Summer used to feel so pure. Picnic dinners, ice cream every night, and campfires by the beach. But in 2023, things look a little different. Sorry to bring (back) up the bad news, but climate change isn’t just the catalyst for our apocalyptic Instagram posts. Thanks to the early summer’s troubling AQI (Air Quality Index), we’re all scrambling for our masks once again. And our skin doesn’t like it either. Apologies to be the bearer of bad news, but as things worsen, many of us are seeking anti-pollution skincare to help combat side effects like premature signs of wrinkles, dark spots, and yes—so much more.
With these distressing details, it’s no wonder anti-pollution skincare is having a moment. As more brands declare themselves “anti-pollutant” and many buzzy beauty products claim to protect the skin from “chemical stressors,” you may wonder: what does any of that mean? Our skin gets exposed to many potentially harmful chemicals, toxins, and irritants every time we step outside. From the sun’s ultraviolet rays to man-made chemicals, our skin is faced with an onslaught of harmful agents all the time. For answers on the best anti-pollution skincare, we went to the experts.
Featured image from by Riley Reed.
Anti-Pollution Skincare: What an Esthetician Wants You to Know
Now that it’s summer, most of us are spending as much time as we can outdoors. Though it comes with benefits (vitamin D! serotonin!), our outside time can bring on hidden side effects as well. Just as we slather on our sunscreen before stepping outside, we need to become more mindful of our anti-pollution skincare rituals.
Anti-pollution skincare addresses oxidative stress with antioxidants and other free-radical fighting ingredients. Ingredients that target pollution can come with a range of abilities. Some actively fight pollutants, some reverse current signs of damage, and some help strengthen your skin barrier to prevent further damage. An ideal anti-pollution skincare routine would accomplish all of these functions.
To determine what to look for in anti-pollution skincare, I spoke to Erica Choi, Superegg founder and Licensed Esthetician. Below, she breaks down how pollution can affect the skin and shares the best anti-pollution skincare tips available. Read on for your ultimate anti-pollution skincare kit.
What is pollution?
Pollution refers to harmful substances entering the environment. While higher pollution levels are often found in big cities due to their population densities and industrial activities, pollution exists in various environments. It is not limited to urban areas and can be influenced by factors such as industrial emissions, vehicle traffic, agricultural practices, and natural phenomena. Therefore, pollution is a concern that can affect different regions and is not just confined to big cities.
How does pollution affect your skin?
Pollution affects the skin in multiple ways. It contains free radicals that harm skin cells and accelerate the breakdown of collagen and elastin, leading to premature aging signs like wrinkles, skin discoloration, and loss of elasticity. Some pollutants stimulate melanin production, causing dark spots and uneven skin tone. Pollution can also clog pores and contribute to the development of skin imperfections.
Additionally, pollution weakens the skin’s protective barrier, making it easier for harmful substances to enter. This penetration causes irritation, redness, and increased sensitivity. Over time, chronic inflammation disrupts the skin barrier, resulting in dryness, eczema, and acne.
How to Protect Your Skin From Pollution
Wear SPF every day. UV rays from the sun can intensify the harmful effects of pollution on the skin. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 daily to shield your skin from UV radiation and pollution. Reapply often.
Cleanse effectively. It’s crucial to cleanse your skin at the end of the day to remove pollutants, dirt, and impurities that accumulate on the skin. Choose a gentle cleanser like our Gentle Elements Cleansing Foam, which effectively removes debris without stripping the skin of its natural oils.
Use antioxidant-rich skincare. Antioxidants play a crucial role in defending the skin against the harmful effects of pollution. Incorporate skincare products with antioxidants into your routine.
Moisturize and strengthen the skin barrier. Keeping the skin hydrated and maintaining a healthy skin barrier is essential for resilience against pollutants. Use a moisturizer to nourish and strengthen your barrier, which will help defend itself against harmful substances.
The Best Anti-Pollution Ingredients
I wholeheartedly embrace the potency of antioxidants! These ingredients are essential for counteracting free radicals and diminishing oxidative stress, resulting in a radiant and resilient complexion. I particularly adore the benefits of vitamins C, B, and E, as well as green tea extract (with a special mention to EGCG), astaxanthin, snow mushroom, and various ferments. These ingredients work together to defend against environmental damage, ensuring skin remains nourished and protected.
Potent antioxidants to look for in anti-pollution skin care include:
- Vitamin C
- Retinol (vitamin A)
- Vitamin E
- CoenzymeQ10 (CoQ10)
- Ferulic Acid
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At a glance: A pre-, pro-, and post-biotic cleanser that gently lifts away impurities and pollution to protect and repair your skin barrier.
Key Ingredients: Apple Amino Acids, Hyaluronic Acid, Lactic Acid, Prebiotics, Probiotics, Postbiotics
At a glance: A barrier-protecting cleanser to balance skin and soothe irritation or breakouts.
Key Ingredients: Lecithin, MicroSilver BG™
At a glance: A do-it-all facial spray that soothes irritated skin and has the National Eczema Association’s Seal of Acceptance.
Key Ingredients: Hypochlorous Acid
At a glance: A daily powder exfoliant that fights pollutants and detoxifies skin.
Key Ingredients: Fruit Enzymes, AHAs, Activated Charcoal, Niacinamide, Red Algae, Tara Fruit Extract
At a glance: A revitalizing and protective serum that harnesses the power of antioxidants and other nourishing ingredients to shield your skin and brighten your complexion.
Key Ingredients: Vitamins B, C, E, F, K, Niacinamide, Licorice Root, Sea Moss, Hyaluronic Acid, Tremella Mushroom
At a glance: A reparative serum that fades dark spots and soothes irritation.
Key Ingredients: Niacinamide, Vitamin C, Amber Algae, Papaya and Pineapple Enzymes
At a glance: A lightweight serum packed with antioxidants to shield against outdoor pollution and blue light.
Key Ingredients: Hyaluronic Acid, Vitamins A, C, E, Cocoa Seeds, Exopolysaccharide
At a glance: An exfoliating and nourishing overnight serum to build your barrier and detox your skin.
Key Ingredients: AHAs, Phytic acid, Fruit enzymes, Spirulina, Seaweed
At a glance: A makeup-artist-approved moisturizer nicknamed the “a push-up bra in a jar” for instantly revitalizing your skin.
Key Ingredients: Peptides, Rosehip Oil, Rose Water, Aloe Vera, Vitamins A, C, and E
At a glance: Formulated with ingredients from the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, this detoxing mask provides a natural glow.
Key Ingredients: Blue Lagoon Microalgae, Blue Lagoon Silica
At a glance: This SPF creates a shield for your skin to protect against the sun and pollution.
Key Ingredients: Vitamin A, E and Aloe
At a glance: A setting spray-meets-mist that protects skin from every angle.
Key Ingredients: Marine Actives, Tara Extract
At a glance: Lightweight bronzing drops that double as an anti-pollution serum.
Key Ingredients: Cocoa Extract, Peptides