How pollution is affecting your skin

Anti-pollution skincare

With pollution at an all-time high, a new breed of skincare has landed to fight the fumes. Amanda Pauley investigates how salons can treat this modern-day ager.

It's fair to say that as the largest organ in our body, our skin goes through a lot, but applying a sunscreen (combined with a good skincare routine) is no longer enough to keep it in tip-top condition. Although protecting ourselves from UV rays has long been a big focus for the skincare industry, the sinister effects of pollution on the skin have come to the fore and it’s not surprising.

Just look at the UK’s track record. We’ve been breaching EU pollution limits consistently for the past six years and London broke its annual air pollution limit for this year just five days into 2017. But that’s not all. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cities such as Port Talbot, Glasgow, Scunthorpe, Nottingham, Southampton and Oxford are all breaking its air pollution guidelines.

So, how is the beauty industry reacting to this modern-day problem? “We know the sun is the number-one most harmful aggressor to the skin but the second most harmful is free radicals from pollution. We as an industry need to make sure we’re educating our clients because the damage to the skin is incredible,” says Fiona Brackenbury, education director for skincare brand Decléor.

The pollution problem

Known as the “hidden ager”, exposure to pollution can cause wrinkles and loss of elasticity due to reduced collagen production and also increase pigmentation and the appearance of dark spots and uneven skin tone.

“When urban pollution comes into contact with skin, it doesn’t just sit on the surface,” says Kirsti Shuba, co-founder of British skincare brand Katherine Daniels Cosmetics. “The tiny particles infiltrate the deeper layers of the epidermis, causing not only inflammation and dehydration, but a cellular-level reaction that leads to the breakdown of collagen and the lipid layer in the skin, which impairs the skin barrier functions.”

It also damages the protective hydrolipidic film that covers the skin’s surface and defends against bad bacteria from sweat, sebum and water. “Particles from pollution adhere to the hydrolipidic film and damage it,” explains Brackenbury. “It takes eight hours for your skin to repair itself once the hydrolipidic film has been damaged, so clients need to be using products with ingredients that will act as a shield to prevent this.”

Many professional brands have launched specific formulas to target the issue, including Phytomer’s City Life Face and Eye Contour Sorbet Cream, which is made up of a trio of marine sugars, blue micro algae and red algae to regenerate cells, increase microcirculation and neutralise the effects of free radicals; and Katherine Daniels’ Urban Shield Concentrate, which contains hyaluronic acid and mushroom extract to calm skin exposed to the elements, aid moisture levels and create that much-needed shield.

Anti-pollution

Battling the smog

But therapists also need to be using anti-pollution products in treatment, looking for those that are packed with antioxidants such as “cranberry, pomegranate seed oil and raspberry seed oil because these fight the free radicals that cause damage to the skin,” says Christina Salcedas, head of education at pro brand Aromatherapy Associates. “You also need to hammer home the message of living well and make sure your clients are eating properly because your skin reflects what’s going on inside.”

Other than asking city-goers to try to avoid rush-hour traffic and smoking, there’s not much clients can do to minimise their exposure to pollutants – except investing in the right skincare. “Pollution is a part of the modern world we can’t avoid, but protecting our skin is something we have a great deal of control over, so advise your clients to invest in anti-pollution products,” explains Jean- Christophe Samyn, director of Caudalie UK.

And this regime should include both protection and preventative measures, as Megan Manco, scientific lead for skincare brand SkinCeuticals, explains: “We know that even the best broad-spectrum sunscreen may only block up to 55% of damaging free radicals. Efficient antioxidants neutralise free radicals and strengthen the skin’s defence against environmental aggressors, allowing skin to self-repair.”

The blue light problem

But there’s another issue that’s also gaining attention: the news that High Energy Visible (HEV) light, known as blue light, emitted from electronic devices such as computers, mobiles and tablets can age the skin because most people – be it for work or personal use – spend a large chunk of time staring at a screen.

According to market research company eMarketer, UK adults spent an average of two hours and 29 minutes per day on their mobile or tablet last year. But, what exactly is blue light and how can salons and spas help clients protect themselves against it?

“Blue light is a very short wavelength that produces a high amount of energy. It falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between UV and infrared (sun and heat),” says Annette Close, general manager at KMS, distributor of skincare brand Phytomer. “The effect of this light is still being investigated but current blue light studies are showing that, over time, exposure to this part of the light spectrum could cause serious long-term photodamage to otherwise healthy skin.”

The air force

“Until now, very little focus has been placed on the damaging effects that technology has on our skin, particularly the lights emitted from our computers and mobiles,” says Deborah Mitchell, chief executive of Heaven Skincare. “But these lights...are putting our skin under more pressure than ever.”

Samyn says that a 2014 blue light study by a team from University Hospital of Nice in France, discovered “it produces more hyperpigmentation than UVB and is more damaging than UVA and UVB combined because it penetrates down to the bottom of the dermis, affecting the production of collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid.”

Meanwhile, Dr Howard Murad, founder of eponymous brand Murad, quotes a different study by Unilever, which showed that four eight-hour days on your computer is the equivalent of 20 minutes in the midday sun, “so with that blue light damage you’re getting a dose of noon-time sun even if you never go outside,” he says.

“The long-term effects of any radiation are similar because you’re damaging the collagen below the surface of the skin, so you’re more likely to have wrinkles and pigmentation. Whenever we damage our skin, one of the ways our body fights it is by producing more melanin to protect itself.”

Pollution damage

Tackling "office face"

For therapists, the best way to help clients deal with this modern-day ager is to prescribe something that will make an immediate change along with something that will give protection from future damage – as Murad says, “the notion of treat, repair, protect”.

“A good SPF is a great place to start, especially if you’re using devices outside, as it will shield the skin and maintain hydration levels while protecting the production of elastin and collagen,” explains Shuba.

“In salon, a treatment that has repairing elements will flood the skin with hydration and plump fine lines and wrinkles, while protecting from future damage. You should also give advice on lifestyle choices, such as to turn down the brightness on devices or to cover screens with a blue light filter,” she adds. Shuba also says it’s worth recommending clients limit their time on their phone; for example, not using it after 9pm.

Toxic avengers

Skeyndor has developed a Protective Cream SPF 50+ which helps block the damaging rays with its patented blue light technology, while Murad has launched City Skin Age Defence SPF 50, which comprises a 100% mineral sunscreen, potent antioxidant and environmental protection technology to create a barrier to shield skin from pollutants and blue light.

And we will see even more products launch soon, including a range from British skincare brand Elemis next year, which will protect skin from HEV, UVA and UVB.

“HEV light has the ability to penetrate the entire depth of the skin, and is known to cause oxidative stress which can lead to DNA damage and breakdown of collagen and elastin,” says Noella Gabriel, co-founder of Elemis. “The demand for anti-pollution skincare has never been so high.” 

Watch our video – two of the biggest skincare issues for 2017