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Living in the City: Air Pollution. Skin Damage. Skin Aging
Beauty & Style

Living in the City: Air Pollution. Skin Damage. Skin Aging

First published in Jeunessima Magazine 11

Those of you who live in the city probably know that city air is grubby. … You see the evidence each time you run a face wipe over your skin and see the grime that comes off.

New research from Proctor & Gamble shows that it is actually worse than we thought:

Not only is city air horribly dirty, but its chemical cocktail also ages us prematurely.

Air pollution ages the appearance of city-dwellers’ skin up to 10 percent more than for those people that live in rural areas.

Meanwhile, research from Estee Lauder indicates that women living in cities suffer 20% more hyperpigmentation (often called age spots, liver spots or melasma) than those living in the countryside … even though the rural women in the study received more sunlight.

So what is it about city air that is so damaging to our delicate skin?

There are 224 known pollutants found in city air, including heavy metals, carcinogens and toxic gases.

London, for instance, generally rates as having the highest levels in the world of nitrogen dioxide, while 9 UK cities frequently fail to have safe limits for airborne toxins.

a woman with skin damage leading to accelerated skin aging

We now know that pollution particles penetrate the skin and break up cells, destroying the keratin and vitamin E that protect the skin from moisture loss, damaging collagen and causing wrinkling, sagging skin and age spots … accelerated skin aging.

Because the particles of pollution so inflame and weaken our skin, the UV rays are even more damaging for city dwellers than they are to women who live in the countryside.

This explains why people in the city tend to suffer worse hyperpigmentation (a condition frequently associated with sun damage) than their country counterparts. The pollutants damage the melanocytes, the cells responsible for producing melanin pigment.

The effects of air pollution are so intense that 50% of the signs of skin aging are now estimated to be a result of air pollution, and city air is shown to be particularly bad for those with eczema or sensitive skin.

Skincare companies are acting on this research to try and find ways of blocking air pollution from penetrating the skin. In China, the situation is so bad that women buy stick on face masks to block out the chemical smog.

Meanwhile, what can you do, both to block and reverse the damage caused by air pollution?

How to Protect Your Skin from the Outside?

  • Apply a good zinc sunscreen every single day, including during winter. Avoid chemical sunscreens where possible as they contain hormone disruptors and allergens and are absorbed into the body
  • Creams that include Vitamin C, plant stem cells, superoxide dismutase (SOD), lavender, sandalwood, uva ursi, licorice root, amla berry and seabuckthorn berry oil are all reputed to have beneficial effects on repairing damaged skin
  • Clean, exfoliate and moisturize your skin regularly
  • Limit chlorine exposure and exercise regularly

Woman eating vegetables to avoid skin aging from air pollution

How to Avoid Skin Aging from the Inside?

  • Eat vitamin C-rich foods including broccoli, citrus fruits, bell peppers, dark leafy greens
  • Eat a moderate amount of protein and less processed and sugary foods
  • Get more zinc into your diet, through foods like oysters, beef, spinach and cashew nuts
  • Drink plenty of water, and anti-oxidant rich teas like dandelion root tea

If the damage has gone too far, you can also go for some more extreme treatments.

Procedures & Topics Creams for Those with More Skin Damage

  • Chemical peels
  • Laser treatments
  • Photodynamic therapy
  • 5-Fluorouracil or Aldara

While not all of us can (or want to) move to the countryside, make sure you escape the city as often as possible to soak up some fresh country air. Your skin (and very likely your soul) will thank you for it!

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