What Is Anti-Pollution Skin Care? A Blog Post From Tonic Skin Care

What Is Anti-Pollution Skin Care?

How much thought do you give to the pollution in the air and how it may affect your skin?

Airborne pollution can have a detrimental effect on the human body by inhalation and ingestion. However, the large surface area of our boundary organ is on the front line to potential exposure.

With air pollution set to to worsen in the years ahead, cosmetic companies have recently begun to innovate and developed strategies to counteract this harm with many releasing anti pollutant products as part of their skin care offering.

There are many different sources and types of pollutants and whilst areas exposed directly to high concentration of contaminants are the greater risks, pollutants can be dispersed widely due to atmospheric stability and wind. As I look out at my car today, it has a layer of sand from the Sahara so it shows how easily things are being transported in the environment and into our immediate atmosphere.

It is estimated the 90% of people worldwide are exposed to some type of air pollution on a daily basis. Air pollutants are dispersed particles, gases, hydrocarbons, heavy metals and are either categorised as made directly from their source ie. primary or can form in the atmosphere via chemical reaction in a secondary process, for example, ozone.

How can pollutants damage the skin?

Due to its large surface area and lipid-rich structure, the exterior layer of the skin is often the first point of contact and as such, a target for airborne pollutants. 

A number of factors will determine if the pollutant will likely cause ill-effects to the skin and beyond.  The type and concentration of toxic substance, the length of time or frequency of exposure and the ability of the skin to counteract the contaminant to prevent absorption through the skin. 

Some pollutants have been shown to induce oxidative stress in skin cells with an increased production of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) and free radicals. This can lead to inflammation or cell damage, with a possible reduction in the effectiveness of the skin barrier.

What are the consequences of this potential damage?

Short-term depletion of antioxidants (by free radicals) can affect the normal regulation of the skin and compromising the skin barrier. The skin may show symptoms of irritation, sensitivity, dryness, itch, redness or breakouts.

Medium-term If exposure continues, further infiltration of pollutants can occur into the skin’s barrier leaving it compromised. Increased inflammation can lead to development or worsening of inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, acne and rosacea.

Long-term prolonged oxidative stress can have genetic implications, with DNA and structural damage to the skin tissue. This can result in an increase in ageing processes with degradation of collagen which manifest as coarse wrinkles, and formation of lentigines and pigmentation. Skin cancer (melanoma, squamous cell and basal cell carcinomas) may also be contributed to long-term pollutant exposure.

Topical anti-pollution cosmetic products

As pollution can easily target the skin, some cosmetics manufacturers have evolved their ranges to include anti-pollution products. Consumers, too, are more aware of environmental pollutants with increasing numbers of internet searches for ‘anti-pollution skincare’.

The difficulty for this area is the diversity of pollutants and not knowing exactly which pollutant is potentially causing the damage at any one time or place.

From research, there are several approaches which formulators are applying to promote anti-pollution in skincare. Essentially the main strategies are, to stop the pollutants initially getting into the skin to create damage or reinforce the skin to improve it’s barrier function and defence against potential injury.

Strategies against pollution of the skin

  1. Cleansing the pollutants from the skin 
  2. Preventing the pollutants from contact with the epidermis by using film-forming ingredients to act as a protective shield.
  3. Repairing the skin from pollutant damage, using antioxidant ingredients to increase the effect of the skin’s own defence system against ROS and free radicals.

Perhaps a combination of these strategies is the way forward to give the skin the best chance of combating these stressors which can induce inflammatory conditions, disease and increase extrinsic skin ageing. By not giving pollutants an opportunity to come into contact with the skin and by strengthening the skin’s resilience with use of antioxidants, the effects of pollution can be impeded thereby avoiding inflammatory cascades, oxidative stress and subsequent irreparable damage to skin tissue. 


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