This is a header image for the article on how is pollution a threat to your skin?

How is pollution a threat to your skin?

In order to attain fresh and glowing skin, we all know that we must look after our internal body by maintaining a healthy diet, exercising, consuming recommended levels of water and reducing stress, but what about the external factors that are beyond our control? Our skin is constantly exposed to pollution; it acts as a barrier but also is the first to be damaged by its harmful effects. Understanding the causes and following preventive steps will help you keep your skin healthy and radiant in the long run.

What is pollution and what are the different kinds of pollution?

To put it simply, pollution is the addition of any substance that can affect the environment or its habitats adversely. It is detrimental to the planet and human health as a whole. The three major classifications of pollution are air pollution, water pollution and land pollution. Light pollution is an emerging problem that should be considered too. It affects our wellbeing in multiple ways. Skin being our largest organ is affected the most with long term exposure to pollution. It must be preserved, as it not only damages our skin on a cosmetic level but also poses a threat to skin health. Let us understand the main effect it has on our skin.

This is an image showing different kind of pollution affecting the skin.

How are different kinds of pollution harmful for your skin?

Our skin is made of multiple layers. It acts as an external barrier to bacteria and infection as well as ultraviolet rays forming a pigment barrier with melanocyte cells. Pollution breaks down the Collagen barriers and lipids within them. Collagen is a protein found in abundance within our body. It improves skin elasticity as well as aging. Lipids form the structure of living cells. The different types of pollution can cause irritation. Dirt can accumulate on the skin’s surface clogging the pores.

Air pollution

It is the most common pollution to affect your skin. There is a direct correlation between air pollution and increase in the number of people suffering from skin problems such as acne or psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, hives, eczema or any other inflammatory and allergic reactions. Our skin is designed to act as a biological shield against chemical and physical air pollutants, however constant exposure to high levels of these pollutants may have profound negative effects on the skin. The air pollutant that can harm your skin include:

  • PAHs: It is produced as a by-product of burning coal, oil, gas, wood, tobacco or garbage. Long term exposure to low levels of some PAHs have shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals. It can also result in redness and inflammation of the skin and breakdown of red blood cells.
  • VOCs: This compound is easily released in the environment in gas or vapour form. The most common source originates from the burning of paints, varnishes, aerosol sprays, cleaners or disinfectants. VOC leads to significant decrease in the cell survival rates of skin cells. Constant exposure can cause DNA and protein damage altering the mechanisms of cellular aging.
  • Oxides: They are a chemical compound with at least one oxygen atom and one other element. The most common oxides are nitrogen oxide and sulphur dioxide. They are emitted mainly from mobile and stationary combustion sources. They cause oxidative damage that can harm the tissue proteins. Oxidation can damage vital molecules in our cells, including DNA and proteins, which are responsible for many body processes.
  • Particulate Matter: These consist of a mixture of various particles and chemicals. Their major components are metals, organic compounds, material of biologic origin, ions, reactive gases, and the particle carbon core. This can lead to skin aging, wrinkle formation, pigmentation and other skin diseases.
  • Ozone: Tropospheric Ozone is a result of air pollution from internal combustion engines and power plants. It may be formed when by-product of certain human activities, interact with sunlight (UVR), hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides and VOCs altering the various chemicals emitted by humans. Ozone in the stratosphere protects us from the Sun's harmful ultraviolet rays. However, ozone in the troposphere, closer to Earth's surface, is a pollutant and hazardous to our health. Regular exposure to ozone can damage the epidermis of the skin, reduce the level of antioxidants such as vitamin E and ascorbic acid, vitamin C and degrade lipids.
  • Cigarette Smoke: It contains carbon monoxides that replace the oxygen in your skin, It also contains nicotine that reduces the flow of blood and leaves the skin dry and discoloured. Cigarette smoking leads to the depletion of nutrients such as vitamin C, which helps protect and repair skin damage. The skin regains elasticity when you stop smoking. It will feel and appear smoother. The complexion will brighten and after six months the skin regains its original vitality.

