Dear Daniela: Should I Invest In Anti-Pollution Makeup?

photographed by Ana Larruy
Dear Daniela,
I live in central London so I’m exposed to a lot of pollution, and it’s beginning to become more and more of a concern for me as I move through my 20s. I’ve got (what I think is) a fairly good skincare routine in place, but I’m wondering now if I should invest in some 'pollution-proof' makeup, too? I’ve seen a few products online and on Instagram that claim to be 'anti-pollution' – are they worth the investment?
Sara, 28
Pollution is the new sugar. Four years ago, when I was working in my first job as a beauty writer, I attended more presentations, seminars and launches than I could count on why a Kit Kat was kryptonite to your skin. Slews of studies on glycation (which is a very real thing, by the way) landed on my desk, and I was asked to write countless articles on ways to cut the sugar in your diet, how to reverse the damage and why it was so scary in the first place. But now that most of us sweeten our coffee with agave and have swapped our 4pm Pret Love Bar for a handful of almonds, pollution is in the crosshairs. And just like sugar, try as you might to avoid it, you can never swerve it altogether.
Fears around pollution are not misplaced. The beauty industry as a whole is only just starting to understand the impact it has on the skin, from accelerating the ageing process to seemingly playing a role in acne formation. There’s also the fact that pollution particles are so mind-bogglingly tiny, they can lodge themselves deep down in the skin, and apparently cause inflammatory problems. Basically, there is buzz and confusion, and where there is buzz and confusion, a new product with apparently miraculous qualities – yours for the low, low price of £30 – manifests. It’s physics.
I asked Rowan Hall-Farrise, head trainer at QMS, for her take. I’d looked online and found a few makeup items that claimed to be 'anti-pollution', but further than the odd antioxidant squirrelled away halfway down the ingredients list, I couldn’t find much to substantiate the claims.
"Even if a product contains some anti-pollution ingredients, there isn’t much proof they’ll work as expected once blended together with everything else," Rowan cautioned. "For example, while every company is different, some brands will test the efficacy of the component parts of their product, but not necessarily the end result."
Essentially, even if you started off with a raw ingredient that makes mincemeat out of pollution, when it’s blended with pigment, emollients and silicones, there’s no guarantee it’ll perform the same. "Also, think about how tiny pollution particles are, and how deep into the skin ingredients need to get to counteract that damage. Do you really want your makeup going that far in?" Rowan added.
The other thing to remember here (I promise the science lesson will be over soon) is stability. Vitamin C is an amazing antioxidant with wonderful skincare benefits. It’s also about as stable as a first-day Love Island relationship when a new hottie enters the villa. It’s hard enough getting it into a serum or lotion and maintaining the efficacy, let alone putting it into a cosmetic product. Rowan and I were in agreement: "Skincare and makeup are probably best kept separate. I understand the appeal of multitasking products but in reality, the concentrations of the ingredients and the formulation mean that any pollution-proofing claims are going to be very flimsy."
It’s worth noting that the physical shield of makeup alone does provide some protection as a barrier (an effect likely akin to using tissue paper to plug a hole in the Hoover Dam), and if a foundation or base product was going to provide a more robust shield, it would need to 'bounce off' pollution in the same manner sunscreen does to UV rays. "Ideally, it would also intercept damage at a cellular level and activate your skin’s own natural defences," added Rowan.
In short? We’re not there yet.
Instead, I think you’re better off fine-tuning that skincare routine of yours. Get a good serum – QMS EpiGen Daily-Detox Serum, SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic or The Ordinary Resveratrol 3% + Ferulic 3% are all good shouts. "I’d advise against using a physical scrub," explained Rowan. "They could cause micro-tears in the skin which makes you more susceptible to pollution damage. That’s not to say exfoliation isn’t important though. The presence of dead skin cells won’t let your skin’s barrier function be particularly efficient." Try Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant or Pixi Glow Tonic.
Of course, if a foundation you love claims to be pollution-proofing, that’s great. Use it anyway. Just don’t let it be your only line of defence in this battle.
Good luck!
Got a question for our resident beauty columnist Daniela Morosini? No problem, qualm or dilemma is too big, small or niche. Email, including your name and age for a chance to have your question answered. All letters to ‘Dear Daniela’ become the property of Refinery29 and will be edited for length, clarity, and grammatical correctness.

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