How poor air quality can damage your skin — and 7 ways to protect it

Skincare experts warn that poor air quality can damage skin cells, break down collagen, and spur premature skin aging. They shared seven tips for protecting and ridding skin of harsh pollutants.
Skincare experts warn that poor air quality can damage skin cells, break down collagen, and spur premature skin aging. They shared seven tips for protecting and ridding skin of harsh pollutants.

They stole our thunder.

New research from the global cosmetics company Clarins finds that Maine, New Hampshire and Nebraska have the best air quality for skin health, a rating that takes into account the number of good air quality days and exposure to fine-particle pollutants.

New York placed ninth in the US, while Utah, California and Georgia are in dire straits. (Check the air quality where you live here.)

Skin-care experts warn that poor air quality can damage skin cells, break down collagen and spur premature skin aging. tugolukof – stock.adobe.com
Skin-care experts warn that poor air quality can damage skin cells, break down collagen and spur premature skin aging. tugolukof – stock.adobe.com

Rupesh Shah, founder of the London Lip Clinic, said toxins — such as nitrogen dioxide belched from vehicles and sulfur dioxide emitted from power plants and other industrial facilities — can penetrate the skin barrier and generate free radicals, leading to oxidative stress.

Shah warns that this process may damage skin cells, break down collagen and spur premature skin aging, resulting in wrinkles, fine lines and a loss of skin elasticity.

To help you save face, Shah and other skin-care experts shared seven tips with The Post for protecting and ridding skin of harsh pollutants.

“If you live in a state with low air quality, you’ll want to create an anti-pollution skin-care routine focused on creating a protective barrier on the skin’s surface whilst also detoxifying the skin,” Marla Ibrahim, US national education director and skin expert at Clarins, told The Post.

Remove impurities through cleansing

“The sun and pollution can dehydrate your skin, so using a cleanser with hydration power is essential,” Ibrahim said. “Choose one that effectively removes pollution, dirt and makeup while also being gentle enough to preserve your skin’s natural barrier.”

Dr. Emma Cunningham, an aesthetic doctor and founder of Dr Emma Clinics in the UK, recommends CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser.

It contains hyaluronic acid, which has been shown to keep skin hydrated and soften the appearance of wrinkles, and ceramides, which help the skin retain moisture and protect it from environmental pollutants.

Make sure to not sleep in your makeup — it’s vital to wash your face before hitting the sack for the night.

A hydrating facial mist can maintain skin hydration, provide refreshment and soothe irritation. triocean – stock.adobe.com
A hydrating facial mist can maintain skin hydration, provide refreshment and soothe irritation. triocean – stock.adobe.com

Keep a hydrating facial mist on hand

“Spritzing your face periodically throughout the day with [a hydrating] mist can effectively maintain skin hydration, provide refreshment and soothe irritation,” Ibrahim said.

Cunningham is fond of La Roche-Posay Thermal Spring Water for its “minerals and trace elements that help calm and refresh the skin.”

Prioritize anti-oxidants

Ibrahim advises using serums or moisturizers rich in vitamins C, E and A to help reduce damage to your skin’s barrier and shield it from toxins.

Cunningham suggests the anti-oxidant serum SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic since it boasts “vitamin C, vitamin E and ferulic acid, which work together to neutralize free radicals, brighten the complexion and improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.”

Don’t forget the sunscreen

“Hydrating your skin helps to support your skin barrier, and using a moisturizer with SPF and anti-pollution properties can go a long way in reinforcing protection against nasty pollutants and sun damage,” Ibrahim said.

She noted that sunscreen needs to be reapplied throughout the day, especially in locations where UV levels are high, so it’s best to carry a travel-size bottle.

Choose a face mask that removes impurities. Pixel-Shot – stock.adobe.com
Choose a face mask that removes impurities. Pixel-Shot – stock.adobe.com

Use a detox face mask once a week

“Since skin irritation and clogged pores are common signs of poor air quality, choosing a mask that removes impurities while also treating the skin can be highly beneficial,” Ibrahim explained.

Focus on hydration

Prioritize hydration to ensure your skin remains moisturized from within, Ibrahim counsels. Harvard Health recommends consuming at least four to six cups (about 30 to 50 ounces) of plain water each day.

Consider getting a chemical peel

Shah advises getting two or three chemical peels each year to improve skin tone and texture.

“Choosing not to exfoliate often leads to a buildup of dead skin cells,” Shah told The Post. “This, along with exposure to the likes of pollution, can lead to the skin looking dull, and even gray in tone.”

At Emma Wedgwood Aesthetics in London, Wedgwood performs an Obagi Blue Radiance Peel — a blue-tinted solution containing salicylic, glycolic and lactic acids is applied to the skin to exfoliate it to ease the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, uneven skin tone and acne.

She also recommends microneedling to stimulate the skin’s natural healing response and a series of Fraxel laser treatments to treat aging and sun-damaged skin.