These days, air pollution in Australia is almost the new sun damage – it’s now one of our skin’s worst enemies. With devastating bushfires, population growth and increased industrial and transport emissions, our air quality isn’t looking so good – so what does it mean for our skin?
“Australia is already one of the harshest countries in the world in terms of UV exposure,” says dermatologist Dr Natasha Cook, founder of Darlinghurst Dermatology.
“We are now adding to this damage through increasing levels of pollution, which I like to refer to as ‘pollution ageing’.
One of the biggest culprits is from car exhaust, power plants and forest fires, which emit tiny particles called respirable particulates, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) into the atmosphere,” added Elizabeth Fardon, Ultraceuticals’ director of global education.
What’s the worst of it? We don’t realise what kind of effect these chemicals have on our skin until the damage becomes apparent.” They pass through our skin, are highly irritating and once they penetrate the dermis, they exacerbate many pathways of inflammation. These can trigger melanocytes and stimulate overproduction of pigment, accelerating the process of unwanted age spots and uneven skin tone,” Fardon explains.
Other skin problems caused by pollution include redness, irritation, sensitivity, dullness and dehydration – all of which indicate that your skin is not doing well.” When your skin is in chronic inflammation mode, this stimulates the enzymes in our dermis to work overtime to try and repair the damage, which in turn disrupts our collagen production, leading to further wrinkles and sagging skin,” says Fardon.
Does anyone else feel like everything in this world is trying to mess up our skin? Because we can feel you. To combat these skin problems, Dr Cook says you need to use the right products to protect your skin.” “It’s all about what you do every day,” she says. Early intervention is prevention.”
“The first step is to get into the good habit of double cleansing, especially at night, when you are most exposed to pollutants,” says Fardon. While this may seem like an unnecessary step, it’s actually one of the most effective ways to thoroughly cleanse your skin, as dirt, grime and pollution can build up on the surface of your skin throughout the day.
Never heard of double cleansing? Just like it sounds, it involves washing your face twice before the other skin care steps. Your first step should be to use a cleansing oil (which will tackle make-up, dirt and grime) rather than a regular gel, foam or cream cleanser (for a deeper cleanse).
Just be careful not to overdo it. One of the number one mistakes, says Dr Cook, is over-cleansing with harsh cleansers.” This strips away your skin’s barrier layer, reducing its effectiveness and increasing your susceptibility to irritation, inflammation, ageing and environmental damage. Our advice? Avoid harsh cleansers and scrubs and stick to gentle formulas. We like Ultraceuticals Ultra Brightening Foaming Cleanser and Sisley Paris Radiance Foaming Cream.
Use effective antioxidants
If you’re not using antioxidants in your skin care routine, your skin may be missing out.” Vitamins C and E work in tandem to defuse free radical attackers and help maintain a healthy and strong barrier function – the first line of defence against harmful environmental aggressors,” says Fardon.
Niacinamide (also known as vitamin B3) is another multifunctional ingredient that will help strengthen the skin’s barrier function.” Exposure to these airborne pollutants can lead to accelerated ageing and dullness – so niacinamide works like a preventative measure to alleviate current skin problems,” says Fardon.
According to Dr. Cook, the benefits of niacinamide are impressive.” [Niacinamide] is supported by original pioneering Australian research [which showed] that when applied topically it protects the skin’s immune system, protects and repairs DNA, reduces inflammation and strengthens the skin’s barrier layer, therefore enhancing the skin’s natural protection.”
Before looking for any old serum with antioxidants, Dr Cook says to make sure you choose the right active ingredient and the right concentration.” Products that have vitamin C and vitamin B3 are great, but how many of them are there? Are you wasting your time?” Dr Cooke says.” She advises, “Vitamin C should be 10% and above, and vitamin B should be 5% and above.
Remember to use sunscreen
While we all know that sun protection is vital to prevent skin damage, you may not know that it also protects your skin from pollution. Sun protection is still very important,” says Dr Cook, who recommends using a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 and above every day.
Sunscreen not only creates a barrier to block harmful UV rays, but it also traps pollutants (such as smoke particles) and prevents these harmful chemicals from penetrating deep into the skin.” Not applying adequate SPF protection can weaken the barrier function over time, making your skin an easier target for those pollutants!” Fardon explains.
Looking for a new SPF? Some of our favourites include La Roche-Posay Anthelios XL Ultra-Light Tinted Fluid SPF 50+ and Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Face and Body Sunscreen Stick SPF 50.