Is Living in a City Bad for Your Skin?

Wendy Rodewald
Rosario Dawson

Rosario Dawson in New York City.
Photo: Getty Images

If you live in a big city like New York or Los Angeles, you’ve probably seen at least a couple “air quality alert” days this summer. The pollution that becomes more concentrated in hot weather isn’t just bad for your lungs — it can mess with your complexion, too.

Even celebrities with access to the fanciest facials and dermatologists aren’t immune. Rosario Dawson recently said that spending time in the city has been breaking her out. “I’m from New York but I’ve realized how long it’s been since I’ve been here because my face wasn’t acclimated,” she told People. “I had bad skin all of a sudden! I had to get exfoliator and all this stuff … I was like ‘What happened?!’”

The evidence isn’t just anecdotal. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology found that “ambient particulate matter” (read: all that junk floating around in the air) affects skin aging. Researchers studied 400 women, controlling for factors including age, smoking history and past sunburns, and found that those exposed to more pollution developed more dark spots on their skin.

So if city air causes skin to look older, does that mean you have to hightail it out to the countryside to hang onto your youthful glow? Not exactly. Antioxidants in your skincare can act as a shield against environmental aggressors like pollution, along with UV rays, extreme temperatures and even stress.

Of course, beauty companies make protecting your skin easy by putting antioxidants in practically everything. Avon’s Anew Clinical Skinvincible Multi-Shield Lotion ($36), launching in September, has multiple forms of antioxidants to cover all the bases of skin protection. “One of the many oxidizers is pollution,” says Avon Consulting Dermatologist Dr. Cheryl Karcher. But, “Different environmental aggressors affect your skin differently, and there are a ton of them,” she explains. “You need a whole antioxidant cocktail for this protection.”

How to Protect Your Skin from Pollution

– Apply an antioxidant serum before you slather on SPF to create a shield against dirty air and other skin agers.

– Wash your face before bed and repair daytime damage with a moisturizing night cream.

– Exfoliate skin once every week or two. Mechanical exfoliants such as scrubs or microdermabrasion devices are particularly good for counteracting the effects of air pollution on skin, but if your skin type can’t handle friction (and many can’t — find your best exfoliation method here), choose a gentle acid peel to slough off the surface layer.

Read more: Skin Mistakes That Make You Look Older