For a skin care enthusiast, tips on how to avoid an unhealthy skin such as avoiding alcohol, avoiding consistent facial expressions, removing makeup before going to bed are common topics. The benefits of exercise on your skin are well spelt out and you’ve been advised to avoid unhealthy diet as they may all result to an unhealthy and aging skin. However, there’s a bigger threat which can cause greater havoc to your skin. Pollution has been discovered to be a big enemy to your glowing complexion.

This enemy of the skin – pollution, is almost impossible to ignore or avoid. Pollution have been known to be dangerous to the environment a long time ago, but it’s negative effects on our skin have not been really emphasized until recently. It doesn’t matter where you live, there’s a level of risk to your skin due to the toxic elements in the atmosphere. Statistics shows that more than half of the world’s population lives in urban environments. That shows that quite a number of people contributes to the increasing environmental pollution and stands a higher risk of been affected.

The increase in the level of pollution on a daily basis has placed the ozone layer under attack, and the repercussions involves wrinkling, extrinsic skin aging, and the worst; cancer. The ultraviolet rays from the sun is the cause of oxidative stress on our skin. However, the sun is not the only threat to your skin, the pollutants present in the atmosphere of your work place, on the street and even in the comfort of your home can damage your skin as well. That is why it is more important now than ever to know about pollution, what dangers they pose to our skin, and how to avoid them.

Let’s start by discussing what pollution is.

What is pollution?

In simple terms; pollution is the addition of harmful substances to the natural environment. Pollution can occur in various forms such as air pollution, noise pollution, water pollution and heat pollution. It doesn’t matter what form it takes; it is dangerous to the environment and its inhabitants. Pollutants are the agents of pollution; they exist majorly in chemical and energy form.

Pollution affects our environment and gets in contact with our bodies through the component of our environments such as air, water and heat. We come in contact with these environmental components every day. If they are contaminated by the pollutants we get affected too. In this article, we’ll discuss more about air pollution as it affects our skin more.

What is air pollution?

Have you ever heard statements such as “City air makes your skin age faster”? This could have been quite untrue if city air is free from air pollutants. That statement can be re-written as; “polluted air makes your skin age faster”.

Air pollution is the release pf harmful particles and gases in to the air from various activities such as traffic fumes, cigarette smoke, power plants, construction works and many others. Air pollution affects the environments and life around it. Air pollution can be toxic and cause diseases to us, it can also result to allergies and a poor health, eventually leading to the death of the victim.

Most of the cases of air pollution are as a result of production activities and energy consumption. Examples are the gases released into the air during fuel burning. The effect of pollution in the ecosystem is that; it creates a hostile cycle in which air pollution causes climate change and the climate change aggravates both the pollution level and its effect. To prevent the negative effects of air pollution, organizations and government of many countries are taking measures to discourage activities that involves the release of harmful substances into the atmosphere.

One of the ways air pollution affects us generally is the increase in the earth’s temperature by the presence of excess methane and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The repercussion of earth increased temperature is the increase in ultraviolet radiation, and that doesn’t sound nice for your skin. The increased earth temperature also encourages the formation of smog in the air which is unfriendly to the environment.

Types of air pollution

Air pollution can be classified to two categories; Ozone pollution (also known as smog) and particle pollution (also known as soot).

Ozone pollution is the most common and it occur due to chemical reaction between sunlight and dangerous gases such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and others emitted by burning fossil fuels. This type of ozone is quite different from the ozone layer that shields the earth from harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun. It is bad and harmful; it is referred to as ground-level ozone. The health risk of ground-level ozone includes damages to the respiratory system, asthma attacks, and skin irritation.

The particle pollution is also dangerous. Unlike the ozone pollution, particle pollution is composed of tiny particles from smoke, dust, ashes and chemicals taken into the air. These tiny particles are so small that they can pass through the lungs and bloodstream to worsen health condition and lead to complications or even death.

Both ozone and particle pollutions have similar sources, which includes vehicles exhausts, manufacturing plants, and other situation where fossil fuels are burned. The greenhouse effect on earth due to the release of greenhouse gases is also a significant negative effect of pollution. Greenhouse effect causes increase in the earth’s temperature and other results of climatic change.

Some other dangerous air pollutants are sulfur dioxide, dioxins, benzene, lead and mercury. These chemical s are hazardous and they affect the body functions and organs including the skin. Air pollution is one of the skin’s worst enemy.

