Your skin absorbs the pollutants present in the environment retains them, which is a major reason for worry. When your skin absorbs these pollutants, they deprive your skin of oxygen, which leads to wrinkles, lack of elasticity and skin ageing. Pollution also throws the skin’s microbiome out of balance by significantly disrupting its barrier, which exacerbates the effects of all types of air pollution. The increase in air pollution over the years has had major effects on the human skin. Various air pollutants such as ultraviolet radiation, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, oxides, particulate matter, ozone and cigarette smoke affect the skin as it is the outermost barrier.

Surprisingly, the real threat often doesn’t come from these particles themselves; it comes from the chemicals that find a way to attach to them. Urban dust contains a cocktail of 224 toxic chemicals — from polyaromatic hydrocarbons to pesticides and heavy metals. And, while the particles of pollution are usually too large to penetrate the skin themselves, many of these chemicals attached to them are not. Cigarette smoke is another major pollutant, and that has been shown to consist of over 6,000 chemicals.

 In addition to regular scrapes and other physical insults, our skin can also suffer environmental damage. Sunlight and pollutants in the atmosphere are two primary ways that the surface of the skin can be dried out or damaged enough to prevent it from protecting our bodies. Direct sunlight contains UV light, which over time and with sufficient exposure can damage the skin, age it prematurely, or even causes cancer. UV light directly damages DNA but also creates reactive oxygen, which has several forms but always free radicals that attack anything organic nearby. When created in and on the skin, reactive oxygen degrades collagen and other tissues in addition to damaging DNA. Diesel exhaust, in particular, causes extensive damage to exposed skin. Living in urban areas or other places close to busy roads raises exposure to pollution from car exhaust, which can contain particulate matter, hydrocarbons, and oxides.

A secondary source of air pollution is VOCs, which can be brought into the home as a component of paint, varnishes, building materials, clothing, furniture, or any item made of or containing plastic. VOCs are unhealthy to breatheand can also react with UV light or other pollutants in the air to form particulate matter or ozone and other reactive oxygen pollutants.


Uneven, dull skin tone

Breakdown of skin’s supportive elements (wrinkles)

Enlarged pores

Sensitive, redness-prone skin

Uncomfortably dry, itchy skin

Skin’s absorption of environmental pollutants is a complex problem. Its natural barrier offers the best defence against the effects of air pollution, but it needs a little help to recover from the damage it takes.

  1. Choose Your Products Carefully: 

    To boost healthy skin cell renewal and support your skin’s protective barrier, opt for skincare products that feature antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, and hexanol, all proven to neutralize free radicals and gradually repair skin. Use skincare products filled to the brim with anti-pollution ingredients that interrupt the cascade of damage. Look for anti-pollution skincare products formulated with antioxidants that interrupt the process of pollution’s effects on the skin, but it takes more than antioxidants. Your pollution-fighting products should also include potent soothing ingredients that neutralize the damage air pollutants cause and that replenish the ingredients needed to fortify skin’s surface. It’s also more important than ever to use leave-on AHA or BHA exfoliants because they help dislodge the pollutants that get trapped in the pores. Skin-brightening products are also exceptionally helpful because pollution has clearly been shown to discolour and darken skin, no matter your ethnicity or amount of sun exposure. Another way to protect the skin, particularly from free radicals is to use creams that are rich in antioxidant compounds. 


  2. Cleanse Well:

    The simplest method is to remember to wash at the end of the day. Pollutants that have accumulated on your skin will continue to linger and do damage throughout the night unless you wash them off before bed. If your routine requires washing in the morning, at a minimum consider washing your face at the end of the day with a trusted facial cleanser. Cleansing should be a top priority, particularly after a long day. Cleanse your face, neck, and chest for one minute with a gentle, antioxidant-rich cleanser to neutralize free radicals and remove particles from the skin’s surface. Air pollution is here to stay so you might as well invest in a skincare routine fit for the challenge and ensure skin has the best possible chance to heal during your beauty sleep. 

  3. Hydrate:

    By both drinking water and using excellent skin products are key in making sure the skin functions at its best in protecting and strengthening the natural skin barrier. After cleansing or exfoliating your face, re-balance your skin’s moisture level by applying a serum that’s loaded with active ingredients, followed by a moisturizer adapted to your skin type (moisturizing cream, lotion, fluid, gel…). The serum and cream complement each other and help re-establish your skin’s protective barrier. Drink plenty of water, you can make detox water at home with amla or tulsi leaves which will help in flushing out toxins and give essential anti-oxidants.


