With Mayor of London Sadiq Khan fighting a battle against London's air pollution crisis – in 2010, around 9,000 of the capital's residents were estimated to have died early because of the city's toxic atmosphere – it comes as no surprise that the beauty industry is looking to tackle the damage pollution does to our skin. With 'wellness' dominating our health narrative, and global warming at the forefront of political conversations, pollution-fighting skincare is now the focus of the industry's major players.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution is the "contamination of both indoor and outdoor environments by any chemical, physical or biological agent". With six million car journeys made in London every day, 2 million of which are as short as 2km, and including those delivering personal packages to 40% of people's offices, it's fair to say that pollution is a real issue in 2018. While this transport crisis has more obvious negative health effects, it's also taking its toll on our skin.
"We are all very suddenly waking up to the pollution that surrounds our lives, and accelerated ageing and pollution has finally been linked," says Georgie Cleeve, founder of multi-award-winning natural skincare brand, OSKIA. "Currently 92% of the world’s population live in places where air pollution levels exceed the limits set by the World Health Organization. In fact, London has already reached its yearly quota."
At the time of writing, Cult Beauty has 63 brands and 117 products available that claim pollution-fighting properties. "Pollution causes accelerated ageing, so they really go hand in hand," Cleeve explains of beauty's sudden fight against the issue. "For example, particulate matter (PM) below 2.2 microns actually penetrates through the skin’s pores and causes cellular damage such as pigmentation, fine lines, inflammation and sensitivity. The best anti-pollution ingredients also offer fantastic anti-ageing benefits as well, so it’s really a win-win scenario."
Unfortunately, it's not just PM that's a threat to our visage. According to Dr. Murad, board-certified dermatologist, associate clinical professor of medicine at UCLA and founder of Murad skincare, there are many aggressors damaging our skin. "UVA/UVB rays, infrared, high energy visible blue light and particulate matter are all strands of pollution," he explains. "Pollutants trigger the immune system to produce excessive melanin which causes pigmentation and skin darkening, inflammation and weakens skin barrier, causing lines and wrinkles. As a result, pollution is one of the major sources of concern for health and beauty."
This may all sound slightly frightening but, while there isn't a huge amount you can do about those six million daily car journeys, you can help to prevent pollution's damage to your skin. Luckily, the brands at the forefront of this research have done the hard work for you. "Our Ozone Defence Nutrify Serum is the ultimate oil-free, vitamin-rich serum to nourish and protect skin from ground-based ozone (O3) or air pollution," Previse's founder, Sean Patrick Harrington tells Refinery29. "Our potent, vegan serum complex is infused with vitamin B5 and hyaluronic acid help bind moisture to the skin to lock out airborne pollutants, and vitamins B3 and C help fight oxidative damage." Vitamin C is also a hero ingredient in the serum. "A powerhouse ingredient, vitamin C is shown to help reduce skin inflammation, irregular pigmentation, and promote healthy collagen production," Harrington explains. Plus, the smart pump uses vacuum technology to stop polluted oxygen getting into the product.
Sue Y. Nabi, founder of ORVEDA, focused on fighting pollution when developing her skincare brand, choosing specific ingredients for her products that would tackle the issue. "We put moringa seed peptide in our cleansers, and yeast extract in our Cleansing Bamboo & Enzymatic Water and Eye Make-Up Remover + Pro-Fortifying Lash Serum. We mix detoxifying ingredients with powerful expert tools like our konjac sponge and kabuki brush for a double-cleansing process that fights pollution." She recommends a daily double or triple cleanse as one of the best places to start. "Do this at night, every day, to remove daily pollution," she explains. "Plus, layer your skincare (a serum, a fluid and a daily moisturiser) to create layers of protection that will keep small particles on top of the skin and will protect from makeup penetration too.”
One of our favourite protective products comes from Murad, and includes an essential SPF 50. The brand's non-greasy City Skin Age Defence SPF 50 uses a potent antioxidant called lutein, which not only shields skin from your phone and laptop's blue light, but also from atmospheric pollutants like PM's heavy metals and chemicals. It also includes a "polymer matrix, a unique breathable ‘second skin’ that blocks the adhesion and penetration of environmental toxins. Iron oxides, that protect against infrared radiation and zinc oxide and titanium dioxide that protects against UVA and UVB rays without chemicals," Murad tells Refinery29.
No7's Early Defence Glow Activating Serum is a supercharged lit-from-within addition to your skincare regime. It strengthens skin's defences, meaning pollution has a bigger fight on its hands, and it tackles free radicals, too. Oskia's CityLife range also has an impressive offering. The brand's heroes are the Booster - which is clinically proven to protect against 98% of PM and up to 97.7% of free radicals activity - and the Mist. Rather than create a physical barrier to protect against PM, they group together the particles so they become too large to penetrate the pores. As brand founder Cleeve says, when environmental pollution is proving such a big threat, and the damage inevitable to our skin, "being just a cleanser or broad antioxidant product doesn’t really cut the mustard anymore." City dwellers and skincare obsessives: it's time to fight the dirt.