Overview on how it affects the skin and body

Now that you understand what air pollution is, and how it affects the environment generally, let’s see how it affects our skin.

The skin is a major target for air pollution. Air pollutants come in contact with our skin and react with the surface first before trying to penetrate through it. They may successfully gain entrance into the body through the skin and cause havoc to our body health. One of the dangerous effects of air pollution to the skin is cancer. The increase in air pollution rate has results to an increase in the risk of skin cancer.

Skin cancer is related to the exposure of the skin to ultraviolet rays from the sun, especially ultraviolet-B rays which is predicted to increase the risk of cancer. The dangerous ultraviolet rays can reach the earth and eventually our skins when the ozone layer is depleted. The ozone layer in the stratosphere shields the dangerous ultraviolet rays coming from the sun from reaching the earth. But due to increase in air pollution levels as a result of the release of ozone-depleting chemicals into the atmosphere recently, there’ve been a significant decrease in the ozone, resulting in the increase of ultraviolet rays reaching us. UVB rays damages the skin cells, makes the skin lose it elasticity and leads to serious health issues such as cancer.

However, the UVB rays from the sun is not the only danger pollution poses to your skin. There are greater damages that can occur when pollutants and toxic elements in the air gets in contact with your skin. Here’s what happens.

Your skin (especially the upper epidermis) performs the function of a natural barrier to protects itself from dangers in the environment. Due to the high pollution rate, the skin experiences several attacks from the air pollutant in the environment and makes the skin age faster. These pollutants include carbon dioxide, sulfur, nitrogen oxide, volatile organic compounds, and other harmful gases emitted from cigarette smoke, vehicle exhaust, and manufacturing process. The way pollutants react with the skin and what damage they cause depends on the type of pollutants.

Generally, all form of air pollution causes free-radical damage to your skin on daily basis. When some of these pollutants hits the surface of your skin, it reacts by trying to put up defense against the toxic elements. When this process gets repeated over time, the skin defense system becomes very weak and it’s unable to fight future attacks. When the defense becomes ineffective, the collagen and lipids in the skin begins to degenerate. Collagen and lipids are both responsible for keeping the skin hydrated and giving it a plump look. Without collagen in the skin, the skin begins to lose its glowing look, wrinkles and fine lines begin to appear, dry patches may also be seen on the skin and the entire complexion becomes dull and loses it glow.

When pollution attack the surface of the skin continuously, the skin barrier becomes weaken and allow small particles of pollutants to entire the skin. These particles of air pollutants are so small that they can get into the skin pores and get trapped. These are not the random dirt that get removed after you wash your face at the end of the day. They get into the pores and are absorbed into the skin. When they get into the skin, they result in inflammation, acne breakout, hyperpigmentation and premature aging.

Sometimes the chemicals released through the fumes of vehicle exhaust, industrial gases, and chimneys when they hit the ultraviolet rays from the sun it produces toxic gases which can damage the skin. When the toxic gases react with the skin, it reduces the natural antioxidant of the skin and give room for more attacks on your complexion. Oxidative stress can also be caused by cigarette smoke which contributes to premature aging and skin conditions such as acne, eczema and psoriasis.  

Of course, another way pollution impacts our skins is through the air we breathe. Breathing unhealthy air poses a great risk to the skin and general health. Low-quality air has insufficient oxygen, which reduces the supply of oxygen to the skin and other parts of the body. When enough oxygen fails to reach the skin, it suffers and loses its glowing look to a dull one. A skin without enough oxygen loses it suppleness and has a rough and flaccid look. Pollution also make the skin to lose its essential nutrients such as vitamins E and C, resulting in inflammation and dehydration of the skin. There’s also an increase in the ageing process of the skin, dark spots may begin to appear causing an overall dull appearance of the skin.

The effect of pollution on the skin occur as a destructive cycle. When human activities such as manufacturing processes, fumes from vehicles exhaust and all other forms of pollution activities release pollutant into the atmosphere. Part of these pollutants are greenhouse gases, which attack the ozone layer that serves as a shield to prevent the dangerous UV rays from reaching the earth. The ozone layer then becomes depleted, allowing UV rays to reaching our skin and destroying it.

Part of these pollutant attacks the natural barrier of our skins, and over time due to prolonged exposure to attacks, the barrier becomes weak and give way for the pollution to affect our skin. Due to the effect of pollution to the ozone layer, and the increase in UV rays reaching the earth. Chemicals such as mono-nitrogen oxides react with UV light to produces toxic gas that harms our skin. These chain of activities due to pollution affects our skin and complexion directly and indirectly.

