Is Your Skin Polluted?

Move over SPF, there’s a new skin care buzzword that’s gaining major exposure: air pollution. Recent research is confirming the inevitable: Whether you’re used to urban haze or bellowing industrial factories outside the city, the toxins and emissions are not only bad for your health—they’re silently aging and dulling your skin.

Recently, the World Health Organization published that 80% of the world’s populations breathe polluted air in some capacity. In 2011, the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology published an article stating that ultraviolet (UV) and pollution combined can double the effects of cellular skin damage and premature photoaging. We already know that UV rays are the enemy of young skin, but how is pollution making things worse?

With straight sun damage, free radicals (unstable UV molecules from the sun) hit your skin, then “activate enzymes which can increase the breakdown of collagen and elastin in the skin”, explains Miami and New York-based Fredric Brandt, MD, Madonna’s long-time dermatologist.

When you combine those aging effects with surrounding environmental toxins (ground-level ozone, smoke and auto emissions, VOCs, tiny particulate matter 2.5 micrometers or less), you’ve created a photochemical fiesta of dryness and inflammation on the surface of the skin, and even worse problems deep below. The results are clear: SPF is simply not enough anymore.

Anti-Pollution Products on the Horizon

Global forecasting agency Mintel recently announced that 40% of the population in Asia purchased items to protect from air pollution specifically, not UV damage. From 2011 to 2013 alone, makeup and skin care products containing “anti-pollution” claims rose 10%—especially in Asia, where pollution culture is almost the norm. Max Factor China captured toxic beauty best with its “Smog Busters” contest—a marketing campaign asking customers to take selfies of themselves in their protective face masks. “You see women in Asia wearing a lot of makeup to cover up skin from pollution,” adds Brandt, who recently launched his namesake anti-aging line in China. Other notable global launches include Neutrogena Singapore’s “Cloudscreen”, Shu Uemura’s Anti/Oxi Cleansing Oil worldwide, and Clarins Extra-Comfort Anti-Pollution Cleansing Cream in the U.K. 


  1. Dr Brandt Skin Care
  2. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology
  3. Shu Uemura Anti/Oxi Cleansing Oil
  4. Clarins Extra-Comfort Anti-Pollution Cleansing Cream