Polluted water and air in Rio have harmful effects on the skin and the hair. (Photo: Getty Images)
Carbon monoxide. Nitrogen dioxide. Cigarette smoke. Minuscule metal particles — too tiny for the eye to see.
These and other noxious substances clog the air in just about every city around the world, and they can do a serious number on the skin and hair. Particularly when they’re at their zenith in highly polluted cities like Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
In Rio, particulate matter — reportedly the most dangerous form of air pollutant emanating from cars, trucks, and buses — is far higher than the limits set by the World Health Organization. Air pollution isn’t the only problem there: The city’s water is also filthy, teeming with sewage and industrial waste.
While air and water pollution have serious long-term effects on the skin and hair, anyone currently in Rio — athletes, tourists, and residents alike — is also bound to feel a difference in both.
Yahoo Beauty spoke to experts to get the lowdown.
Air pollution can very quickly make the skin appear dull and saggy, New York-based dermatologist Debra Jaliman, MD, tells Yahoo Beauty.
Pollution — particularly in a city like Rio — adds to the number of free radicals in the air, strips off the skin’s protective layer, and increases metalloproteinase, a process that results in collagen degradation and causes the skin to lose its elasticity.
And because pollution destroys the skin’s protective barrier, the skin can become more prone, in the long term, to acne, eczema, skin darkening, and other more serious conditions, including skin cancer, Jaliman says.
What to do:
“Treat air pollution as you would UV rays,” Jaliman says. “Wear sunscreen so that your skin is well protected, and wear protective clothing to minimize the damage caused by air pollution.”
Samantha Wright, a senior aesthetician at Dangene: The Institute of Skinovation in New York, advocates eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and upping the ante on these when in a highly polluted place like Rio.
“You want to eat lots of foods that are antioxidant-rich to guard against the free radicals, which in pollution have that aging effect on the skin,” Wright says.
She also recommends using a bubbly cleanser to restore the skin’s pH, a gentle exfoliator to remove the top layer of grime that pollution layers onto the skin, and hydrating the skin with an antioxidant serum. But her No. 1 recommendation to counter pollution is to drink plenty of water.
In addition to hydrating the skin, “water filters everything out of your system, it flushes out all the bacteria you come into contact with,” Wright says.
In Rio, though, it goes without saying that consuming bottled water is paramount. “In fact, I’d say do everything with bottled water, including washing your face,” she says.
Water that is rife with harmful chemicals — either the byproduct of industrial waste or added in for purification purposes — ends up becoming hard. This weakens the hair, causing split ends and fragile roots. Polluted water also strips the hair of moisture and exposes the cuticle, making it dry and brittle, limp, and frizzy.
Washing in this kind of water will inevitably cause the hair texture to change, even in a short period of time, says Rod Anker, founder of the Rod Anker Salons in New Delhi, one of the world’s most polluted cities. “Curly hair may lose curl and straight hair may get a bend or curl, depending from person to person,” he says.
What to do:
To counter the effects of pollution on the hair, Anker says it’s important to ensure that the scalp is cleansed properly and that the hair cuticles are closed after every shampoo.
“Using a deep-cleansing shampoo every second day helps to reduce long-term chemical buildup, though the downside is that it can cause color fading,” Anker says. “Always use conditioner, a leave-in conditioner, and/or a serum to keep the cuticle closed so it’s harder for damage to occur.”
He also urges his clients to rinse their hair with purified, bottled water after shampooing and conditioning. This last step, of course, is a must for anyone in Rio.