The threat of pollution is very real for our environment, but what about for our skin? Take a gander through any beauty department, and you’re likely to encounter the standard skin care products boasting SPF and anti-aging benefits. But you might also run across a few claiming to protect your skin against the effects of pollution.
Now, if there’s one thing we’ve learned about the beauty biz, it’s to thoroughly do your homework when it comes to product claims or trendy ingredients. Many times, brands use buzzy terms or concerns to score a few extra bucks. And while we’d never question the seriousness of pollution in any other setting, we had to know if the ozone-harming effect could also possibly be harming our skin barrier, too.
To get to the bottom of this, we chatted with two derms to see what they have to say about the reality of pollution and its effects on your skin.
Should you be worried about air pollution?
Quick answer: yes. “There is now mounting evidence that shows that ground level ozone, along with environmental and urban pollution, can cause damage,” explains Dr. Rachel Nazarian, FAAD, of Mount Sinai Dept. of Dermatology and Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York.
Just as we should worry about sun protection, we should, in fact, be concerned about pollution in many forms—smog, chemical byproducts, particles, smoke, and more. “It’s not only sunlight that can cause cumulative damage to skin; studies have shown that microscopic amounts of pollutants and smoke from urban settings, including construction sites, cars, and industrial emissions can age skin prematurely,” she adds.
And although anyone can see the unwanted results of pollution, experts caution that those in urban settings are more likely to suffer from its effects. “A pivotal study done in dermatology compared those living in rural environments to those in urban environments, and showed significantly more skin damage in those living in polluted urban environments,” Dr. Nazarian says.
What does air pollution lead to?
So, what does this mean to you? Well, basically it means all that grime and gunk in the air can cause free radicals to damage parts of your skin such as collagen and elastin—aka the building blocks of youthful, resilient skin. It’s when those break down that the signs of aging can occur.
Other physical signs of aging that can be triggered by pollution are fine lines, wrinkles, crepe-y skin, and even hyperpigmentation and dark spots, says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research, Department of Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
But it’s not just aging skin that can be an unwelcome result of pollution. Dr. Zeichner says that pollution damage might also be associated with acne breakouts and an increase in oil production, as free radicals deep within the skin promote inflammation.
And sadly, that’s not all. According to Dr. Nazarian, in addition to increased inflammation and DNA mutation (which can cause signs of aging), free radical damage can initiate the pathway to skin cancer. And some cities, such as Tokyo, London, and New York, are also linking pollution to deeper health problems, such as lung and heart disease, she adds.
So yeah, pollution care is no joking matter.