Effects of air pollution on our skin.

Some of the specific damages air pollution causes to our skin includes:

Aging. Skin aging is well known to be accelerated by UV light from the sun, stress and poor nutrition. There’s now a new focus on how the air quality determines how fast your skin age. The more often you get exposed to the polluted air in the environment, the faster your skin age. When pollution attacks your skin, the natural barrier tries to fight back and protect the skin from damages, but due to consistent attack the skin loses the strength of the barrier and is unable to resist attacks. It also loses its basic functions such as staying moisturized and flexible. The skin cells are destroyed causing the skin to age faster.

Dehydration. When pollutant attacks the skin and destroys the barrier, it gains access to the skin cells and tissues. The lipid layer tissue that is responsible for moisturizing the skin performs ineffectively, leading to the dryness of the skin. The intensified exposure of the skin to direct sunlight due to the depleted ozone layer by pollution also breaks down the skin function and results in conditions such as dehydration and sunburns. The oxidative stress caused by pollution can make the skin lose its glowing look and cause sensitivity, irritation, and dryness.

Inflammation.  Chronic inflammation is experienced when the skin is exposed to environmental stressors. The environmental stressors in this case are air pollutants. When air pollutants penetrate into the skin through the pores, they cause localized skin irritation. UV rays reacts with the pollutant’s molecules containing oxygen on the surface of the skin to create free radicals. The free radicals then begin a process called oxidation in order to become stable. Oxidation damages the skin cells which result in the inflammation of the skin tissues and other chronic conditions.

Acne. Conditions like acne are impossible to avoid if you stay in environment with low-quality air. Aside other factors that can trigger acne breakouts, such as stress, hormonal changes, or poor feeding. The air around you has a direct impact on how your skin looks. Pollutants in the atmosphere can distort the balance in elements present in the air such as; gases, dusts, temperature and humidity, and trigger reactions in your skin. Due to the fact that your akin is constantly in contact with the air, toxins around the air can clog your pores and cause acne breakouts.

Atopic dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis is an inflammatory skin disease that can be linked to various factors, including genetic, health conditions, and environmental factors. Air pollution has a significant role to play in increasing the risk of atopic dermatitis. Air pollutants such as vehicles fumes and cigarette smoke induce oxidative stress in the skin and result in dysfunction of the skin natural barrier. Cigarette smoke can aggravate the symptoms of atopic dermatitis in adults and make it difficult to treat.

Rosacea. Several measures are applied in addressing the various factors that cause rosacea flare-ups in skin. But with increased rate of pollution in our environment, rosacea seems to be a prominent condition. Rosacea is a serious inflammation condition that causes redness in the skin, especially on the face. Rosacea is triggered by pollution when particles enter and clog the pores resulting in inflammation. Radical damage on the surface of the skin due to pollution can also make the condition worse. People that are prone to rosacea should avoid sunlight to prevent free radical damage on the surface of their skin. Rosacea condition makes the skin thicker and red; it also gives it a flushed look.

Melasma. When air pollutants in form of particles pollution enter into the skin through the pores there’s a reaction that causes disorders in the skin. One of such is melasma a form of facial dyschromia. The darken patches, brown blotches around your forehead, cheeks and nose are signs of melasma. Sometimes, it is triggered by change in hormonal levels in women during pregnancy. Aside that, UV light from the sun is the main factor that causes melasma in the skin. However, pollution can aggravate melasma condition and assist sunlight in making melasma worse.

Wrinkles. Every day, our skins come in contact with pollutants in the air. And over time, pollution takes a visible toll on our complexion. The damage occurs when the toxic particles in the air destroys the skin’s natural barrier and breakdown collagen tissue in the skin, causing your skin to lose its suppleness and elasticity. Fine lines begin to appear around the mouth and in the forehead and the skin loses it glow. The effects of the toxic fumes coming out of vehicles in the streets, the cigarette smoke, and other forms of air pollution poses biological damage to our skin. Traffic pollution seems to be a prevalent source of pollution, it is a big threat to our glowing skin if you work and live in sch environment. The risks doubles for people that take public transport to work than those that drive in their cars to work. Those that take public transport are exposed to toxic air in various places they stop before getting to work. Their skins are subjected to wrinkles and fine lines if they fail to take preventive measures.

