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Anti-pollution is much more than just a new beauty buzzword. There is a way to prevent the toxic damage your skin is facing every day.
Scientists estimate that environmental factors are responsible for the first signs of ageing. The bad guys, called free radicals, do their dirty job, leaving your skin less firm and radiant, causing unwelcome changes in skin tone, irritation and breakouts. You notice the first lines appearing and the glow disappearing. Yep, this has a great deal to do with the environment.
FLAWLESS SKIN IN A TOXIC ATMOSPHERE
Airways and the respiratory system are the main things affected by air pollutants. Nonetheless, being the largest organ of the human body as well as the barrier between the environment and the organism, the skin is the organ most broadly affected by air pollutants. Pollutants generate free radicals inducing oxidative stress, which leads to collagen degradation and accelerated visible signs of skin ageing. Dust particles containing heavy metals have been shown to increase the expression of pro-inflammatory signals in the skin, launching a cascade of inflammatory reactions. Pollution activates receptors that play a role in melanogenesis, resulting in skin tone irregularities, e.g. the formation of darker spots. Exposure to pollutants alters skin microflora, which in turn may contribute to various skin disorders, for instance, acne.
Heavy metals also pose general health hazards due to bioaccumulation and a reduction of intrinsic defences. Exposure to air pollutants is associated with premature ageing, pigment spot formation, skin rashes and eczema. Pollution can worsen some skin conditions, such as atopic dermatitis and acne.
SKIN SAVING STRATEGIES
Four steps of urban defence – learn how to protect your skin from toxic pollutants.
The very first and most simple step is proper cleansing of the skin to remove micro dust, heavy metals and chemicals deposited on it. Rinse-off formats such as cleansing foams may be useful.
More advanced anti-pollution cleansing may be done with detoxifying masks that contain ingredients able to absorb or bind pollutants. Chelating properties of certain ingredients bind metals, including heavy metals from the skin’s surface, preventing them from penetrating and causing damage. Several antioxidant-rich plants extracts have been reported to have chelating properties. Northern lake mud (sapropel) contains high concentrations of humic acids that bind heavy metals, protecting the skin from their negative impacts. Widely used ingredients with potent absorption properties include active charcoal and clays. Some forms of chelating ingredients can also be incorporated in leave-on formulations, for instance plant extracts may be compatible with creams.
Another way to limit pollution damage is antioxidants. Antioxidants reduce the formation of free radicals and neutralise them if they have been formed. Antioxidants also strengthen the defence of cells, making the skin more resilient and resistant to urban ageing. Plants are the source of a wide range of antioxidants, and many plant-derived antioxidants have been characterised and described in scientific literature. Among the highly active antioxidants is alchemilla (Alchemilla vulgaris) extract, which is able to neutralise up to 90% of induced free radicals in vitro, green tea extract and many others. It is not unusual that the efficacy of plant-derived antioxidants surpasses synthetic antioxidants. For instance, a standardised extract of tree plants (oak wood, grape seed, green tea) exceeds the efficacy of the commonly used synthetic antioxidant BHT by 18 times.
The fourth approach to anti-pollution is to protect the skin from environmental aggressors by creating a barrier. Creating an initial barrier against pollution such as CO, ozone and cigarette smoke is so important if you want to avoid the signs of premature ageing. Forming a uniform yet breathable film on the surface of the skin helps to keep contaminants outside. Various film-forming ingredients both of natural origin (waxes, polysaccharides, high molecular weight hyaluronic acid) and synthetic (e.g. silicones) are available.