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Pollution is not so popular

We have all talked about protecting our skin from the sun; however, the next biggest aggressor to our skin’s health is pollution.

The increase in air pollution over the past few years is having a fundamental effect on our skin. Prolonged and continuous exposure to heavy air pollution is more than the skin was designed to cope with. This exposure increases inflammation such as eczema and acne, and accelerates the ageing process and possibly susceptibility to skin cancer.

UVR (ultraviolet radiation) has long been recognised as an environmental aggressor on our skin. Now we can add to that bad-boy list PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and VOCs (volatile organic compounds). I can promise you they will be the new buzzwords as cosmetic companies clamber to produce new products to fight their negative effects.

PAHs are the most widespread organic pollutant and are derived from the burning of organic materials such as diesel and coal, and also arise from wood smoke and cigarette smoke. PAHs are being linked to excessive pigmentation and oxidative stress in skin.

VOCs originate from the use of organic solvents in paints and varnishes, and from environmental tobacco smoke, stored fuels, and emissions from car exhausts and industrial plants. VOCs increase cytokines, which inhibit the production of collagen and increase its degradation, in turn leading to the loss of the skin’s functionality and integrity. Exposure to VOCs will cause your skin to look thicker, dryer and more wrinkled.

All that unhealthy air sticks to your skin. After just eight hours’ exposure your skin will have 1 gram of pollution adhesions. Scarily, 88 per cent of urban dwellers breathe air that’s below the World Health Organization’s (WHO) safety standards, while 80 per cent of the ageing process can be attributed to the environment and the lifestyle we lead—only 20 per cent is attributable to our genetics.

Your pore size is roughly 50 microns, but the average size of a pollution particle is around 2.5–5 microns! That means that a lot of particulate matter can attach itself to your pores.

The Journal of Investigative Dermatology was the first to release the following discoveries made by scientists:

• Air-pollution exposure was significantly correlated with signs of skin ageing, including hyperpigmentation, age spots and wrinkles.
• An increase in soot and particles from traffic was associated with the occurrence of 20 per cent more age spots on the forehead and cheeks.
• Increased traffic particles were associated with increases of 16 per cent in age spots on the forehead and 17 per cent on the cheeks.
• All types of pollution were also found to correlate to more pronounced nasolabial folds (creating more obvious smile wrinkles).

As depressing as all of the above seems to be, a shift on how we do things can help address the effects of exposure to daily pollution. The good news is that scientists have been working away at combatting the effects of pollution on our skin.

You will soon see a huge rise in ingredients like charcoal, a wonderful detoxifier and purifier. We have seen the use of ingested charcoal and now will be able to obtain charcoal’s benefits by topical application. Charcoal leaves the skin feeling fresher and lighter and, of course, minimises the impact of pollution.

Antioxidants have been skincare heroes for some time, however, the greater our understanding of the damage from pollution to the skin, the more we understand the vital role antioxidants play in ensuring our skin’s health.

The old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure has never been more relevant than it is now.

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