How pollution ages your skin — and what to do about it

Janet Zand OMD, LAc

June 24, 2022

Everyone knows that air pollution is bad for you. But did you know that it’s also a major cause of premature aging?

It’s true. Not only can it make your skin dry and erode its elasticity, but when it comes to age spots on the cheeks, air pollution may be the #1 contributor.

Here’s the story...

Most people think of air pollution as big clouds of black smoke pouring out of a factory, or maybe the smog blanketing over Los Angeles.

However, you usually can’t see air pollution. Not only that, it can also exist inside your home, coming from household products, cleaners, or even your stove.

And here’s something else many people don’t know: Air pollution can actually go deep into your skin.

Pollutants called particulate matter are small enough to penetrate into the deeper layers of skin, drying it out, dulling your complexion, and damaging elasticity. One study found that air pollution absorbed through the skin was found in similar levels to air pollution that was inhaled.

To make matters worse, another air pollutant -- nitrogen dioxide -- is a major cause of age spots. Researchers found that with just a small increase in nitrogen dioxide in the air, the age spots on subjects’ cheeks increased by a shocking 25%.

Fortunately, there’s something you can do about it...

What you can do

Here are some simple ways to lower your exposure to air pollution...

If you live in an urban area, it’s a good idea to check the Air Quality Index (AQI) in your city on a regular basis. You can also use a mobile app like IQAir's AirVisual, Air Care, or Breezometer, which will alert you when air pollution levels are high.

On those days, avoid exercising outdoors. You might also consider running an air purifier with a HEPA filter inside your home. This can filter both outdoor and indoor pollutants, such as exhaust emission particles. Bonus: you’ll filter out pollen, mold, spores and other allergens, too.

And whether you live in an urban area or not, try to avoid exercising near high-traffic areas. Even when air quality is good, the vehicles on busy highways can create high levels of localized pollution.

Of course, sometimes you can’t avoid air pollution. That’s why I also use a daily defense in my skincare routine: topical antioxidants.

Antioxidants help neutralize damaging free radicals. And studies show antioxidants can both prevent and even heal some environmental damage.

My top picks are Vitamins C and E, provided they’re packaged in a way that maintains stability. Resveratrol is another great antioxidant to include. (The serum I use contains all 3.)

When used daily, antioxidant serums are a great way to protect your skin.

Finally, you might also try drinking a cup of green tea to protect your skin.

Researchers are looking at the protective effects of green tea on 5 of the most common types of environmental toxins. We still need more studies, but in the meantime, a cup of green tea wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Plus, we already know it has other benefits, like reducing inflammation, stopping free radicals from forming, and protecting cells from damage.

So if tea is your thing, enjoy!

Give these tips a try, and let me know how it goes.

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