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We all know the many dangerous effects of pollution on our health, but what about our body’s largest organ, our skin? Living in a smoggy and polluted city can take a toll on our skin, so we spoke to Dr Shoshana Marmon, MD, PhD, assistant clinical professor at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, to find out how create a pollution protection plan for our skin.


First, it’s essential to understand exactly what pollution is and what harm it can do to your skin. ‘Exposing your skin to pollution and ultraviolet radiation stimulates the production of free radicals, which are unstable atoms with unpaired electrons. When these free radicals accumulate in your skin, they can cause serious damage to cells and DNA,’ Dr Marmon explains.

Developing a regular beauty routine is a must, so after a long day spent in pollution you can de-clog, cleanse and refresh your skin

Pollution has a range of direct and indirect effects on your skin, which can contribute to signs of skin ageing. ‘Exposure to particulate matter like car exhaust or cigarette smoke is directly irritating to the skin. Pollution also damages the ozone layer, which causes increased exposure to harmful ultraviolet solar radiation. Both effects accelerate the development of signs of skin ageing, such as wrinkles and pigmentary damage, as well as increase your risk of skin cancer,’ she says.


Developing a regular beauty routine is a must, so after a long day spent in pollution you can de-clog, cleanse and refresh your skin. Dr Marmon suggests adopting a multi-step routine: ‘Initially, use a cleansing cloth or make-up remover wipe to get that top layer of dirt, grime and make-up off. Next, massage in a fragrance-free non-irritating cleanser and pat dry. Put serums and creams on as soon as possible after cleansing to take advantage of the fact that skin is most receptive when it’s moist,’ says Dr Marmon.

The two most important things you can do to protect your skin from pollution are to use sunscreen daily and avoid smoking

Face masks are a great way to pamper and prep your skin, or try using a sensitive exfoliant or cleansing cream — high-quality versions can effortlessly clean, nourish and hydrate your skin. But life habits are a big part of skincare too. ‘The two most important things you can do to protect your skin from pollution are to use sunscreen daily and avoid smoking,’ says Dr Marmon. Be sure to use sunscreen even on cloudy days, and look for products with PA+++ (the highest protection level) so you can defend your skin against harmful rays. And don’t overlook your lips — it’s a common mistake, though they’re covered by some of the most delicate skin in the body. A lip balm with a high SPF factor will keep them luscious.


Antioxidants are also essential in the fight against pollution, as they protect the skin against damage caused by those pernicious free radicals. So as well as eating a diet rich in them, if you want the best skincare regimen you might need expand your beauty arsenal too. Dr Marmon recommends dermatologist-favourites nicotinamide, vitamin C and the current hot product, retinols. ‘Nicotinamide, derived from vitamin B3, has significant antioxidant properties and has been shown to decrease the development of skin cancer. Vitamin C helps to strengthen the skin by stimulating collagen production and inhibits the formation of dark spots from sun exposure. The small size of retinols or vitamin A derivatives allows them to penetrate deep into the skin to smooth fine lines, improve skin tone and even prevent acne.’

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