Are Anti-Pollution Products Really Necessary?

SkinPollutionEmbedIllustrated by Anna Sudit.
Pollution's effects on the skin have been a popular topic of discussion in the beauty world lately. We touched on it briefly about a month ago, and since then we've noticed an influx of products on the market aimed at protecting you from the city grime that's purportedly wreaking havoc on your outer layer.
Estée Lauder recently introduced the collection Enlightened, which "helps to break the cycle of daily assaults." Orico London will release a new cleanser in October, as part of their Streetwise line, that's formulated to "deep-cleanse and restore city-exposed skin." And, Tata Harper will launch a purifying cleanser later this month that, according to Harper herself, is a response to "age-accelerating pollution."
What they're referring to aren't just the particles and UV rays we commonly hear about, but also what dermatologist Elizabeth Tanzi, MD, says is known as ozone pollution. Ground-level ozone is a mix of sunlight and chemicals emitted by sources like cars and plants. Its dangerous molecules can speed up the skin's aging process.
"The gases stick to your skin and break down what we call the barrier function of the skin — the waxy portion that keeps the moisture in," Dr. Tanzi says. "They break down certain proteins and lipids, which leads to inflammation. [That] leads to the breakdown of collagen — which [causes] skin sensitivity." It's a snowball effect that, over time, can cause serious damage. So, you should make sure to protect yourself from the elements.
If you don't live in a crowded city, you may not think this applies to you. But, according to Dr. Tanzi, urban dwellers aren't the only ones who should be heeding this call. There are a lot of highly polluted areas in the U.S. that you wouldn't think are, she says. "It's not just the places with factories and obvious soot," she says.
That's where these new anti-pollution products come into play. However, we're still not entirely convinced about them. According to Debra Luftman, MD, a dermatologist and member of the Simple Advisory Board, many of them are just clever marketing. "There's no such thing as anti-pollution ingredients per se," she says.
But, just because these products are smartly marketed doesn't mean there isn't some benefit to them. They still contain ingredients that protect your largest organ from environmental threats. And, keep in mind that you don't necessarily have to buy products specifically labeled as anti-pollution in order to reap their rewards.
Both Dr. Tanzi and Dr. Luftman list antioxidants like vitamin C, resveratrol, and vitamin E as beneficial. When it comes to improving already damaged skin, Dr. Luftman says the prescription topical cream Renova is the only FDA-approved ingredient that can help to rejuvenate it. Renova contains a vitamin A derivative, tretinoin, which is believed to improve the skin's internal structure by increasing collagen production.
At the end of the day, the pollutants we encounter daily are unavoidable — but that doesn't mean we shouldn't take care of ourselves. Dr. Tanzi recommends using a Clarisonic, or another hand-held cleansing brush, at least a couple of times a week to help remove the "microscopic soot that lives under the skin." And, Dr. Luftman says using wipes — especially at night — helps get most of the culprits off. Most importantly, always use a broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect from UV rays.

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