3 steps to protect your skin from air pollution

How To Protect Your Skin From Air Pollution

Expert tips on how to safeguard your skin

Beauty Crew Beauty Writer / January 23 2020

These days it seems like Australia’s air pollution is almost becoming the new sun damage – it’s now up there as one of our skin’s top enemies. With the devastating bushfires, increased population growth, and industrial and transport emissions, our air quality isn’t looking so great – so what does it mean for our skin?

“Australia already has one of the harshest conditions in the world when it comes to UV exposure,” says Dr Natasha Cook, dermatologist and founder of Darlinghurst Dermatology

“We are now adding to that damage with increasing levels of pollution, contributing to a term I like to refer to as ‘pollu-ageing’.”

Ultraceuticals Global Education Director, Elizabeth Fardon adds, “One of the biggest culprits is from car exhaust fumes, power plants and forest fires, which discharge microscopic particle matter into the atmosphere called PMs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).”

The worst part? We don’t realise what kind of effect these chemicals are having on our skin until the damage becomes visible. “They pass through our skin, they’re highly irritating and once they penetrate the dermal layers, they aggravate many pathways of inflammation. These can trigger melanocytes which stimulate an overproduction of pigment, speeding up the process to unwanted age spots and uneven skin tone,” explains Fardon.

Other skin concerns caused by pollution include redness, irritation, sensitivity, dullness and dehydration – all signs your skin is not having a good time. “When your skin is in chronic inflammation mode, this stimulates enzymes in our dermis that work overtime to try and repair the damage and in return this can break down our collagen production, leading to further wrinkling and skin laxity,” says Fardon.

Anyone else feel like everything in this world just wants to mess up our skin? Because we feel you. In order to counteract these skin concerns, Dr Cook says you need to be using the right products in order to safeguard your skin. “It’s all about what you do on a daily basis,” she says. “Early intervention is prevention.”

To make sure your skin care routine is in check, here’s what you can do to minimise the effects of pollution on your skin.


Double Cleanse

“One of the first steps is to develop good habits around a double cleanse, particularly at night when you’ve had the most exposure to pollutants,” says Fardon. While it may seem like an unnecessary step, it’s actually one of the most effective ways to thoroughly cleanse your skin from dirt, grime, and pollution, which can build up on the surface of your skin throughout the day.

Never heard of double cleansing? Just as it sounds, it involves washing your face twice, before moving on to your other skin care steps. Instead of using your normal cleanser twice, your first step should involve using a cleansing oil (this will tackle makeup, dirt and grime), followed by a regular gel, foam or cream cleanser (for a deeper cleanse). 

Just be careful that you don’t go overboard. Dr Cook says one of the number one mistakes is over-cleansing with harsh cleansers. “This strips down the barrier layer of your skin, reducing its effectiveness and increases your susceptibility to irritation, inflammation, ageing and environmental damage.” Our advice? Avoid harsh cleansers and scrubs, and stick to gentle formulas. We like Ultraceuticals Ultra Brightening Foaming Cleanser and Sisley Paris Radiance Foaming Cream.


Use potent antioxidants

If you’re not using antioxidants in your skin care routine, your skin could be missing out. “Vitamin C and E work in synergy to defuse the free radical attackers and help maintain a healthy strong barrier function – the first line of defence against the harmful environmental aggressors,” says Fardon.

Niacinamide (also known as vitamin B3) is another versatile ingredient that will help strengthen the skin’s barrier function. “Exposure to these airborne pollutants can lead to accelerated ageing and dullness – so niacinamide works as much as a preventative measure as it is does to relieve current skin concerns,” says Fardon.

According to Dr Cook, the benefits of niacinamide are impressive. “[Niacinamide is] backed by original pioneering Australia research [which shows] that when applied topically it protects the skin’s immune system, protects and repairs DNA, reduces inflammation and strengthens the skin barrier layer, therefore enhancing your skin’s natural protection.”

Before looking for any old serum with antioxidants, Dr Cook says to make sure you’re choosing the right active ingredients in the right concentrations. “It’s all good having products with vitamin C and vitamin B3, but how much is in there? Are you wasting your time?” says Dr Cook. “Vitamin C should be 10 per cent and above, vitamin B should be 5 per cent and above,” she advises. 

Try: Dr Natasha Cook Cosmeceuticals Concentrated Illuminator or Paula’s Choice 10% Niacinamide Booster.


Remember to wear SPF

While we all know that sun protection is essential for preventing skin damage, you might not know that it can also guard your skin from the effects of pollution. “Sun protection is still VERY important,” says Dr Cook, who recommends wearing SPF 30 and above on the daily. 

Sunscreen not only creates a barrier from harmful UV rays, but it also traps pollutants (like smog particles) and prevents these harmful chemicals from penetrating deep in the skin. “Not wearing enough SPF protection will over time weaken the barrier function, making your skin a much easier target for those pollutant nasties!” explains Fardon.

Looking for a new SPF? Some of our faves include La Roche-Posay Anthelios XL Ultra-Light Tinted Fluid SPF 50+ and Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Face and Body Sunscreen Stick SPF 50.

If you want more skin care tips, check out five ways to revive dull, tired-looking skin

What kind of products do you use to help protect your skin from pollution? Share your favourite anti-pollution skin care products with us in the comment section below.

Main image credit: Getty

Erin Docherty is a Beauty Writer for BEAUTYcrew, Beauty Editor for Women's Health magazine and a Grooming Writer for Men's Health magazine. She has a keen interest in cosmeceutical skin care and is currently working on minimising her 9-step skin care routine – because ain’t nobody got time for that. When she’s not writing about the latest beauty news, or applying copious amounts of serum, you can find her spending all her money in Sephora.