Welcome to Byrdie UK's Wellness Week. Over the next seven days, you'll get to read about how to make your body, mind and, well, your life more balanced. We know it's not January, but wellness has become an all-year-round focus for many, and with autumn on the way (read: cold and flu season), now seems like a good time to talk about not just keeping well but boosting our wellness from all angles. From the best tech to improve your health to the small tweaks anyone can do to bring you more happiness, we've thought about everything you might want to factor a little more wellness into your life with ease. Here, we talk about the pollution crisis in 2017, how it's affecting your skin and how to treat it.
A lot of us are cure-over-cause thinkers, aren't we? I know I am. If I've got a spot, I care less about what put it there and more about getting rid of it—fast. The thing is, when it comes to skin, addressing the cause can save a lot of long-term bother. Which brings me to one major silent skin assassin: pollutant particles.
You can't see it and you can't feel it, so it's easy to forget that pollution is there. But your skin is bathing in the grimy stuff every day, and you better believe it's wreaking havoc. For London dwellers, the fact that our pollution levels have surpassed Beijing in 2017, should be food for thought. Thankfully while our biggest complexion woes, from acne breakouts to accelerated ageing, may be worsened by the dirty air, brands are finally seeking to stop it wreaking havoc.
Antipollution skincare is one of the biggest beauty buzz trends in the last year, and it’s hardly a wonder as recent studies highlight that its daily attacks on your face are getting worse. According to the World Health Organisation, dozens of UK cities—London, Liverpool and Glasgow included—are breaching the EU limits on pollution, with Oxford Street being the most polluted street in the world.
Why should anyone care, you ask? Here are six reasons you need to start fighting back against fumes. Keep scrolling to see pollution's biggest skin offences and how to soothe them.
Anyone who's ever had acne knows that there are plenty of potential causes, but grime flying around in the form of pollutant particles certainly doesn't help. "These particles are microscopic," says Justine Hextall, MD, a consultant dermatologist on behalf of The Harley Medical Group. "Frighteningly, they're 10 to 20 times smaller than the size of a pore."
Because they're so tiny, they're able to infiltrate the deeper layers of your skin, and this is where the damage starts, explains Hextall. "They create free radicals, which increase inflammation. When skin becomes inflamed and, in turn, dry, it often compensates by producing more sebum. This can clog pores, leaving skin greasy and more vulnerable to acne."
It's not all bad news, though. Clinique has just launched an antipollution scrub and mask that clear up pollution-induced acne on two smart counts. Not only does the blend of kaolin clay and scrubby silica beads act like a vacuum to sweep away and suck up grime, but the charcoal base—a well-known blemish buster—gets to work at clearing up spots. Apply it as a five-minute mask first until the clay turns blue; then rub it in with wet hands to activate the exfoliating action.
Now, the stats for this are kind of alarming. Cosmetic dermatologist Rachael Eckel, MD, explains that pollution also contributes to premature ageing of the skin.
She says: "German researchers evaluated 400 women in their 70s and 80s, and found that those who lived in areas with higher pollution had more age spots and an increase in deep wrinkles. Specifically more pronounced were their nasolabial folds–the lines that run from the nose to the mouth–which are the most accurate predictor of a subject's age."
This comes down to those free radicals again. Once they've infiltrated your pores, they move around like Pac-Man, eating away at collagen (also known as the ultra-crucial scaffolding that supports your skin). When you lose collagen, your contours lack firmness and can lead to wrinkles, sagging and dullness. That's why it's important to veil your face in antioxidants.
"A good antioxidant is a great place to start fighting the ageing effects of pollution, as it neutralises some of the free radical damage that weakens the skin," says skincare expert Debbie Thomas. "Antioxidants also help the skin to repair more effectively," she adds. For one that truly hydrates and protects, try Elizabeth Arden's City Smart product.
This hydrating shield, packed with SPF 50, wards off UV rays and free radicals, while bolstering the skin's barrier functions to lock out damaging dirty air. It has a universal tint that gives good glow to your skin, and counteracts the chalkiness that many sunscreens are prone to. Plus it feels wonderfully light.
I live for washing off my makeup at the end of the day. That, and binge-watching Stranger Things right now. But I know not everyone shares my enthusiasm for cleansing. So here's a case for lathering up sink-side before you go to bed: Sleeping with pollutant particles on your face can lead to "inflammation, barrier disruption and even disease exacerbation," says Eckel.
To remove the particles, she recommends an acid-based cleanser that sloughs away dead skin cells or a wash that incorporates lipids (like glycerin or mannitol) to preserve the barrier and top up moisture. You may also want to consider getting to grips with a beauty gadget. "Facial cleansing brushes are exceptional at unclogging pores by removing the particulate matter from pollution," explains Eckel.
Sonic cleansing has been proven to remove up to 30 times more PM than manual cleansing, and the Foreo Luna Play (£29) is a great gadget to get you started. At the more purse-friendly end of the cleansing brush spectrum, this cotton pad–size device effectively buffs away grime for up to 100 uses, so you can put techy cleansing through a good trial run.
You might wonder why experts say pollution bumps up dark spots. It doesn't cause them as such, but it does help the ghosts of summers' past find their way to the surface of your skin. "The sunbathing sins of our younger years crop up as we age because the skin becomes weaker," says Thomas. "And as PM accelerates ageing, the previously suppressed damage can manifest itself faster." As well as an antioxidant, smooth on a brightening serum daily, like Dr. Andrew Weil for Origins Mega-Bright Dark Spot Correcting Serum (£45). It plies pores with a kind of algae that inhibits melanin transfer, while plant extracts and salicylic acid gradually even tone.
That barrier disruption we mentioned? It's not good news for skin's moisture levels, as when the barrier is weak, it's less able to hold hydration in—or keep PM out. Combine that with the inflammation that comes from pores chugging all those fumes, and that could explain why your skin is both dehydrated and prone to excess oil. A hardy hydrator like Éminence Organic Rosehip & Lemongrass Repair Balm (£52) will help, as it provides intense relief to parched skin while reinforcing that barrier. Plus, it's enriched with a natural repair complex, an antioxidant cocktail of rose hip and rosemary that fends off environmental stressors.
It's not just cities where skin gets masked in layers of city grime. The "fresh" air we expect out of town is often polluted, too—though usually a little bit less so. That means, no matter where you live, protecting your pores against PM is a must, and topping up your shield throughout the day can have a big, positive impact.
Thankfully, there are now spray-on shields which make that easier to do. Try REN Flash Defence Anti-Pollution Mist (£24) for a top-up that won't disturb makeup. It's brimming with antioxidants to protect your pores from oxidative stress, plus a biosaccharid gum that forms a non-sticky barrier over your face. Oh, and it feels ultra-refreshing, too.
Want to bump up your protection? Take note of the best SPF lotions for your skin type.
Opening Image: Symphony of Silk