  4. Protect your skin from the sun:

    We can’t stress it enough: applying sun protection (or cream that includes sun protection) daily is essential. Not only are UV rays harmful to the skin, but they also amplify the effects of pollutants! Apply sunscreen or follow a skincare regimen (a serum, or a daily moisturiser) to create layers of protection on the top because it safeguards the skin from UV induced damage and also traps the smog particles and prevents these harmful chemicals from penetrating deep in the skin. Wash face with cold water, use a non-exfoliating face wash to remove the dirt from the face.

    Physical UV blockers: UV light is like a smart bomb, entering the skin and exploding collagen and elastic fibres to cause wrinkles, saggy skin, and cellular DNA changes that increase cancer risk. But there’s another reason to protect your skin from the sun: Some pollutants are activated by UV light before they exert their detrimental effects.

    A mineral sunscreen (look for titanium dioxide or zinc oxide) with an SPF 30 or greater provides a physical barrier to both UV rays and pollutants.

    Hyaluronic acid. Also known as sodium hyaluronate just hyaluronate, it’s an important building block of skin. It helps to maintain moisture in the skin, thereby preserving the skin barrier.

  5. Exfoliate:

    Exfoliate your skin once or twice a week. In addition to unclogging your pores and removing dead skin cells, exfoliating prevents pollutants, dirt and bacteria from building up. And as a bonus, the products you apply afterwards will be all the more effective!

  6. Enlist Antioxidants

    Oxidation can cause your skin to age prematurely especially when exposed to harmful air and pollutants. A skincare routine that includes antioxidants can halt this process. Use products formulated with Vitamin A, C or E in your routine to help skin fight oxidation. It will protect your skin from the sun which is important in polluted areas, as pollution can worsen the effects of the sun on your skin. The moisturizer is also formulated with Vitamin C and E which will fight off free radicals and brighten the appearance of your skin. Antioxidants can neutralize the reactive oxygen species that mediate much of the skin damage from air pollution and are our bodies natural defences against reactive oxygen and free radicals. Vitamin E, Vitamin C, coenzyme Q10, and plant-based phenolic compounds can help to protect your skin from oxidative damage and seek out free radicals that might be lurking.  

  7. Moisturize: 

    Finally, skin moisturizing can help to combat the damage that has been done, as well. One of the consequences of damaged corneocytes is that the underlying skin tissues dry up. Ceramides. These are some of the most effective ingredients to help boost the skin’s barrier function.

  8. Protect Your Barrier At Night

    As we mentioned before pollution is constantly attacking your skin and can cause premature skin ageing. Furthermore, it can draw out moisture from your skin making it look duller in appearance. Always apply a moisturizer at night to help strengthen this area of your face. A strong barrier is a key to fighting off pollution.

  9. Use an Air Purifier: 

    Not just outdoor, but indoor air pollution also harms your skin. The presence of PM2.5, cigarette smoke lead to dryness, itchiness and skin ageing. Using a HEPA air purifier can be of great help in reducing indoor air pollutants and keep your skin healthy. The air purifiers use 3 stage purification process to remove different types of pollutants from the indoor air including PM2.5 and cigarette smoke, thereby reducing the damage done to your skin. 

  10. Avoid Smoking:

    Tobacco smoke is also a significant source of skin-damaging pollutants. VOCs and particulate matter make up much of tobacco smoke in concentrations that cause ageing, psoriasis, acne, some forms of skin cancer, and other damage. If at all possible, seek to reduce exposure to tobacco smoke. Being indoors where tobacco smoke can accumulate can result in very high exposure to skin-damaging pollutants.

    Smoking is a major reason for indoor air pollution. Both first-hand and second-hand smoke harm your skin. Cigarette smoke narrows down the blood vessels in your skin, thereby affecting blood flow and oxygen supply, which leads to wrinkles. Smoking also damages collagen and elastin, leading to premature wrinkles.

    There is a clear correlation between spikes in air pollution and increases in the number of people suffering from skin problems such as acne, hives and eczema. Air pollution is not just affecting the skin on a cosmetic level, but also poses a real threat to skin health. There is clear scientific evidence that skin barrier function and skin hydration are among the most immediate and significant threats air pollution imposes on our skin.

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