City dwelling comes with tons of benefits: convenience, accessibility, culture. But while your metropolitan lifestyle contributes much to your life, it might be taking a toll on your skin. Plainly put, city air is making you look older. The atmosphere around you is loaded with particulates—from car exhaust, cigarette smoke, and industrial pollution—that dermatologists now believe are major contributors to your skin’s extrinsic aging.
Wrinkles & Hyperpigmentation
While UV exposure and pollution are two radically different aging factors, they create the same effect in the skin—producing reactive oxygen species that break down the skin’s vital structures. Hydrocarbons and pollution nanoparticles that float around in the air are converted to quinones, chemicals that produce reactive oxygen species. These reactive oxygen species cause the same signs of aging seen in skin that’s constantly exposed to UV light: wrinkles, loss of tone, and hyperpigmentation.
In addition to causing wrinkles, quinones also oxidize squalene and vitamin E—two important lipids present in sebum. When these vital protective oils are compromised, skin is even more vulnerable to the effects of pollution.
Research suggests inflammatory skin issues like eczema and rosacea may be connected to pollution. Once the skin’s protective lipid barrier is compromised, pollution particles have a very irritating effect on the skin—activating inflammation responsible for eczema, acne, and rosacea. In addition to causing pesky red patches and constantly itchy skin, chronic inflammation can weaken collagen over time, leaving skin sagging and lined.
While cosmetic chemists are hard at work researching ingredients that counteract the effects of pollution in the same way SPF protects against photo aging, the best way to protect your skin is to wash it thoroughly when you get home. This helps rinse away some of the damaging particles clinging to your complexion. There is also some evidence that products that contain a high concentration of niacinamide (vitamin B3) can prevent skin pollution damage. To keep your skin protected, look out for formulas that reinforce the skin’s lipid barrier. Avoid harsh scrubs and reach for antioxidant-rich serums and creams that leave a layer of moisture on the surface of the skin.