Pigmentation. Prolonged exposure of your skin to air pollution causes oxidative stress that might result in visible effects in form of pigmentation. The disorder in the coloring of your skin can be traced to the effect of pollution. Air pollutant cause free radical damage and chronic inflammation to occur on the surface of the skin resulting in hyperpigmentation and hypopigmentation. Due to the damages that occur on the surface of the skin, the cells responsible for giving the skin color begins to function abnormally, causing dark spots to appear on the skin.

Skin cancer. Of all the negative effects of pollution to the skin, skin cancer seems to be the most challenging. The urban environment is a hostile one and encourages skin cancer in larger population. Pollutants such as volatile organic compounds, ozone, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and ultraviolet rays from the sun are directly and indirectly responsible for cancer of the skin. The combination of chemical pollutant and the UV rays from the sun can make things worse. Polycyclic aromatics hydrocarbons for example are released by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels such as wood, coal, diesel, oil and gasoline. The toxic chemicals attack the DNA on the surface of the skin and increase the risk of cancer. The UV rays from the sunlight can cause oxidative stress that damages the skin cells and increase the risk of skin cancer.

The effect of air pollution on the skin are numerous and scary. The effects seem impossible to avoid. You’ve probably started to give up on your dreams of waking up to see your radiant skin through the mirror. There’s no need to worry. Now that you know the danger pollution can pose to your skin, you should be interested in ways to protect your skin and preserve its radiant glow.

How to protect your skin from air pollution.

Here are few tips on how to protect your skin from pollution.

Cleanse your skin. Most of the pollutant your skin come in contact with during the day’s activities are invisible to your eyes, but they are effective enough to block the pores and damage you skin. One main way to reduce the effect of pollution on your skin is to clean off the harmful pollutants deposited on your skin surface. The cleansing process should be practiced in the morning to prepare the skin surface for skin products. Then at night, to remove the makeup, sweat, grim and most especially the harmful pollution substances on your skin.

To cleanse your skin effectively, you need to do it the right way. As much as you want to remove the harmful substance from your face, you need to keep it in mind not to scrub your skin excessively. Excessive scrubbing can cause irritation and dryness of the skin, which can trigger acne and other skin conditions.

Here are few tips for effectively cleansing your skin.

Wet your face with warm (not hot) water

Apply a mild cleanser to your face with clean fingers (not a washcloth)

Rinse your face completely

And give it a pat dry with a clean towel.

Sometimes, some of the pollutants sticks so hard to the skin that the regular washing by hand doesn’t remove. In this case, exfoliating can help lifts off any pollutant left behind.

Use moisturizers. When pollutants come in contact with your skin, they attack the natural skin barrier and over time it becomes weak and begin to fail in its functions. One of the functions the skin barrier fails to perform effectively is regular hydration. The free radicals in the atmosphere also make the skin to lose its oxygen supply to the cells. But with a good moisturizer, you can keep your skin hydrated throughout the day, protect the skin from the effects of free radicals and help the damaged skin barrier to heal. You can always apply moisturizers after you might have given your skin a good cleansing. You should use fragrance-free moisturizers to prevent irritation and inflammation on your skin.

Stay hydrated. One of the common tips for maintaining a healthy skin is to stay hydrated. Dehydration generally result in poor skin health. It can cause he blockage of the skin pores and trigger acne breakouts and inflammation. In countering the effect of pollution on your skin, it is necessary to stay hydrates. Taking enough water everyday will help ease blood circulation and the supply of essential nutrient and oxygen to your skin to fight the effect of pollution on your skin. Staying hydrated will also allow the fast generation of skin cells in your skin. It will help improve the function of your skin and strengthen the skin’s natural barrier. To maintain a good skin health, you need to keep your skin hydrated regularly by drinking at least eight glasses of water daily.

Protect your skin from sunlight. Atmospheric pollution damages the ozone layer, and in turn the UV rays from the sun reaches our skin at an increased rate. The effect is the free radicals and overexposure of our skin to UV rays that causes wrinkles, dark spots and even cancer. It is therefore necessary to protect your skin from the harmful effect of the UV rays. You might not be able to stay indoors all day to protect yourself from the sunlight, but you can take preventive measure such as using sunscreen products. You should wear sunscreen products on your face and neck every time to protect your skin from the effect of UV radiation.

