How to protect your skin from pollution

Article by Simply You


How to protect your skin from pollution
We know about detoxing our bodies and deep cleansing our hair, but what about our skin? Beauty editor Elise Wilson finds out how to protect it from pollution.

When we hear the word detox, our minds often jump to green smoothies, raw food and bootcamps. The ‘clean-living’ craze certainly isn’t going anywhere fast, but if detoxing our bodies wasn’t enough, the notion now extends to our skin, too. It’s likely you’ve looked in the mirror at some point and been confronted by a dull, sallow complexion staring back, but have you ever thought pollution was the culprit? Now, along with sun exposure and fighting free radicals, pollution is a minefield for our skin.

Is city living the culprit?

Well, yes and no, says Auckland-based Ashleigh Scott, skincare expert and founder of The Facialist by Ashleigh Scott. “There are some cities in the world where pollution is a real problem, particularly India, China and Russia,” she says.

“The effect this has on the skin includes premature ageing, hyperpigmentation, blackheads and dull, dry complexions.” And unfortunately we’re not exempt here in New Zealand.

It’s reported that people living in urban areas are more exposed to pollution, but Dr Dendy Engelman, consulting dermatologist at Elizabeth Arden, warns everyone should be aware of pollution issues and take action to protect their skin, regardless of where they live.

“The harmful effects of the environment are directly related to skin dryness, dullness, clogged pores, inflammation and often at times allergic reactions,” she says. “Otherwise known as ‘particulate matter’, pollution levels are present in the air and are caused by environmental factors as well as pollution from vehicles and industrial outputs,” she adds.

While not as profound as UV exposure, the main suspect when it comes to brown spots and fine lines, pollution is still a threat to our skin when it comes to premature ageing and hyperpigmentation.

“Many of my patients are aware of damage from the sun but they often don’t realise the effect that pollution can have on their skin,” says Dr Engelman.

Pollution is made up of nanoparticles, the most harmful components of particulate matter that can be up to 20 times smaller than human pores and the main culprits of inhibiting that morning glow. “This, in turn, allows them to easily penetrate the skin’s surface if it’s not protected or its natural barrier is compromised,” says Dr Engelman.

When it comes to our skin, it acts as a wall to protect and regulate, letting the good in and keeping the bad out. “Disruption of the skin barrier leads to transepidermal water loss,” says Dr Kenneth Wong, specialist dermatologist for The Skin Institute. “This results in skin that is excessively dry and more permeable to micro organisms, irritants and pollutants.”

Top up your antioxidants

ATZEN Purify Calm and Clear Cleansing Gel, $58. Clarins Multi-Active Antioxidant Day Lotion SPF15 $79. Decléor Hydra Floral Anti-Pollution Hydrating Fluid, $115. REN Invisible Pores Detox Mask, $40. Antipodes Manuka Honey Skin-Brightening Eye Cream, $65.

ATZEN Purify Calm and Clear Cleansing Gel, $58. Clarins Multi-Active Antioxidant Day Lotion SPF15 $79. Decléor Hydra Floral Anti-Pollution Hydrating Fluid, $115. REN Invisible Pores Detox Mask, $40. Antipodes Manuka Honey Skin-Brightening Eye Cream, $65.


To put it simply, our skin is like a cluster of building blocks that, over time, get weakened by deteriorating collagen, water loss and free radicals. A rusting nail or the browning skin of a banana both have something in common with the discolouration, wrinkles and fine lines of our ageing skin: oxidation.

“In our skin’s case, oxidation is mostly caused by the creation of free radicals at the cellular level when skin is exposed to ultraviolet light,” says Scott. She says the answer is to apply high doses of antioxidants to your skin every day. The reason behind this is simple — antioxidants counteract the natural oxidation (ageing) process, which is why they have taken top billing in skincare products.

“Our bodies have their own natural antioxidants but, as we age, our stores of them dwindle, meaning we can’t cope with or eliminate toxins such as free radicals the way we used to,” says Tania McKenzie, appearance medicine nurse at The Skin Institute.

