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Is your city ageing you? Skin vs Air Pollutants

Updated: Oct 26, 2022

There's no doubt that smoke, dust, dirt and grime that clog up air can wreak havoc on your complexion, causing a whole host of unwelcome skin-related issues in its wake.

From premature ageing to increased skin sensitivity, urban pollutants are something we need to be taking seriously.

While it might not be possible to avoid pollution completely (unless you're planning on heading for the hills) there are certainly things we can do to help protect – and repair – our skin against nasty city toxins.

In order to fully understand exactly how environmental pollutants are affecting our skin, let's take a look at exactly what we're up against...


Air pollutants are any toxic gases or chemicals that are released into the atmosphere as a result of industrialisation. They can come in many different forms and sizes, with some being visible to the naked eye while others are microscopic.

Some of the most common urban pollutants include ozone gas, airborne particles such as dust and smoke, heavy metals and chemical by-products from manufacturing plants and cars.

The Environmental Protection Agency is listing as the main outdoor pollutants:

- nitrogen dioxide

- sulphur dioxide

- carbon monoxide

- particulate matter PM

Nitrogen oxide compounds interact with volatile organic compounds upon UV exposure and get activated to generate ground-level ozone. Particulate matter leads to oxidative stress and inflammation causing skin ageing and reducing lifespan, while Polyaromatic hydrocarbons PAHs found in cigarette smoke is linked to premature ageing.


So, what are the effects of pollution on our skin?

It's already been mentioned, but pollutants can accelerate the signs of ageing – we're talking wrinkles, fine lines, loss of firmness, inflammation and an uneven skin tone in both men and women.

Free radicals attack cells and damage DNA by stripping skin of moisture and oxygen as well as decreasing collagen production. Exposure of the skin to air pollutants has been also associated with inflammatory or allergic skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis and acne, while skin cancer is amongst the most serious effects.

But how can we fight against and protect our skin from free radicals?


Skin is our beautiful shield against the external environment, however being a porous organ extended exposure to the usual elements like sun, wind, bacteria but also toxic fumes and endocrine disruptors like paragons, pesticides, xenophobia-oestrogens,carcinogens and sulphites will ultimately lead to a systemic absorption and penetration through the layers of the skin.

Being a city dweller a lot can be done to naturally shield your skin from the ever-present pollution.

1. Antioxidant Protection

Antioxidants help to prevent and repair DNA damage to your body's tissue by slowing and preventing the effect of free radicals, which start oxidation in the body.

In 2020 a study funded by an American skin care company looking at human skin cells in the lab found that regularly applying a solution with vitamin C (l-ascorbic acid), vitamin E and Ferulic acid prevented pollution-induced damage.

Another small 2020 study by South Korean researchers found that people who used an antioxidant serum with vitamins C, E, and Ferulic acid twice a day for 2 weeks after laser treatments had a greater reduction in pollution-linked dark spots on the skin.

C20 by DVI Cosmeceuticals contains 20% l-ascorbic acid, 1% vitamin E and 0.5% Ferulic acid, which makes it a true free radical fighter and competitive anti-ageing serum.

Another powerful serum by DVI Cosmeceuticals rich in antioxidants is Illuminate. Illuminate is our superhero antioxidant and skin brightener with a high concentration of alpha arbutin, azelaic acid, vitamin C and glutathione. these powerful active ingredients successfully block tyrosinase activity and help lighten dark spots, sun damage and melasma.

2. Eat to defend against free radicals

Fight the city fumes by protecting yourself from within.

Having a nutrition rich antioxidant foods can help beat out pollution and recover. Some of the best-known dietary sources of antioxidants are vitamin C, vitamin E and carotenoids such as beta-carotene and lycopene. These are found in colourful fruit and vegetables of purple, blue, red, orange and yellow shades.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C protects the extracellular lining of the lungs exposed to oxidative stress and substances due to air pollutants.

There are easy ways to incorporate vitamin C rich foods into your diet. Fruit such as orange, kiwi, lemon, papaya, strawberries, pineapple and vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, capsicums and brussel sprouts are high in this vitamin.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E food sources include nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, and green leafy vegetables. Carotenoids

Carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, have antioxidant properties that assist with inflammation control and boost immune responses, preventing oxidative stress in the body brought on by air pollutants.

Lycopene, another antioxidant in carotenoids, further safeguards cells and our bodies against oxidative stress.

Red, orange and yellow fruit and vegetables are high in beta-carotene. These include sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, red and yellow bell peppers and dark green leafy vegetables. Foods high in lycopene include tomato, watermelon, papaya and red capsicums, which are available at supermarkets and grocery stores.

3. Probiotics and prebiotics

Pollution has been shown to affect the skin's microbiome, the bacteria and microorganisms that naturally live on the skin and contribute to skin health. Adding probiotics - a group of bacteria-containing foods that may help your gut microbiome, and prebiotics, which supply your existing bacteria with the fuel they need to flourish- to your daily routine in supplement form can also help.

4. Oxidative stress

Oxidative stress is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in your body and it is mainly triggered by an excess of free radicals in the body's cells. Oxidative stress can break down cell tissue and cause DNA damage.

Antioxidants neutralise free radicals by giving up some of their own electrons. You can talk to your doctor about your free radicals and antioxidants levels in your body to see if you should start supplementing antioxidants.

5. Avoid smoking

Smoking cigarettes can prematurely age your skin. Not only can you develop "smoker's lips" — fine lines around your mouth that develop from constant pursing — but nicotine in cigarette smoke can obstruct blood flow to your skin. Needless to say, even exposure to secondhand smoke can be detrimental to your skin.

6. Physical UV blockers

Last but not least apply sunscreen to your skin to create layers of protection on the top because it safeguards the skin from UV induced damage and also traps the smog particles and prevents these harmful chemicals penetrating deep in the skin. A mineral sunscreen (look for titanium dioxide or zinc oxide) with an SPF 30 or greater provides a physical barrier to both UV rays and pollutants.


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