With London Mayor Sadiq Khan fighting an ongoing battle against the city's air-pollution crisis — in 2010 alone, official government reports estimated that around 9,000 of the capital's residents died prematurely due to its toxic atmosphere — it comes as no surprise that the beauty industry is looking to tackle the damage pollution does to our skin, too. With "wellness" dominating our health narrative, and climate change at the forefront of political conversations, pollution-fighting skin care is now the focus of the industry's major players.
As defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution is the "contamination of both indoor and outdoor environments by any chemical, physical, or biological agent." And while these environmental factors have very serious negative health effects, they're also taking a significant toll on the body's largest organ: our skin.
"We are all very suddenly waking up to the pollution that surrounds our lives, and accelerated aging and pollution have finally been linked," says Oskia founder Georgie Cleeve. "Currently, 92% of the world's population lives in places where air pollution levels exceed the limits set by the World Health Organization."
Right now, go-to retailer Cult Beauty has 63 brands and 117 products available that claim pollution-fighting properties — and that number is only growing, practically every day. "Pollution causes accelerated aging, so they really go hand in hand," Cleeve explains of beauty's all-hands battle against the issue. "For example, particulate matter (PM)" — as in, all the stuff that's floating through the air — "below 2.2 microns actually penetrates through the pores and causes cellular damage such as pigmentation, fine lines, inflammation, and sensitivity. The best anti-pollution ingredients also offer fantastic anti-aging benefits as well, so it’s really a win-win scenario."
Unfortunately, it's not just PM that's threatening our complexions. According to dermatologist Howard Murad, there are a number of aggressors damaging our skin at any given time. "UVA/UVB rays, infrared, high-energy visible blue light, and particulate matter are all strands of pollution," Dr. Murad explains. "Pollutants trigger the immune system to produce excessive melanin ,which causes pigmentation, skin darkening, and inflammation, and weakens the skin's barrier, causing lines and wrinkles. As a result, pollution is one of the major sources of concern for health and beauty."
Yes, it's all very frightening, but while you might not be able to undo all of the damage modern civilization has done to the planet, you can help prevent it from damaging your skin. Sean Patrick Harrington of Previse, one of the brands at the forefront of anti-pollution research, says that its oil-free, vitamin-rich Ozone Defense Nutrify Serum has been specifically formulated to protect skin from ground-based ozone and air pollution, thanks to a blend of moisture-binding hyaluronic acid to lock out airborne pollutants, vitamins B3 and C to fight oxidative damage, vitamin C to reduce inflammation, and smart-pump packaging that uses vacuum technology to stop polluted oxygen from getting into the product.
Orveda founder Sue Y. Nabi focused specifically on fighting pollution when developing her skin-care brand, choosing specific ingredients that would tackle the issue, like moringa-seed peptide and yeast extract. 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," Nabi says. "Plus, layer your skin care 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 favorite products for the job comes from Dr. Murad's eponymous brand, and also includes an essential SPF 50. The lightweight, non-greasy City Skin Age Defense 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 what Dr. Murad calls a "polymer matrix," a kind of unique, breathable "second skin" that blocks the adhesion and penetration of environmental oxides. You'll also find iron oxides — to protect against infrared radiation — and zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to protect against UVA and UVB rays without chemicals.
"Being just a cleanser or broad-antioxidant product doesn't really cut it anymore," Cleeve says, when environmental pollution is proving such a massive threat, and the damage to our skin is practically inevitable. She's created the Oskia CityLife range as a solution; rather than create a physical barrier, the products work to group together toxic particles so they become too large to penetrate the pores. City dwellers and skin-care obsessives alike: It's time to kick the dirt to the curb, and now you have the products you need to do it.