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Brainy Beauty: Can Anti-Pollution Skin Care Really Protect Your Skin?

Brainy Beauty: Can Anti-Pollution Skin Care Really Protect Your Skin?

Brainy Beauty: Can Anti-Pollution Skin Care Really Protect Your Skin? 

This is Brainy Beauty: We’re breaking down the why behind what you set on your face. We believe the research, not the hype, so you'll be smart about your beauty routine.

If you’ve gone over the fine print on a number of your favorite beauty products recently, you'll have noted “anti-pollution” together of several touted benefits.

Or maybe you’ve began to notice anti-pollution skin care products cropping up at your favorite online beauty shops.

Either way, you would possibly have wondered: Is pollution really harming my skin? and may anti-pollution skin care protect it?

We dug through the research and asked a couple of top-notch dermatologists to weigh in on this trending beauty term.

The facts

Like many of the world’s biggest beauty trends, the “anti-pollution skin care” wave began in Asia.

That may be because in some big Asian cities, like Beijing, the quantity of pollution is staggeringTrusted Source.

“It causes them to specialise in this quite in countries that aren’t as challenged the maximum amount by pollutants,” says Dr. Bruce Robinson, FAAD, a board certified dermatologist in ny City and clinical professor of dermatology at Lenox Hill Hospital.

With global climate change becoming a drag regardless of where you reside , we’re all a touch more conscious of pollution lately .

But what does science actually say about the advantages of anti-pollution skin care?

How pollution harms the skin
Numerous studies have linked pollution to skin conditions including hives, acne, premature skin aging, and inflammatory skin conditions like eczema.

Pollutants undergo somatic cell membranes and diffuse into the body, explains Dr. Adam Mamelak, a board certified dermatologist based in Austin, Texas.

“The uptake of pollutants by the skin has been reported as almost like the uptake after inhalation,” he explains. “That means similar levels of pollutants get into our body through the skin as they are doing through inhaling these noxious chemicals.”

Once they enter the skin, pollutants are shownTrusted Source to induce oxidative stress by lowering present levels of antioxidants.

According to Mamelak, normal metabolic processes and inflammation cause the body to supply free radicals. We naturally produce antioxidants to neutralize these free radicals before they cause damage.

“The body typically can maintain a balance between antioxidants and free radicals. However, external factors, like pollution or ultraviolet (UV) radiation, can cause an imbalance,” says Dr. Kellie Reed, a board certified dermatologist at Westlake Dermatology in Austin, Texas.

One study from 2015 and another from 2019Trusted Source have shown that chronic exposure to pollutants within the atmosphere generates free radicals while depleting the skin of the antioxidant vitamins C and E.

This causes inflammation and impairs the skin barrier.

Environmental pollution has been shownTrusted Source to contribute to skin damage that results in aging, including sun spots and wrinkles, also as moisture loss, says Reed.

A 2011 Chinese studyTrusted Source of nearly 70,000 people linked increased levels of ozone pollution to rising ER visits for hives, eczema, and get in touch with dermatitis.

“More comprehensive studies got to be done, but overall, the symptoms of chronic inflammatory skin diseases like acne and atopic eczema (eczema) seem exacerbated when people are exposed to high pollution levels,” says Reed.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists the subsequent because the main outdoor pollutants:

  • nitrogen dioxide
  • sulphur dioxide
  • carbon monoxide
  • particulate matter (PM)
  • heavy metals
“Nitrogen oxide compounds interact with volatile organic compounds upon UV exposure and obtain activated to get ground‐level ozone,” explains Mamelak.

Particulate matter results in oxidative stress and inflammation linked trusted Source to skin aging.

Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are another pollutant mainly found in cigarette smoke that’s shown toTrusted Source cause premature skin aging.

It probably won’t surprise you that pollutants tend to be most problematic in big and densely populated cities, says Robinson.

Car emissions are a serious culprit, contributing significantly to dioxide , carbon monoxide gas , and sulfur dioxide pollution, notes Mamelak.

How anti-pollution skin care protects the skin
Robinson says there’s not tons of research to support anti-pollution skin care products, and most studies are done by skin care companies.

“There is certainly some bias. However, many can show significant leads to using their products,” says Mamelak.

What’s more, because the term “anti-pollution” isn’t regulated, says Mamelak, many skin care products can have anti-pollution effects without the “anti-pollution” label.

“To me, there’s nothing new in these. It’s marketing,” adds Robinson.

All the doctors we talked to agree that skin care products with anti-pollution benefits contain ingredients that protect the skin from all sources of injury , including environmental pollutants.

They work their magic in one among a couple of ways:

1. Antioxidants
Antioxidants bind to free radicals before they will wreak havoc on skin cells, explain Robinson and Reed. Limited but promising research suggests they'll battle pollution-linked skin damage.

A small 2020 study by South Korean researchers found that folks who used an antioxidant serum with vitamins C, E, and ferulic acid twice each day for two weeks after laser treatments had a greater reduction in pollution-linked dark spots on the skin.

A 2020 study funded by an American skin care company watching human skin cells within the lab found that often applying an answer with vitamin C (l-ascorbic acid), vitamin E, and ferulic acid prevented pollution-induced damage.

Another studyTrusted Source by researchers with an Italian skin care company in 2019 followed 20 women living during a high-pollution populated area . They found that using the company’s serum, which contains ferulic acid and vitamin C , reduced dark spots and improved skin barrier function after a month.

