There is so much talk about pollution and skincare, but how much do you actually know about the effects of smoke, fumes and blue light on the skin? We asked Dr Des Fernandes, founder of local skincare brand Environ, some of our most pressing questions.
When we think of pollution, images of rubbish in the ocean or smoke from fires and cigarettes come to mind, but what else do we consider “pollution”?
You are absolutely correct, most people associate pollution with visible pollutants. Dust storms, volcanic eruptions, forest fires, cigarette smoke and building demolition are all easy to see, but there are a host of others that are not visible at all: radon ionising radiation from the ground, UV, visible, especially blue light and infra-red light, free radicals, toxic nitrogen, sulphur or iron-based molecules, or even ingredients used in sunscreens and cosmetics e.g. TiO2 from sunscreens. TiO2 is safe in a cream but when degraded and dried TiOs can be dangerous for lungs. Don’t forget that even viruses, water droplets laden with viruses, bacteria or fungi are also potential pollution.
We know that pollution is bad for one’s overall health, but is there any scientific evidence that shows it has a negative effect specifically on the skin?
I think that today we are all getting the chance to experience ourselves the effects of air-pollution: When you wear a mask you almost certainly magnify the effects of air pollution in the space between the mask and your skin. There is increased moisture which aggravates the situation and so as doctors we are seeing more irritant problems on the skin under a mask. Peri-oral dermatitis with sensitive skin around the mouth, small infected spots or rampant acne have occurred. Red blotches on the skin that settle when a mask is not worn. It’s not simply from the mask but also from the pollutants trapped in the air inside the mask.
Is everyone at risk of the effects of pollution, or only those who live in the city?
“Pollution” is a broad term and is dependent on what type you are talking about. When it comes to UV, blue light, Infra-red light, ionising irradiation etc, everyone gets it but of course our behaviour/activities will change the degree (to which it affects our skin) e.g. how much time is spent on the computer. People sitting in front of a computer in the countryside should consider boosting their antioxidant levels in their skin every hour or two.
When we consider particulate pollution (soot, car fumes etc) then of course it’s less when one lives in a non-industrialised area, but one still gets a lesser degree of pollution. City dwellers have to also consider how much motor traffic they are exposed to, industrial pollution, nearby petroleum refineries. The more pollution one is exposed to, the more one needs measures to counteract pollution. Probably replenishing one’s antioxidant status of the skin frequently and then also cleansing well at the end of the day and using anti-pollution products.
Is there a link between skincare conditions like eczema, acne or psoriasis and exposure to pollution?
Psoriasis is an inherited problem that occurs in about 10% of people. It can be aggravated by many different causes and I believe atmospheric pollution can exacerbate psoriasis.
Pollution has definite effects on eczema and acne which are different in that they are responses to rather localised causes and are very dependent on local changes on the surface of the skin. Particulate pollution can aggravate acne and also impair the barrier function of the skin and thereby induce sensitivities and eczemas. We see this as I have pointed out in the rise of acne and sensitivities, peri-oral dermatitis and eczema in the areas covered by masks.
Which ingredients can one apply to the skin to counteract the effects of pollution?
Virtually all pollutants end up causing free radicals so antioxidants have to be a major component in counteracting pollution. Vitamin E and C are the major antioxidants of the skin and they must be increased, as well as supplying as many other antioxidants as possible. Highly concentrated plant extracts of flavonoids, polyphenols etc. are also especially valuable. We also need to boost the integrity of the stratum corneum (horny outer-layer of the skin) and vitamin A is the most powerful to do that. We can use the “breathable shield” of Pollustop to enhance the barrier function and also use hydrating chemicals such as jojoba and shea butter.
I believe we should also boost our natural biome to make sure that our bacterial defence of our skin is optimal. Actibiome is a great ingredient. At the same time one wants to keep sebum as healthy as possible and Acnecidol plays a great role. I also like to reduce the effects of blue light pollution on the skin because we know free radicals generate the conditions that lead to the formation of pigment blemishes and blue light seems to potentiate these blemishes. Niacinamide, besides being a great antioxidant, is also specifically a blue light blocker, as is Inula Helenium extract. Finally one wants to remove particulate pollutants and in this regard Japanese Ubami Oak ash is particularly useful and can be potentiated with Kaolin. As you see one needs to identify various pollutants and then specifically inactivate them.
Are there any practical lifestyle choices one can make to minimise the effects of pollution the skin?
One important point we should all remember: We have to enjoy living as much as possible and then recognise that we will be exposed to all the various atmospheric pollutants. That way we can counteract the pollutants. The dangers of avoiding pollutants and hiding in a sealed room are significant. Many people try to avoid sunlight for example and they pay by developing a low vitamin status and consequently being prone to infections (e.g. virus infections as we see today) as well as the development of cancers, bone problems etc. I think the sensible and practical lifestyle choice should be to enjoy life and use science to determine the best protective skin-care strategy.
– Dr. Des Fernandes, Environ Skin Care Founder and Scientific Director.
Environ has recently launches two new products to help counteract the harmful effects of pollution:
Focus Care Comfort+ Anti-Pollution Spritz (R520.00)
This lightweight, invisible, breathable shield offers complete protection with a scientifically perfected blend of Anti-Pollution ingredients and high potency antioxidants to help counteract the harmful effects of pollution.
Focus Care Comfort+ Anti-Pollution Masque (R515.00)
Experience the purifying effects of Environ’s new multi-functional charcoal masque, formulated with Japanese charcoal and special botanicals to help absorb pollutant impurities, normalise and hydrate the appearance of skin, leaving it feeling revitalised and smooth.
Learn more about this impressive duo here.