Water pollution

Discharge of domestic and industrial effluent wastes, leakage from water tanks, marine dumping, radioactive waste and atmospheric deposition are major causes of water pollution. Heavy metals that are disposed of and industrial waste can accumulate in lakes and rivers, proving harmful to humans and animals. Water consumption is the number one step to healthy skin. However, water pollution tends to drastically damage our skin if not treated. Chemicals in the water have negative effects if applied directly. Here are the different types of water pollutions:

  • Arsenic Composition: It is a form of groundwater pollution. Arsenic can enter the water supply from natural deposits in the earth or from industrial and agricultural pollution. Long term exposure can cause skin cancer, discolouration, and thickening of the skin. Arsenic can be filtered out by adding lime to the water or precipitation.
  • Chlorine: This chemical is used as a disinfectant to kill bacteria. It is proved to be a toxic chemical and can cause serious skin agitation. Adding chlorine to water strips the natural oils from the skin, causing dry, itchy, and irritated skin. When exposed to other pollutants present in water bodies it turns acidic. This disrupts the pH balance of your skin by stripping away the protective layer from your skin.
  • Harmful Heavy Metals: Heavy metals can enter a water supply by industrial and consumer waste, acidic rain breaking down soils and releasing heavy metals into streams, lakes, rivers, and groundwater. They interact with free radicals that are responsible to break down the skin's collagen and cause skin blemishes, wrinkling, dark spots, fine lines and loose, saggy skin.

Blue Light Pollution

Light pollution is caused by an increased use of artificial light. It started to show signs in the early 20th century when cities began to switch to electric lighting. Blue light also known as High Energy Visible (HEV) light, is light generated from the use of electronic devices such as mobile phones, TV screens, monitors and fluorescent light bulbs that interfere with our body.

Long term exposure to blue light can damage skin by causing inflammation, weakening of skin’s surface and change in colour. It leads to photo – aging due to exposure to light. HEV light exposure can lead to inflammation, impaired healing, compromised melanogenesis, sensitivity, dryness, wrinkles, uneven tone and texture, and sagging skin. We must note that sunlight is the main source of blue light. However, due to proximity and amount of time spent using technical devices it poses more damage to our skin. It can penetrate deeper into the skin compared with both UVA and UVB light.

HEV light disturbs our sleep cycle affecting our sleep hormones and level of melatonin. It also interferes with the natural circadian rhythm of skin cells themselves confusing it to behave as it is day time and slowing down the night time repair process which can lead to dull, lifeless skin with increased signs of ageing. To protect yourself from blue light, invest in the blue light screen shield. Disable blue light and switch to yellow light (night shift).

This is an image showing how different kind of pollution affects the skin and leads to skin ageing.

How can you protect your skin from pollution?

Pollution is a growing concern for our daily skincare routine. You must incorporate preventive steps to safeguard your skin from harmful chemicals. Listed below are a few ways:

1. Exfoliate Daily using a mild facial scrub such as Ilana Organics Energising Fruit Shell Scrub (Walnut + Plum) or ZYNA Clarifying & Detoxifying Face Scrub . This will help to remove the outer layer or dead cells and remove the impurities from within the pores.

This is energising and clarifying face scrub from the brand Zyna on
2. Wash your face gently with Rustic Art Organic Neem Basil Face Wash Concentrate. Scoop out a small quantity of face wash and lather with water. Massage then rinse. It serves many purposes including protection against pollution, anti - bacterial and anti - fungal wash, and provides a deep cleansing experience.

This is neem and basil face wash concentrate from the brand rustic art on
3. Use face masks twice a week to soothe the skin. SUKIN Oil Balancing + Charcoal Anti Pollution Facial Masque is suitable for absorption of toxins and impurities. Rooibos Tea, Willowherb and Aloe Vera revitalise and refresh blemish prone skin. Added Quince, Bilberry & Pomegranate Extracts promotes tight pores, reduces shine and leaves a balanced complexion.Skin is left nourished by Avocado, Coconut and Rosehip Oils.

This is an anti-pollution oil balancing charcoal face mask from the brand Sukin on
4. Ensure that your daily moisturiser shields your skin from the effects of pollution and other modern stressors. Factors like pollution weaken the skin's protective qualities. We recommend using Organic Riot Smog Block – Anti Pollution Moisturiser with Natural SPF. It is an organic face cream that is loaded with manuka extract that works to strengthen this protective barrier. After cleansing, apply a layer all over your face. Gently massage until the product soaks in. Follow it up with sunscreen and any other products (including make-up).

This is an anti pollution Smog moisturiser from the brand Organic Riot on

5. Steam is a great way to detox. It opens up your pores and loosens any dirt build up. Massage your skin with essential oils such as Clay Pure Jasmine Essential Oil for a hint of rejuvenation, and hop into your hot steam water. Give yourself a pre-bath massage with SKOG Coconut Oil. Then treat yourself to a warm water shower.

This is Jasmine essential oil from the brand Clay Essentials on

This is an image showing skin care routine to combat effects of pollution on your skin.


Pollutants have a tendency to dehydrate and irritate your skin, so it is important to understand the importance of following a protective skin regimen to attain heath and fresh skin beyond an aesthetic level. Keep your skin hydrated and use clean skin care products to help strengthen the barrier function of your skin.

- By Howarh Lookmanji

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