The anti-pollution skincare heroes that protect your skin against the environment

Posted by
Hanna Ibraheem

Air pollution is a big problem in the UK. Alongside its worrying effects to our health, poor air quality can also wreak havoc on our skin. Here’s how to tackle it.

Have you ever arrived home from a long day at work and felt like your face was just… dirty? Air quality in the UK is poor. In fact, new figures from the World Health Organisation have shown that air pollution kills nearly as many people as smoking in Britain each year.

Dr Anjali Mahto, Consultant Dermatologist at Skin55 and author of The Skincare Bible: Your No-Nonsense Guide to Great Skin, explains, “Air pollution in the UK is a huge problem. For many of us who live in towns and cities, pollution levels can cause a range of health issues.”

While we’re educated on the effects pollution can have on our heart and lungs, the conversation around air quality has recently cast a spotlight on how vulnerable our skin is to outdoor conditions. Dr Mahto adds, “As skin is your outermost barrier, it is one of the first and largest targets for air pollution.”

The environment has had an impact on our shopping habits and more of us are actively searching for beauty products that will shield our skin against pollution. Retailer Liberty London has reported a sales increase of 166% in anti-pollution beauty, while online searches around the term have increased by a staggering 73% in just one year.

So, what exactly is air pollution?

Dr Mahto explains, “Air pollutants include the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), volatile organic compounds (VOC), oxides, particulate matter, ozone and cigarette smoke. Prolonged and repetitive exposure to these agents can have negative effects on the skin.”

Scientific studies have shown that these agents in air pollution are contributing factors towards premature skin ageing, such as wrinkling and pigmentation spots, and worsening of inflammatory skin diseases such as eczema, psoriasis and acne.

How can you protect your skin against air pollution?

While living in the city drastically increases skin exposure to air pollution, we’re not quite ready to pack our bags and move to the countryside just yet.

Here, Dr Mahto explains the steps you can take to help limit the damage:

Cleanse your skin every night to remove dirt and environmental toxins from the skin surface.”


We recommend: Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm, £24

This lightweight balm melts into an oil upon contact with the skin. Massage it onto your face and watch your make-up melt away instantly. After you take the balm off with a muslin cloth, your face will feel clean but not stripped.

Exfoliate once weekly (less if you have dry or sensitive skin) to give your skin a deeper clean. This will also improve the penetration of any products that are later applied to the skin.”


We recommend: Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant, £51

Once you use this exfoliator, you’ll want to stock up. It sloughs away dead skin cells and leaves you with a brighter complexion.

Use an antioxidant serum; antioxidants such as vitamin C and resveratrol have the ability to neutralise damage caused by free radicals generated by pollution.”

We recommend: Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum, £67

A heavyweight trio of vitamin C, vitamin E and ferulic acid, this serum neutralises pollutants and free radicals, while dissolving dead skin cells for a smoother complexion.

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Use a regular sunscreen (minimum SPF 30). Don’t forget that your skin also needs UV protection to help reduce the risk of skin cancers and signs of premature ageing.”

We recommend: La Roche Posay Anthelios XL Ultra Tinted Fluid SPF 50+, £16.50

If you’re looking for a face SPF that is non-greasy, water-resistant and delivers high protection from UVA and UVB rays, look no further.

Moisturise daily, particularly if you have a tendency towards dry, inflammatory skin conditions (e.g. eczema and psoriasis). This will keep your skin hydrated, helping to maintain the integrity of the barrier function of your skin.”


We recommend: Clinique Dramatically Different Hydrating Jelly Anti-Pollution, £31

This oil-free formula hydrates and repairs the skin’s moisture barrier, all while shielding skin from air pollution.


We recommend: REN Flash Defence Anti-Pollution Mist, £24

Finish off your moisturising regime with a quick spritz of this face mist. It protects skin against free radicals and pollution and strengthens the skin’s natural defences.

Main image: Getty


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Hanna Ibraheem

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