Pollution Ages Your Skin. This is How to Protect Yourself

Depending on where you live, air pollution has either gotten better or it has gotten worse.


If you live in London, the air quality is much better than it was during the industrial revolution, in which the air, blackened from pollution, altered the moth population.  White (peppered) moths, who were the predominant phenotype prior to the industrial revolution, declined drastically, while those with a mutation for black colored wings survived because they blended into the environment (while white moths stood out) and avoided predation. Once the air cleaned up, white moths became the majority while the black moth population declined.


Poor car emission standards made Los Angeles notorious for its smog in the 1960’s and 1970's, which caused a dirty halo to sit atop the city which isn't a good representation for the City of Angels. Tighter emission regulations has cleaned up our air quality 98% since that time.



Beijing has seen increased pollution with every year due to increased manufacturing, population growth and more vehicles on the road. 


Photograph by Bill Bishop, 2013. CC BY-NC 2.0.

These side by side images highlight the variance and severity of air pollution in Beijing, China. The image on the left is Beijing on a clear day. The image on the right shows how poor Beijing's air quality can be, where the air is a dense polluted fog.

A Global Skin Problem

Although some cities, such as London and Los Angeles have improved air quality, most cities have an increasing air pollution problem, and just about every city has enough air pollution to cause harm.

The discussion about the health consequences of air pollution tends to focus on the maladies associated with breathing in the contaminated air, and not enough is being said about the effects of polluted air coming in contact with your skin. 

Exposure to pollution has immediate and long-term consequences for the skin.

Immediate consequences include: 

1. Skin dryness

2. Inflammation

3. Worsening of eczema, acne and dermatitis

4. Clogged pores

Long term consequences include:

1. Loss of skin barrier function

2. Thinning of skin due to loss of collagen and elastin

3. Increased wrinkling, loss of firmness and elasticity 

4. Broken capillaries 


The longer you reside in a polluted environment, the more your skin is at risk for the detrimental effects of air pollution.


Fortunately, there are measures you can take right now to protect your skin against the consequences of air pollution. 


How to Protect Your Skin from Air Pollution

The first way to protect your skin is to find skin care that keeps your skin strong. Strong skin requires an acidic pH, a healthy microbiome and an acidic pH and an intact moisture barrier. 

To keep your skin acidic, use an acidic chemical exfoliant. and make sure that your serums and cleansers are pH balanced to an acidity that mimics healthy human skin. 

A healthy microbiome is maintained by keeping your skin acidic. To keep healthy microbiome, you also need to avoid damaging skin care such as dermarollers, face brushes, and scrubs. Also avoid the unnecessary and excessive use of antibiotics. 

An intact moisture barrier is achieved by using anti-inflammatory and moisturizing serums that reduce inflammation, deliver water into the skin and create a moisture lock through the proper use of oils. An intact moisture barrier is also achieved by avoiding skin care that causes inflammation (which breaks down skin) such as products containing essential oils or vitamin C, and skin care that causes skin dryness such as those products containing alcohol and hyaluronic acid. 

Cleansing is imperative to physically remove pollutants from your skin, and should be done every evening. I recommend an acidic, oil-based cleanser to maintain your skin's pH, and moisturize the skin as it cleanses to keep skin strong and not strip its protective oils. 


Anti-Pollution Skin Care Routine:


1.Exfoliate with your AHA/BHA/PHA chemical exfoliant

2. Hydrate and protect with an anti-inflammatory, water-based serum

3. Lock in moisture with an oil-based serum

**Use sunscreen of your choice**


1. Cleanse with a moisturizing, oil-based cleanser

2. Reapply Serums




Unfortunately we cannot pick the air we come in contact with, but we can choose to take better care of our skin. I believe that we can protect ourselves from the damage of air pollution by following a simple routine of powerful skin care. 




Deng, Q., Lu, C., Li, Y., Sundell, J., & Norbäck, D. (2016). Exposure to outdoor air pollution during trimesters of pregnancy and childhood asthma, allergic rhinitis, and eczema. Environmental research150, 119-127.

Lefebvre, M. A., Pham, D. M., Boussouira, B., Qiu, H., Ye, C., Long, X., ... & Nguyen, Q. L. (2016). Consequences of urban pollution upon skin status. A controlled study in Shanghai area. International journal of cosmetic science38(3), 217-223.

Majerus, M. E. (2009). Industrial melanism in the peppered moth, Biston betularia: an excellent teaching example of Darwinian evolution in action. Evolution: Education and Outreach2(1), 63.

Ye, M. F. (2015). Causes and Consequences of Air Pollution in Beijing, China. Environmental ScienceBites. 4.2.