What pollution Does To Our Skin

Pollution visibly takes a toll on the environment, and it can wreak havoc on our complexions too. Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself By Elizabeth Lee

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Pollution visibly takes a toll on the environment, and it can wreak havoc on our complexions too. Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself By Elizabeth Lee

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We wear a mask when it’s hazy, and religiously apply sunscreen before heading out, but what happens if we cannot see or smell the warning signs? “We all know pollution messes up our skin. But while a lot of studies focus on the damaging effects of UV rays, few highlight specific pollutants, and how they adversely affect us,” says Dr Geoff Genesky, Head of Kiehl’s Skincare Laboratory.

From unlikely culprits like the photocopy machine or dry cleaning, we could be exposing ourselves to irritants on a daily basis. Kiehl’s has identified five main pollutants – Particulate Matter, Oxides, VOCs, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons and Ozone (see sidebar) – and discovered the ways they affect skin.

To fight these damaging effects and help boost our skin’s radiance, Kiehl’s formulated the Turmeric & Cranberry Seed Energizing Radiance Masque, $49 (75 ml). With turmeric as the star ingredient, the wash-off mask gently exfoliates away sebum and impurities. Add cranberry seed to the equation and you have a power duo with antioxidant benefits that helps to brighten up complexions. “Even for those with sensitive skin, exfoliation can be beneficial. When used with the correct routine, it can help normalise and strengthen the skin barrier,” says Dr Genesky.

In fact, because of its natural, soothing ingredients, you can try your hand at doublemasking with the Kiehl’s Cilantro & Orange Extract Pollutant Defending Masque, $49 (75 ml). Leave-on masks need no introduction, but Dr Genesky says this overnight variant brings something new to the table.

“Besides hydration, we are looking to provide potent antioxidants in our formula that strengthen and replenish lipids and protein in skin,” explains Dr Genesky. The antioxidants are derived from bitter orange extract, known for its ability to protect skin from UV stress, stimulate the production of protein in skin and disrupt the oxidation of skin. Cilantro seed oil and vitamin E further nourish and strengthen skin against environmental aggressors.

Used in tandem or alone, these two masks are the perfect additions to an anti-pollution beauty routine. W

5 Main Pollutants

Particulate Matter: It penetrates and adheres itself to our stratum corneum, attracts toxic pollutants and damages the skin’s barrier.

Oxides: They reflect UV light, inducing free radical formation, and affect our skin’s formation of proteins and lipids.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): Commonly found indoors (from coffee machines, paint drying, etc), they induce water loss and increase our sensitivity to allergens.

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons: Very tiny molecules that can cause free radical formation and premature ageing, often created by incomplete combustions and derived from industry pollution (like clothing manufacturing).

Ozone: It rapidly depletes protective elements like vitamins C and E, causing an increase in pigmentation and in more serious cases, skin conditions like eczema.

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