All The Sneaky Ways Living In A City Is Ruining Your Skin

Illustrated by Alex Marino.
There are a lot of perks to living in a big city: You don't have to go far for some great shopping, you have endless restaurants to choose from, and there’s always something to do. But these benefits come at a price — and we don’t mean the sky-high rent. Thanks to other city-related elements — pollution, stress, and even tap water (seriously) — urban living can really wear on your skin, causing premature aging, breakouts, and everything in between.

Since running around in a hazmat suit might not be the most practical option, we turned to dermatologist Howard Sobel and cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson to offer some more feasible options for protecting your skin. It's actually as simple as following the proper steps and choosing the right ingredients, like those in Elizabeth Arden's City Smart line. Now, about that rent — we can't help you with that one.
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Illustrated by Alex Marino.
Cleanse — & Then Cleanse Again
Big cities aren't exactly places you want to breathe in deeply — and neither does your skin, so to speak. Nanoparticles in the air from soot and smoke are 20 times smaller than your pores, says Dr. Sobel. "That allows them to infiltrate the epidermis and cause inflammation and dehydration," he explains. Short of confining yourself to the indoors, double up on cleansing each night by using two different formulas, one that is oil-based and another that's water-based. You can also use a facial cleansing brush for a more thorough scrub.
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Illustrated by Alex Marino.
Exfoliate On The Reg
Environmental pollutants damage healthy skin cells, which can lead to buildup and interfere with the skin's natural renewal process. One easy solution: Get rid of those impaired cells. Chemical exfoliants like glycolic acid dissolve dead skin cells to unearth the fresh, properly functioning ones underneath — resulting in brighter, smoother skin. Dr. Sobel suggests using a toner or peel pads containing glycolic acid after you cleanse at night.
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Illustrated by Alex Marino.
Play Matchmaker
You don't need a ton of exposure to the elements to see their lasting effects. Even a quick jaunt to the subway exposes your skin to a free-radical fest (which can interrupt collagen production, destroy elastin, and slow cell turnover), leading to dullness and fine lines. The good news: Sunscreen keeps most free radicals at bay, while antioxidants neutralize those that do manage to sneak in. Every morning, slather on Elizabeth Arden PREVAGE City Smart Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Hydrating Shield, which pairs the two skin-care essentials for maximum protection.
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Illustrated by Alex Marino.
Be Wise & Moisturize
Studies show that ozone can deplete the skin of lipids. These crucial molecules are basically plastic wrap for your skin in that they seal in moisture and maintain your protective barrier. Without these lipids, your skin becomes especially vulnerable to pollutants, says Dr. Sobel, leading to dryness and irritation. Seek out a moisturizer that contains hyaluronic acid — which can hold up to 1,000 times its own weight in water — to help your skin stay hydrated.
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Illustrated by Alex Marino.
Remember Retinol
Unlike nanoparticles, which are physical particles, air pollutants are gaseous — think smog and car exhaust. These damage your skin by depriving it of oxygen, a move that can slow both cell function and collagen production. This makes retinol — a derivative of vitamin A that, conveniently enough, boosts cell turnover and collagen synthesis — a non-negotiable. Plus, “retinol can increase blood flow to the skin, giving [you] a rosy glow,” notes Dr. Sobel.
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Illustrated by Alex Marino.
Watch Out For Your Water
Pollution can be so bad in some urban areas that it actually contaminates tap water, lacing it with heavy metals like copper, nickel, and zinc. While it’s usually still safe to drink, says Dr. Sobel, these metals are high-density, meaning they can hang out in skin tissue and potentially cause breakouts, redness, and irritation. Counteract the effects with products containing chelating ingredients like rice protein, which can bind to and remove the heavy metals trapped in your skin, says Dr. Sobel.
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Illustrated by Alex Marino.
Take Down Oil
Work hard, play hard: That’s the usual M.O. in big, fast-paced cities. But a rough week at work can show on your skin in the form of pesky breakouts. “When you’re tense, your body releases stress hormones like cortisol,” says Dr. Sobel. “They increase oil production and make you more prone to pimples.” Prevent those effects with salicylic acid (in either a cleanser or a spot treatment), which clears out excess sebum and keeps pores from clogging up.
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Illustrated by Alex Marino.
Double Down On Antioxidants
And you thought hibernating in front of the TV was safe. Indoor pollutants from heaters, stoves, fireplaces, and smoke can be just as bad as outdoor pollution. And in a cramped apartment, you’re basically swimming in them. To protect your skin, apply an antioxidant serum before bed. While a vitamin C base is essential, Robinson says mixing it with other antioxidants can have synergistic effects. He recommends formulas that pair it with nutrients like vitamin E, ferulic acid, or green tea.