Beauty tip: Pomegranates are another superfood hero. An excellent source of the antioxidant vitamin C, just one pomegranate can provide about 40 per cent of the daily requirement of this vitamin.

“As we get older, we need to support our cells with topical antioxidants, to replenish our stores, enabling us to continue fighting internal and external free radicals.”

When it comes to knowing what to apply and when, McKenzie suggests ingredients such as vitamins A, C, E, B3 and green tea. “Vitamin A’s derivatives [retinols] not only act as antioxidants but can induce the biosynthesis of collagen and elastic fibres in our skin.” As a staple in your skincare regime, a vitamin A product should be applied at night and in the right formulation for your skin.

“It can be irritating in high doses which can cause inflammation,” says McKenzie. “So remember you need enough to replenish your skin cells, but you don’t need a surplus of it.” Try introducing this ingredient into your regime slowly to reduce any irritation and build up your skin’s tolerance.

“Vitamins B3 (niacinamide), C and E are all natural antioxidants. “Because of their low molecular weight, they can penetrate the skin even deeper when applied topically in a serum or a cream,” says McKenzie. “And, interestingly, you can’t produce collagen, the structural protein that makes your skin look smooth and plump, without vitamin C.” After a thorough cleanse, apply your vitamin C serum in the mornings, underneath your moisturiser and sunscreen.

Cosmedix Affirm Antioxidant Firming Serum, $115. Malin+Goetz Detox Face Mask, $66. Ultraceuticals Ultra C23+ Firming Concentrate, $159. SkinMedica Retinol Complex 1.0, $157.

Cosmedix Affirm Antioxidant Firming Serum, $115. Malin+Goetz Detox Face Mask, $66. Ultraceuticals Ultra C23+ Firming Concentrate, $159. SkinMedica Retinol Complex 1.0, $157.


Beauty from the inside

The word ‘detox’ now covers what we’re putting into our body and on it — no longer is beauty only skin deep. Detox diets are intended to cleanse the body of toxins and waste products that accumulate from the air we breathe, the chemicals we use and the foods we eat. But do they work for our skin, too?

“Absolutely,” says Scott. “I am a believer in treating the skin from the inside out as well as the outside in. Having a diet rich in antioxidants will significantly help with the skin’s ageing process and how the skin repairs itself.” Like Scott, Dr Wong advocates a two pronged approach of eating high levels of antioxidants as well as applying them topically.

“A concurrent approach to skin detoxification is always recommended, as the appearance of your skin is usually a response to your internal state of wellness and other factors associated with your external environment,” he says.



Environ Youth EssentiA Antioxidant Defence Crème, $221. Société Clinical Skincare Triple C Vitamin Therapy Serum, $207. Trilogy Rosehip Oil Antioxidant+, $43. Blackmores Vitality Super Greens + Nature Boost Antioxidant, $25. The Body Shop Pomegranate Firming Serum, $63. Pure Inventions Pomegranate & Acai Berry Dietary Supplement, $59. Imedeen Classic Skincare Tablets, $119. Bestow Be Cleansed Natural Detox Powder, $57. Miss Vitality Resveratrol Tablets, $60. Osmosis DIM Dietary Supplement, (60 caps) $59.


As our skin is the last organ to benefit from anything taken internally, skin-specific supplements work well and can easily be taken every day in either a tablet or powder form.

The burning question is how long we should detox for. “I believe we should be protecting and treating our skin all year round,” says Scott. “However, when it comes to our face and body, doing regular dietary detoxes will help to intensify the results of the work you do year-round with skincare.”

Take the next step

You can now download the Plume Air Report app to make it easier to check pollution levels wherever you are in the world. “Pollution levels are constantly changing so even if it doesn’t seem like you have a high pollution level right now, it can change drastically from day to day so it is important to make sure you are protected at all times,” says Dr Engleman.

Beauty tip: “While sunscreen can be used to scatter, reflect or absorb UV radiation before it causes toxic free radical formation in the skin, on its own it cannot protect against all free radicals — including those resulting from pollution,” says Dr Engelman. “This makes City Smart an important part of your daily skincare routine, regardless of your age, gender, or skintone.” Prevage City Smart SPF50 Hydrating Shield, $110.