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How does pollution affect our skin?

 In Health, Lifestyle, Skincare

Have you ever thought about what your skin is in contact with when you step outside into the big, wide world?  

Have you ever wondered why, if you live or work in a town or city, you get dirty looking skin and the water can have a delectable black tinge to it when you wash your face at night?

Well, one of the reasons is… pollution!  

Yes, there are other things that also have a role to play, like how much makeup you wear, what the makeup itself is that you wear, how much you sweat, touch your face etc… but a big reason is those nasty pollutant molecules that we’re not even aware of.

So kick back, grab yourself a nice drink and read my secrets into what these nasty things are doing to our beautiful skins :(!

Now you’re settled, I’ll begin…

Nowadays, with our lifestyles the way they are, we are exposed to so much more pollution than the generations before us.  

Go for a walk outside (even in the country to some extent!) and take a nice deep breath – mmm exhaust fumes!  Yummy!

But it isn’t just exhaust fumes – industry and factories, smoking, chemicals and fires all contribute.

The rising trend of our cosy woodburning stoves has played its part in this too, as everything burnt gets let out into the air, which we then breathe into our lungs, and which also comes into contact with our first line of defence – the skin.

But what effects does pollution actually have on our skin?

Well… the pollution we breathe in constricts our blood capillary network much like smoking does, which reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients that can reach it, ultimately leading to a dull skin that doesn’t heal quite as quickly, much like the effects of stress on the skin.

Pollution molecules also produce free radicals on your skin, as they attack a healthy cell in order to make themselves stable (think of your child grabbing your other child’s toy, they’re then happy but the child with the toy originally is now screaming!).

This makes the healthy cell a free radical, and sets off a chain reaction which leads to cell damage and in this case, a skin that doesn’t look its best (officially known as oxidative stress).  

For this reason, antioxidants (topically and internally) are even more important if you’re exposed to pollutants on a constant basis.

To prevent skin cell damage and premature ageing, it’s important to make sure you have a good skincare routine

It’s ok, I don’t live in a city…

Well, it’s not just people who live in a city that are exposed to pollutants! In fact, if you live in a town or city (and even some villages!), pollution will have a role to play in your skin’s health and overall vitality.  

Sulphur and Carbon Monoxide are major pollutants in the air and dehydrate the skin, as they break down the barrier that protects it (you might have seen this called your skin’s natural microbiome).  

This means that natural exfoliation of your skin slows down and your skin’s pH changes, which will mean your skin gets more congested! Start saying hello to more breakouts, open comedones (blackheads) and closed comedones (whiteheads)!  

This breakdown in your skin’s own natural protective layer can also mean that irritants can get into your skin and aggravate it a lot more easily, which leads to irritation and inflammation, causing a sensitised and prematurely aged skin – yikes!

What can I do to help my skin in the fight against pollutants?

Have no fear, there are things you can be doing to help your skin in the fight against pollution!

And I am going to share these with you lovely lovely people now 🙂

  • FIRSTLY YOU NEED TO MAKE SURE YOU ARE DOUBLE CLEANSING AT NIGHT, WHICH IDEALLY YOU SHOULD BE DOING ANYWAY, PARTICULARLY IF YOU ARE A HEAVY MAKEUP USER!

This typically means using an oil based cleanser as your first cleanse, which will dissolve all those lovelies on your skin that have accumulated during the day, and are oil based themselves (remember, like dissolves like – think science lessons at school!).  

That is, your sweat, your makeup, pollution and general dirt.  Delicious!

If you also find that you get persistent blackheads on your skin then a salicylic acid based cleanser could be good for you.  

This magic ingredient dissolves its way into the follicle (or pore, it’s all the same thing!) and scoops out the debris, unblocking it and returning it to normal.

If you’re not getting rid of all those nasties on your skin, anything you put on your skin after you’ve cleansed, you’re essentially putting onto a dirty skin.  

This is a bit like mopping the floor before you vacuum up – you’re just moving the dirt around.

