Want to look younger, longer? It’s time to invest in anti-pollution skincare. From antioxidants to anti-blue light technology, here’s everything you need to know about protecting your skin.
While it’s widely understood UV radiation is the key cause of extrinsic skin ageing, it’s not the only assailant leaving us prematurely lined, wrinkled and sagging. Air pollution – whether from exhaust fumes, cigarette smoke, bushfires or power plants – is also a big problem, penetrating the pores to lead to everything from hyperpigmentation to collagen breakdown, as well as redness, irritation and breakouts.
It’s enough to make you want to stay inside; although, it appears we’re not safe here, either. As well as giving rise to uncomfortable conditions like ‘tech neck’, our increasing reliance on our devices – and exposure to blue light pollution – apparently isn’t doing our appearance any favours.
So, what exactly is a city-dwelling, smart phone user meant to do?
Before giving up hope or going off grid, we suggest you read on. We’ve rounded up the most essential anti-pollution skincare products to add to your regime today, for benefits tomorrow – and beyond.
1. Antioxidant Serum
With hydrating, protective, soothing and skin-brightening properties, antioxidants should play a central role in any anti-pollution skincare regime. Here’s why.
You’ve no doubt heard of free radicals. If not, the terms refers to unstable, reactive atoms – or groups of atoms – with one or more unpaired electrons. And it’s a situation they’re not too happy about it, either. Eager to pair up at all costs, they rob other cells of electrons, causing cellular damage and contributing to disease as well as premature ageing of the skin.
Enter antioxidants. More stable molecules, antioxidants have a unique super-power – neutralising free radicals. They do this by donating their own electrons, thereby halting free radicals in their sometimes-destructive paths.
While free radicals are not bad in and of themselves – we produce some naturally in the body during exercise and when fighting infection, for example – a problem does arise when they are present in unmanageable numbers. When free radicals overwhelm the body’s antioxidant defences (i.e. when there are more free radicals present than antioxidants to donate electrons), oxidative stress occurs.
A known cause of skin ageing, oxidative stress contributes to cellular damage, speeds up collagen and elastin breakdown and results in wrinkles and lax, sagging skin. And guess what? Alongside UV radiation, air pollution is a big driver of oxidative stress.
Thankfully, one of the best ways to defend your skin from smog, smoke and other pollutants (plus UVA and UVB) is one of the simplest – applying topical antioxidants.
While there are a variety of different antioxidants used in skincare, Vitamin C is particularly popular for its collagen boosting, skin brightening benefits. So, for more radiant skin and to limit the effects of pollution (and UV!), we suggest applying an oil-free Vitamin C serum (such as Solution from Pollution) as the first step of your skincare regime every morning.
Another antioxidant to have in your anti-pollution skincare arsenal is niacinamide, or Vitamin B3. With soothing and anti-inflammatory properties, it also helps strengthen the skin’s barrier function. Meaning? Pollutants are less able to penetrate the skin, while transepidermal water loss is reduced. So, if your skin is sensitive, prone to redness or acne, consider reaching for a niacinamide serum morning and/or night (such as Calm The Harm).
2. Broad-spectrum sunscreen
While not strictly pollution, UV radiation triggers free radical production and ages the skin. To protect against skin cancer, as well as wrinkles, sagging skin and sun spots, a high-level, broad spectrum sunscreen (i.e. one that shields skin from ageing UVA AND burning UVB rays) is an everyday essential. For high-level, broad-spectrum protection, try Serve And Protect 50+.
3. Anti-blue light moisturiser
Study into the impacts of blue light pollution on the complexion is relatively new; however, there’s an early consensus that the High Energy Visible (HEV) light radiating from your screens is also a bit of a b**** for your complexion.
One reason for this, according to a 2019 study, is that blue light disrupts the circadian rhythm of skin cells, thereby inhibiting the skin’s overnight repair processes. This in turn leads to early-onset wrinkles and other signs of premature ageing, with hyperpigmentation another oft-cited side effect.
To help compensate for our tech-addicted lifestyle, skincare formulators are now increasingly creating products with in-built blue light protection. In the Dermaenergy range, all three moisturisers – Light As A Feather, A Happy Medium and Filthy Rich – are formulated with digital antioxidant IBR Urbiotect (intense blue light urban protection). Hence why the packaging is blue. Use morning and/or night to help reduce the potentially damaging effects of digital device pollution.
4. A hydroxy-acid cleanser
To really lift pollution, impurities and grime from the surface of your skin and from deep in the pores, thorough cleansing is essential. Especially at the end of the day.
For a deep clean and gentle microexfoliation, try adding a hydroxy-acid cleanser to your evening regime. Formulated with both glycolic and salicylic acids, our A Mean Clean cleanser delivers a deep, strong clean – removing excess oils and grime, while exfoliating pores from within.
Szalay J. What are free radicals? Live Science. 2016.
Lobo V, Patil A, Phatak A, Chandra N. Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health. Pharmacogn Rev. 2010;4(8):118-126. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.70902
Villines Z. How do free radicals affect the body? Medical News Today. 2017.