Pollution & SKIN

Pollution affects all our organs - including the largest, our skin. Here is what you can do to limit the harmful impact of poor air quality on your body.

Know Thy Enemy:

Air pollution is a hydra headed monster - your skin has to combat multiple distinct demons such as particulate matter, cigarette smoke and exhaust fumes, ultraviolet radiation, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, oxides and more. All these basically speed up skin aging and cell damage by inducing free radical damage (oxidative stress) and inflammation. This is the main reason antioxidants are so useful in combating the effects of pollution.

What’s The Damage:


When the skin barrier is weak or damaged (dry / dehydrated / diseased skin) the pollutants enter skin faster and deeper - causing more damage than they could have caused on healthy intact skin. Thus people with existing allergies or atopy, babies and older individuals see much faster irritation and skin damage.

Further, the inhaled particles which enter the lungs, affect all body systems - and thus also the skin & hair. Continued exposure to polluted air causes rise in rates of eczema, acne, pigmentation and even cancer.

What Can You Do:

While we need to individually and collectively work on cleaning the air, following laws and norms to limit and undo pollution, the following short term personal measures can help to protect skin to an extent.

  • Limit Exposure

Stay indoors during times of severe deterioration in AQI (air quality indices) such as in New Delhi, right now. Avoid outdoor sports which will increase intake of air and pollutants, and use a suitable N95 mask when out. Layering plain petroleum jelly in the nostrils can help some persons. Use heavy moisturizer / barrier creams and sunscreen (there are now special sunscreens that create a barrier to particulate matter also and thus help specifically in fighting pollution damage to the skin)

  • Air Purification

Use of HEPA filter air purifiers and air conditioners works only in a small sealed area - and is more of an eye wash for larger areas where constant entry and exit occur. Even so, you can benefit slightly from their use. More effective are plants which purify the air - some like the peace lily and snake plant can live indoors.

  • Antioxidants

The use of strong antioxidants in food and skin care will help counter some of the damage - look for high dose vitamin C (papaya, berries, amla, citrus fruits, kiwi, capsicum, broccoli and cauliflower). Consume warm water with basil, ginger and honey and consume more of green and white teas. Supplements containing glutathione, astaxanthin and N acetyl glucosamine, collagen powders and are useful. include vitamin C serums and ceramide rich barrier creams as moisturizer in your daily routine.

  • Cleansing

Make sure to use a gentle medicated cleanser to wash the face and body twice a day if you have been outdoors - if your hair was open use a shampoo to rinse it out. Eyelids and neck folds should be moisturized well as these can collect more of the allergens and particulate matter and get rashes. Persons with a sensitive respiratory system should consider using a neti pot with saline to cleanse their system.

  • Treatments

Medical facials and enzyme peels can help undo some of the damage and limit reactions. Do not do any treatments on broken irritated skin but use soothing medicated products and cool compresses instead.

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