Leaving these on your skin will age you a lot quicker (those free radicals get more time to wreak havoc) and render the products you put on afterwards a lot less effective.  

So you know that expensive potion you bought?  

It’s not going to be doing its job quite as well.  

And I don’t know about you, but if I buy something, I want it to work!

  • YOU ALSO NEED TO MAKE SURE YOU ARE GETTING LOTS OF ANTIOXIDANTS, WHICH FIGHT THE EFFECTS OF THE FREE RADICALS THAT POLLUTION CAUSES.

I mentioned earlier you need to be applying these both topically and internally.  

For your food, think colours of the rainbow – eating fruit and vegetables in a variety of colours means you are getting a rich source of antioxidants to help you fight the zombie-like free radicals that just want to break down our healthy cells.  

Eating a rainbow of fruit and vegetables will give you a range of antioxidants to help prevent your skin from damage

I’d also recommend a really good antioxidant supplement to boost this, as most people don’t get nearly the amount they need.

It’s important to be applying the antioxidants topically too so that they can fight the free radicals as they come into contact with them – ready and waiting in their droves!  

Again you want to choose a wide range, particularly Vitamin A, C and E, but there are loads of others that reap amazing rewards for the skin too, such as lycopene and resveratrol.

  • DUE TO THE DEHYDRATING EFFECTS ON THE SKIN THAT POLLUTANTS HAVE, IT’S IMPORTANT TO MAINTAIN A GOOD LEVEL OF HYDRATION IN YOUR SKIN.

For this, look for a Hyaluronic Acid based product, or an ingredient derived from it such as Sodium Hyaluronate.  

This power molecule attracts water to it, holding up to 1000 times its own weight in water, plumping and smoothing the skin beautifully. You can see the effects of it IMMEDIATELY and forms the basis of the Environ Hydraboost Facial!

  • AND THE FINAL ESSENTIAL IS TO MAKE SURE YOU ARE WEARING A DAILY SPF.

This is a non-negotiable for all skins, but for one that is under a lot of environmental stress like this, it’s a must have.  

UV rays emitted from the sun are the biggest free radical attack that our skin encounters, and it’s a recurring one.  

Wearing an SPF also means that an irritated, sensitised skin has more opportunity to heal and repair, much better and quicker if it is not being bombarded with more attacks when it is already weakened (can you see I’m imagining 2 armies in a war here?!).

Doing all of these things will help to keep your skin’s protective barrier as intact as much as possible when it is exposed to these daily pollutants.  

Make sure you wear your SPF daily, to help overcome the effects of free radicals on the skin

Why is it important to be aware of this?

As our villages are turning more into towns, and our towns more into big towns and cities, this problem is only likely to increase. 

It’s important for you to be on your guard with a full set of armour (i.e. antioxidants, SPF and Hyaluronic Acid), ready to stop these free radicals in their tracks, and stop them damaging your healthy cells, so that you can have the best skin you can – you deserve it!

So there we go…

Will you think twice now when you step outside?

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article – leave me a comment below to let me know if you have, and share this with a friend that you know would benefit – I’m sure you all know someone who is exposed to lots of pollution!

Until next time, take care,

Helen x

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Showing 4 comments
  • Lucy Parish
    Reply

    Very insightful article.. thankfully I cleanse with oil first and then 2nd cleanse followed by Hyaluronic serum .. I’ve been well educated thanks to you!! Xx

    • Helen
      Reply

      Glad you found it useful, Lucy! Well done, your skin will be thankful for it and it is apparent how well you care for your skin 🙂

      If you have anything you’d like me to cover in the future, let me know 😀

      Helen x

  • Anne Whiting
    Reply

    Thankyou for this interesting article Helen. I do cleanse, use a hyaluronic cream and an spf 30 I was told to by a dermatology doctor when I had a small skin cancer removed. Very important. Thankyou.

    • Helen
      Reply

      You’re welcome Anne! Well done for looking after your skin – sometimes it’s easy to take it for granted until something happens. Keep up the good routine! Take care x

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