Anti-pollution skincare: beauty fact or fad?
Environmental pollution is a significant problem in many large cities around the world and anti-pollution skincare is the hot new trend coming out of Asia. But what it is and what does it mean for the beauty industry?
What is anti-pollution skincare?
This type of skincare includes products that prevent or rectify skin damage caused by pollution and tend to incorporate adequate levels of antioxidants, have a gentle cleansing action to remove grime, balance the natural oil levels of the skin, strengthen barrier function, provide good moisturising properties and normalise skin pH by ensuring the product’s pH level sits in the correct pH range for the skin.
The most effective, natural anti-pollution skincare products include oil-based cleansing products, balancing toners or tonics, mild cleansing products that can be applied frequently and when out and about, deep cleansing products that do not compromise the skin’s pH or dry it out, cleansing masques based on absorbent clays and products that can be applied when out in a polluted city.
Effects of pollution on the skin
Pollutants are very diverse, from some airborne components such as ozone or nitrogen dioxide to industrial residues such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon and nanoparticles, and the effect these pollutants can have on the skin depends on the daily environmental exposure, which varies from location to location and between individuals.
However, if you live in a large polluted city then it’s likely your skin is being exposed to pollution every day. A significant number of studies have examined the effects of this on the ageing process of the skin and found some alarming results:
- Ozone in photochemical smog appears to speed up skin ageing by depleting vitamin E levels in the skin, interfering with wound-healing processes and causing oxidative stress.
- Skin exposed to pollution-ridden areas experience a higher sebum secretion rate when compared to non-polluted areas.
- There is a tendency of the cutaneous pH to decrease when exposed to pollution. One study found a significantly higher amount of lactic acid in the skin in polluted areas compared to non-polluted ones.
- Squalene and vitamin E are the main antioxidants at the surface of the skin and squalene is decreased in polluted areas as this antioxidant is mobilised to combat oxidative stress in the skin. Low values of both these two antioxidants is normally associated with dry skin, which may be a side effect of pollution.
- Cholesterol in the skin is decreased when exposed to pollution.
Skin pollution research in China
Global studies have found even more skin problems in more polluted areas of the world and as a result, research is still ongoing into the skin’s deep layer reactions to pollutants. One particular study, undertaken in the summer of 2008, compared two different districts of Shanghai – 159 local residents and 79 subjects from Xu Jia Hui (a centre Shanghainese area), which was more exposed to pollution, and 80 subjects from Chong Ming, an agricultural region closely located north of Shanghai (100 kms) and less exposed to pollution, according to official data.
Researchers measured various skin parameters and feedback from the volunteers was collected through a questionnaire. The study demonstrated significant differences in several biochemical parameters measured in the rural Chong Ming area, compared to the urban Shanghai area, with an increased ratio of squalene/lipids – a lower level of lactic acid and a better cohesion of stratum corneum. Both the sebum excretion rate and sebum casual levels didn’t differ between the two districts and the volunteer’s feedback suggested a perceived link between pollution and skin problems.
Skin pollution research in Mexico
A similar clinical study was performed on 96 people in Mexico City (exposed to pollution) and 93 people in Cuernavaca (less exposed to pollution), with both biochemical and clinical skin parameters studied.
It demonstrated significant quantitative and qualitative modifications of parameters related to sebum excretion in Mexico City compared to Cuernavaca. The participants in Mexico City noticed an increased level of sebum excretion rate, a lower level of vitamin E and squalene in sebum, an increase of lactic acid and a higher erythematous index (redness) on the face of the subjects.
Lorraine Dallmeier is director of accredited online organic cosmetic science school Formula Botanica