Sunscreen products that contains antioxidants are considered to be essential for everyone that cares about their skin. One way the UV rays causes damage to your skin is to induce oxidative stress in your skin which leads to wrinkling. Although our skin contains natural antioxidants present in them, they are however used up when the skin is exposed to UV and blue light present around us. Therefore, applying sunscreen products containing antioxidants can help strengthen your skin and protect it from the damages UV rays may cause.

Use Antioxidants. When pollutant gets in contact with the skin, its forms free radicals on the surface of the skin. These free radicals are unstable molecules that tamper with your skin cells in their attempts to stay stable, hence harming your skin. The process weakens your skin defense and destroys collagen which leads to skin conditions such as pigmentation, wrinkles and premature aging. To prevent this type of damages, you should use antioxidants. Antioxidants prevents the damage that free-radical can cause to your skin by donating an electron to neutralize and stabilize the unstable molecules. To protect the skin effectively, you should use antioxidants. Antioxidant can be used in both topical and oral forms.  Applying antioxidants to your skin surface after cleansing both in the morning and at night will help protect the skin from the effect of free radicals and also heal it from damages. Antioxidants can also be taken orally both in diet and as supplements.

Eat healthy diet. Good nutrition will help build your skin defense system and protect it from future attacks. We’re all aware that an unhealthy diet can result in bad skin, so to build a healthy skin, a healthy diet is required. With the aid of a regular healthy diet you can build your skin defense to resist pollution from the inside to reinforce the immune system of your skin and strengthen it. To achieve this, you should eat food that are rich in vitamins E, C and B. This will not only provide your skin with nutrient that will help protect it from pollution attacks, but it’ll also help the skin to heal in cases where it has been damaged by free radicals. Some of the fruits that are rich in these nutrients includes apples, orange, grape, avocado, lemon, beetroot, blueberries, vegetables and beans. These foods will help build your skin barrier even if its unable to undo all the damages caused by pollution.

Use supplements. You should take supplements also. To fight the effect of pollution on your skin effectively, supplement that are rich in essential nutrients should be used. A good dosage of vitamin C is essential in reversing ageing and strengthening the biological barrier. Aside antioxidants, some other form of supplements includes Adaptogens, superoxide dismutase and niacinamide. Niacinamide for example is taken orally in doses or applied directly to the surface of the skin to reduce the adverse effect of pollutants in the environment.

Superoxide Dismutase is takin orally to boost the skin antioxidant defense and protect it from various pollution attacks. However, the supplements and skin products should include soothing ingredients that neutralizes the damage atmospheric pollution might have causes and also strengthen the skin natural barrier to prevent future attacks.

Sleep well. The skin cells go through a natural process of repairs by night when the entire body is at rest. After your skin has gone through stress from various pollutants during the day, getting a sound sleep in the night can help it recover from the damage that occurred during the day. The skin will perform its natural cleansing routine and make your skin feel alive in the morning.  It is therefore necessary to take a good sleep to maintain a healthy skin.You should also exercise and practice relaxation techniquessuch as yoga to get your body to function properly.

Use air purifiers. It is impossible to keep the entire air in our environment pure. In other words, pollution cannot be totally eliminated our society in spite of government regulations in keeping pollution levels minimal, the air in our environment is still relatively unsafe. Though it sounds impossible to keep the air in the entire neighborhood clean, you can enjoy clean air in your privacy through the aid of purifiers. Pollution is everywhere, both indoor and outdoor. But with air purifiers at home you get to enjoy quality air for some period of time. You can also use air purifiers at your work space to increase the amount of time you spend enjoying quality air.

Stay conscious. Maintaining a radiant look is a conscious activity. You need to know the do’s and don’ts and follow all necessary principles. You need to consider the effect of your activities on your skin. You should always keep it in your mind that air pollution affects your skin at every second of the day. Both in urban areas and at the remote environments, air pollution is everywhere and you’re always been attacked. Being proactive and consciously reducing activities that will cause pollution to affect your skin will help you stay healthy and glowing for a long period of time. You should also reduce unnecessary outdoor activities especially on smoggy days. Unhealthy habit such as smoking should also be cut off.

You should also keep it in mind that skincare products and supplements should be used consistently and regularly to achieve maximum benefits. Never go outdoor without wearing a strong sunscreen for protection. And in the process of cleansing your skin, you shouldn’t over do it by making the skin lose it essential natural nutrients. One more important thing is that; you should pay regular visits to your dermatologist for skin care services and advice.

The threat from atmospheric pollution is serious and seems to be unending, but with the right attitude and practices, you get to maintain your radiant complexion for a long period of time.

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