Reed says the subsequent antioxidants are shown to be the foremost effective at protecting against skin damage from free radicals:

  • vitamin C
  • retinol (vitamin A)
  • vitamin E
  • niacinamide
  • resveratrol
  • coenzymeQ10 (CoQ10)
  • polyphenols
  • flavonoids
  • ferulic acid
  • astaxanthin
  • glutathione
2. Moisturizers
Regularly moisturizing strengthens the skin barrier to attenuate the potential for air pollutants to penetrate skin cells and cause oxidative stress.

Robinson and Reed recommend:

  • Ceramides. These are a number of the foremost effective ingredients to assist boost the skin’s barrier function, say Robinson and Reed.
  • Hyaluronic acid. Also referred to as sodium hyaluronate just hyaluronate, it’s a crucial building block of skin. “It definitely helps to take care of moisture within the skin, thereby preserving the skin barrier,” says Robinson.
3. Physical UV blockers
UV light is sort of a bomb , entering the skin and exploding collagen and elastic fibers to cause wrinkles, saggy skin, and cellular DNA changes that increase cancer risk explains Robinson.

But there’s one more reason to guard your skin from the sun: Some pollutants are literally activated by UV light before they exert their detrimental effects, adds Mamelak.

A mineral sunscreen (look for titanium oxide or zinc oxide) with an SPF 30 or greater provides a physical barrier to both UV rays and pollutants.

4. Probiotics and prebiotics
“Pollution has been shown to affect the skin’s microbiome, the bacteria and microorganisms that naturally survive the skin and contribute to skin health,” says Mamelak.

Microbiome skin care “can help restore the right balance of microorganisms on the skin,” he adds.

5. Other less-proven ingredients
Malachite is touted as a pollution magnet that binds to heavy metals to decrease oxidative stress on the skin, say experts. But Robinson says he hasn’t seen any big studies proving if and the way heavy metals really do damage the skin.

Robinson has also seen other ingredients like algae, Chinese herbs, ginkgo , and sea salt touted as anti-pollution skin care ingredients.

“I don’t think there’s medical research to support these other items,” Robinson says.

“Many of those are proprietary ingredients that are studied before adding them to cosmetic products, and thus hard to understand exactly what they're and what's their mechanism of action,” says Mamelak.

The how

A few tips to urge the foremost out of your anti-pollution skin care product:

  • Start with a mild cleanser. Cleansing can reduce the particle load of pollutants on the skin, especially particulate , say Reed and Mamelak. Use a mild cleanser: Harsh soaps strip skin of natural oils, compromising your skin barrier, says Reed.
  • Then apply an anti-pollution product. Use an anti-pollution cream or serum once or twice each day after washing skin. If it’s a serum, apply before your moisturizer, suggests Robinson.
  • Moisturize twice each day . “Ensure you've got a robust skin barrier by hydrating your skin,” says Reed.
  • Use sunscreen a day . A mineral sunscreen (with flowers of zinc or titanium dioxide) should be the last step in your daily morning skin care routine, since it’s reflective and doesn’t got to get absorbed into the skin to figure . A chemical sunscreen should continue first, says Robinson.
  • Encourage skin regeneration. To repair existing skin damage, ask your dermatologist a few chemical peel. “They ultimately thicken skin so it’s more protective against environmental assaults,” says Robinson.
  • Add exfoliation to your skin care routine. Alpha acid (AHA) may be a skin care ingredient sometimes utilized in chemical peels that helps to thicken heal time to enhance barrier function, says Robinson.
  • Prioritize exercise, sleep, and healthy eating. These habits boost overall skin health by supporting its natural barrier function, says Robinson. “All of those increase metabolism and help eliminate toxins from the body,” says Mamelak.

The what

There are many anti-pollution formulations, but experts suggest choosing a serum or cream.

“They stay the skin and are an excellent thanks to deliver antioxidants and humectants to assist prevent, repair, and restore,” says Mamelak.

Look for ceramides or mucopolysaccharide plus antioxidants.

“If you’re already employing a product with those ingredients, you’re probably getting all the protection you would like ,” says Robinson.

The takeaway

Pollution has been shown to extend the danger of wrinkles, acne, and eczema.

Skin care products with hydrating ingredients like ceramides and mucopolysaccharide help build up your skin’s barrier function to guard against environmental assaults.

Antioxidants like vitamins C and E help prevent free radicals from damaging the skin. And a mineral sunscreen can physically block both UV rays and pollutants.

That said, you don’t need to choose a product specifically labeled as “anti-pollution” to reap pollution-protecting benefits.

“There’s nothing new in these products,” says Robinson. “It has become a catchphrase for products that exist already .”


Article sources

  • Araviiskaia E, et al. (2019). The impact of airborne pollution on skin. DOI:
  • Ferrara F, et al. (2020). Additive effect of combined pollutants to UV induced skin OxInflammation damage. Evaluating the protective topical application of a cosmeceutical mixture formulation. DOI:
  • Krutmann J, et al. (2017). The skin aging exposome. DOI:
  • Mancebo SE, et al. (2015). Recognizing the impact of ambient air pollution on skin health. DOI:
  • Parrado C, et al. (2019). Environmental Stressors on Skin Aging. Mechanistic Insights. DOI:
  • Puri P, et al. (2017). Effects of air pollution on the skin: A review. DOI:
Sunscreen FAQs.
  • Valacchi G, et al. (2017). Protective Effects of Topical Vitamin C Compound Mixtures against Ozone-Induced Damage in Human Skin. DOI:
  • Xu F, et al. (2011). Ambient ozone pollution as a risk factor for skin disorders. DOI:
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