Living in London is great. In fact, I'm one of those odd cases that was born here and never left. After all, with the best museums, bars and restaurants on my doorstep (and by doorstep, I mean a 30-minute underground journey regardless of where in the capital you live), why would I want to leave? Well, actually, there might be one reason—pollution.
Although there hasn't been a breach in the air pollution levels yet this year, London's annual pollution levels were breached just five days into the new year back in 2017 and within the first month of 2018, according to a report from The Guardian. Yes, living in London is officially toxic, and it's not just the capital—pollution is a massive problem in cities all over the UK.
It's not just our lungs that we should be worried about. Being regularly exposed to high levels of pollution can wreak havoc with our skin and hair—causing inflammation, sensitivity and pigmentation.
Luckily, beauty brands are starting to sit up and take notice, and this year has seen a prevalence of new launches specially formulated to combat the effects of pollution on our skin and hair. In fact, Revlon has just launched its new collection of PhotoReady Candid makeup products, which have been specially created as an extension of your skincare routine. The new products contain the antioxidant and anti-pollutant power of vitamin E plus anti–blue light ingredients to help protect your skin from environmental stress.
But where should you start if you're new to the anti-pollution beauty game? I caught up with consultant dermatologist Justine Kluk to get the full lowdown on everything we need to know about the effects of city living and what we can do to combat it. Plus, keep scrolling to shop the capsule beauty kit that all city girls need.
What are the risks of pollution to our skin and hair health?
“Our skin is the main interface between our bodies and the surrounding atmosphere, so it comes into direct contact with pollutants," explained Kluk. "It is not absolutely clear if the toxic effects of pollution are caused by direct penetration of these agents into the skin or whether exposure to them triggers internal processes that lead to inflammation and injury—or, indeed, if it's a combination of both."
But even with more research needed to understand the triggers, it's evident that pollution does cause damage to our skin. "For example, exposure to air pollution leads to the formation of free radicals, which increase inflammation, deplete antioxidants—such as vitamins C and E—and disrupt the skin barrier," said Kluk.
What are the visible effects of pollution damage?
Pollution is particularly linked with the early signs of ageing on both the skin and hair—which means pigmentation and dark spot formation and going grey earlier.
"There have also been studies showing a link between pollution and wrinkle formation," Kluk pointed out. "As well as the threats to otherwise healthy skin, pollution can be detrimental to those with existing skin conditions such as eczema and acne."
So what can we do about it?
"The beauty industry is responding to the threats pollution places on our skin, and more than a third of beauty products launched in the Asia-Pacific market in 2016 had a pollution claim," explained Kluk.
Here in the UK, we're rapidly catching up. Cult Beauty currently lists over 200 anti-pollution skincare products while skin specialist retailer Face the Future has seen a 56% rise in the search term "anti-pollution skincare" over the past year.
On an individual level, there are also steps we can take to protect our skin from the damaging effects of pollution by reducing the particle load on the skin and optimising our skin barrier function to reduce penetration with the right beauty products.
Shop your capsule pollution-fighting beauty kit now.
Kluk suggests you cleanse skin twice daily. "Interestingly, overwashing or using detergents that are too harsh can actually irritate the skin and make the barrier leakier," she points out. So opt for gentle formulations and micellar water to remove makeup.
This gently foaming cleanser from Oskia eliminates impurities and pollutants with a mild blend of willow bark extract and phytic acid. Plus, it contains vitamin E to help defend your skin during the day.
"Apply a topical vitamin C or E serum in the morning after cleansing," suggests Kluk. "These antioxidant agents neutralise free radicals, which trigger wrinkle and pigment formation."
This one from E.L.F. is formulated with both vitamins C and E as well as antioxidant-boosting pomegranate extract to protect the skin and help it retain a youthful glow.
"There is evidence that UV rays increase the detrimental effects of airborne particles on the skin, so sun avoidance and sunscreen are vitally important," explained Dr Kluk.
Not only will this Dermalogica SPF protect you from UV rays but the in-built defence mode will protect skin from free radical damage and pollution too.
"If dark spots are a concern, products containing glycolic acid, kojic acid, liquorice extract, mulberry extract, vitamin C, azelaic acid or niacinamide can help to regulate pigmentation," advised Kluk.
These pads come pre-soaked in Pixi's iconic Glow Tonic and are great if you're in a rush. Just sweep one all over your skin after cleansing to improve texture, diminish dark spots and boost radiance.
"For the prevention or reduction of wrinkle formation, apply a product containing retinol at night," advised Kluk.
This silky serum from Dr Dennis Gross also has the added benefit of free radical-fighting ferulic acid and cell-regenerating niacinamide for a three-pronged attack on the effects of pollution.
According to Kluk, moisturising is "the best way to boost the integrity of your skin barrier" so make sure you're doing it morning and night.
This moisturiser has been specially created with city dwellers in mind to protect skin against air pollution and other nasties to improve hydration and shield your skin.
Inspired by skincare, but with all the benefits of a foundation, this new launch from Revlon is changing the game when it comes to anti-pollution beauty products.
It's completely free from oils, synthetic dyes and phthalates—chemicals commonly found in beauty products—and protects the skin from pollution and blue light while evening out skin tone and adding coverage.
Mists just don't feel amazing on the skin but many of them contain protective benefits that are essential if you're living in a built-up area.
This one from REN can be used over makeup or skincare and can be reapplied throughout the day to provide instant relief from the effects of pollution. It cleanses exhaust fumes, smoke and pollution from the skin and combats UV damage.
Exposure to pollution can create oxidative stress on your scalp as well as your skin and can lead to your scalp becoming dry, congested and sensitive.
With that in mind, Klorane created this purifying shampoo to help gently detoxify your scalp and hair and gently remove any build-up from products or the atmosphere. Plus, it's naturally rich in antioxidants so will protect your strands too.