How Pollution Plays a Part in Your Skin’s Aging Process

Victoria Moorhouse
Lumina Images / Getty Images

Lumina Images / Getty Images

By now, you probably know that arming your skin with SPF is one of the best anti-aging shields you can create for yourself. But as it turns out, the sun might not be the only atmospheric issue affecting your skin’s aging process. Exposure to pollution (and the free radicals in the air because of it) could be a factor in your skin’s overall health, as well as how it ages. This is why you’ve probably seen so many skin care brands launching products made specifically to work against the negative effects of pollution.

What Does Pollution Do to Your Skin?
According to Dr. Daniel Stangl, the Director of Innovation at La Prairie—a beauty company that just launched a Cellular Swiss Ice Crystal product line that addresses why pollution and anti-aging products go hand-in-hand—explains that while your skin is designed to withstand environmental elements like pollution, it very well could change your skin’s barrier function.

The barrier function is how it keeps out the junk you don’t want on (or inside) your pores and how it retains moisture, nutrients, and more. Dr. Stangl explains that this constant irritation makes it “susceptible to damage from oxidative stress” from the free radicals. “These free radicals can damage the extracellular matrix, skin cells and cellular structures as well as key biomolecules such as DNA and proteins,” he notes.

Dr. Frauke Neuser, a scientist with Olay Skin Care (another brand taking on pollution and skin care) also notes that oxidative stress can cause allergic responses and even inflammation and micro-inflammation. “You may have heard the term ‘Inflammaging’ which refers to a continuous, low-grade inflammation associated with aging. It has been hypothesized that aging itself is driven by micro-inflammation,” she notes.

Since your skin might be fighting the inflammation, it isn’t concentrating on the other things it needs to do, like building collagen and exfoliating, leading to sensitivity and skin’s dullness. And we all know a decrease in collagen can lead to fine lines.

This isn’t to say your skin isn’t capable of fighting back at these free radicals at all. Dr. Neuser notes that your skin is equipped with antioxidants, but they can be weakened overtime due after “prolonged exposure to oxidative stress.”

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A Weak Barrier Function Could Mean Dehydrated Skin
But one of the biggest negative effects that pollution can have on your skin—that you might see right away and contributes to aging skin—is dehydration. Because pollution weakens your skin’s barrier function(what comes in and what goes out), your skin won’t be able to hold in moisture as well. This ends up giving it that dry, unplump, aged appearance. Dr. Neuser says this is likely the case, but more research needs to be done.

How to Prevent Pollution From Taking a Toll
To help prevent pollution from taking a toll on your skin, you can strengthen it’s barrier function by moisturizing with a product packed with antioxidants and strengthening ingredients like hyaluronic acid. Dr. Stangl also points to ingredients like ceramides, cholesterol, biotin, and specific fatty acids, which he says will form a “protective, water retaining film on the skin’s surface.”

La Prairie’s new Cellular Swiss Ice Crystal Cream combines hyaluronic acid to moisturize and stimulate collagen production, as well as a trio of ingredients that promote skin renewal, strengthens skin’s defense system from free radicals, and more. The products in the Cellular Swiss line are also said to include plant-based extracts that have antioxidant and anti-irritant benefits, while Saponaria Pumila protects against damage from light-related exposure.

Earlier this year, Olay released three new Total Effects moisturizers that include ingredients like antioxidant-rich vitamin E to strengthen the skin’s barrier to protect from environmental stressors, as well as vitamin b3. This formula has over 40 percent more vitamins than prior products.

How to Incorporate Them and For How Long
This isn’t something you’ll want to do once a month; you’re going to need to make it a habit in order to really protect your skin from pollutants. Dr. Neuser suggests sticking with it for a couple of weeks to feel and see the results, noting that skin renews itself after 28 days.

In addition to moisturizing daily, you’ll want to stay hydrated and on-top of your cleansing routine. “Clearing your skin of any solid particle pollution you may have encountered will ensure it’s not left to react or irritate your pores,” notes Dr. Stangl who suggests La Prairie’s Purifying Cream Cleanser as an option.

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