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by Alexandra Nicole Nuralam

Do Anti-Pollution Products Work? Here’s An Expert’s Take

Image via @cdy.lately

You might have noticed various beauty products with the “anti-pollution” label popping up over the years, from skincare to makeup. It has been said that pollution can wreak havoc on our complexions — particles and dust in the air can irritate skin and cause breakouts, not to mention cause free radical damage. The question is, do anti-pollution products really work in protecting our skin?

We tap Singapore-based aesthetic doctor Dr Rachel Ho (@drrachelho) to get the answers.

How does pollution impact our skin?

If you live in a city, you’re likely exposed to all types of pollution ― free radicals, UV exposure, cigarette and exhaust fumes, and even the blue light from our screens are all part of the problem. But the largest problem could be air pollution.

“Air pollution has been linked to premature ageing and chronic skin inflammation,” says Dr Rachel. “The particles in air pollution can enter our pores and the lipid spaces between our skin cells to cause inflammation, free radical damage to skin cells and tissue structures, as well depletion of the skin’s reserves of antioxidants (such as vitamin C and E).”

All these, in turn, result in compromised skin barriers, drier, less bouncy skin from increased transepidermal water loss, cellular damage and loss of collagen in the skin. According to Dr Rachel, people who are exposed to higher amounts of air pollution report higher rates of fine wrinkles, skin laxity and hyperpigmentation. Air pollution has also been associated with eczema.

Can anti-pollution skincare products really protect our skin?

Anti-pollution skincare products mostly contain antioxidants, which neutralise the free radical effects of pollutants. “A few studies show that using a combination of topical vitamin C, E and ferulic acid can help to reduce pollution-induced damage to the skin,” explains Dr Rachel. “If your skincare product also contains ingredients that strengthen the skin’s barrier (niacinamide and ceramides are great examples), these also will suffice without needing to be labelled as anti-pollution.”

Since the term “anti-pollution” isn’t regulated, says Dr Rachel, many skincare products can have anti-pollution effects without the label. “Opt for products with active ingredients that are antioxidants to strengthen the skin barrier.”

Does anti-pollution makeup work?

Yes, but only to a certain extent. Anti-pollution makeup usually has antioxidants to combat oxidative damage to the skin, but for these to work, the product has to be applied liberally on the face. If the product in question was a highlighter or bronzer, the effects may not be sufficient.

“There may be additional anti-pollution benefits to using these makeup products, but I would recommend using anti-pollution skincare in conjunction with these makeup products,” says Dr Rachel.

Any tips on choosing the best anti-pollution skincare?

Dr Rachel recommends a combination of active ingredients that address the effects of pollution for more holistic protection; these include antioxidants like vitamins C, E and ferulic acid, hyaluronic acid to reduce transepidermal water loss, and niacinamide or ceramides for skin barrier repair.

“Look for concentrations that are more effective: 10 to 20% for vitamin C and 4 to 5% for niacinamide,” adds Dr Rachel.

Are there other ways to ensure our skin barrier is strong?

There are a few steps you can take to ensure your skin barrier is strong enough to withstand the damaging effects of pollution. For your skincare routine, you should be including barrier-strengthening products.

“Use broad-spectrum sunscreens and avoid over-exfoliation to prevent damages to the skin barrier,” recommends Dr Rachel.

You should also eat more foods that rich in essential fatty acids, like fish, nuts and seeds, to replenish the fatty acids in our skin. Sleep is also important; according to Dr Rachel, stress and lack of sleep have been linked to inflammation of the skin.

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