If you think your daily skincare regime with sunscreen on top renders your skin invincible to all external hazards, it’s time to rethink your game plan. While most sunscreens deflect the adverse effects of UV rays on your skin, UV rays only make up a small part of the environmental pollutants you are exposed to in an urban setting.
According to research conducted by SkinCeuticals, sunscreens only filter out about half of all environmental pollutants. Thanks to common pollution sources like motor vehicles, the air also contains a host of hazardous particles like oxides, ozone and particulate matter. No wonder SkinCeuticals’ scientists have long advocated the use of both sunscreen and antioxidants for a robust skin defence system.
In recent years, however, a segment of pollutants has become the centre of attention of beauty companies: Particulate matter (PM). By definition, PM refers to the size of pollution particles that are released into the air as a result of combustion in power plants and even forest fires. “PM2.5 is a big problem because of its tiny size—sometimes 20 times smaller than pores—it can easily infiltrate layers of the epidermis to induce free radical production,” says Dr Tan Wan Theng, Medical Director at Moyem Medical Aesthetics.
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According to Dr Tan, “Free radicals are dangerous to our tissues because each one is missing an electron, causing them to go on a rampant search-and-destroy mission throughout the skin layers to make themselves whole again.” Moreover, this sets off a chain reaction, resulting in accelerated collagen degradation, melanin production and a compromised skin barrier, which can lead to conditions like eczema.
Just like how air purifiers are designed to filter out PM2.5 from the air you breathe, skincare companies have been introducing a new crop of products to counter the detrimental effects they have on our skin. “This is where antioxidants come in: They sacrifice themselves in place of our cells to neutralise free radicals, so skin stays healthy, firm, even and smooth for longer,” explains Dr Tan. While antioxidants aren’t new to the skincare arena, the latest products feature supercharged formulas that contain multiple antioxidants for enhanced benefits.
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“As the saying goes, there’s strength in numbers. In nature, antioxidants work synergistically together, and certain combinations power up each other,” advises Dr Tan. Dr Frank Lee, Country Head, The Covette Clinic, recommends looking out for products containing vitamins C, E and ferulic acid, which are “super effective in reducing free radical damage”. Take, for example, SkinCeuticals’ C E Ferulic, a blend of all three ingredients that works to create an effective antioxidant reservoir even after you wash it off.
For a daily detox booster, try Dior’s One Essential Skin Boosting Super Serum, which packs retinol, vitamin C, longoza extract and hyaluronic acid to combat the negative effects of pollution sources. Or feed your skin with Form | Matter’s Youth Total Age Corrector Serum, a cocktail of superfood-derived active ingredients to promote the elimination of environmental toxins and strengthen cells against UV damage. Those with dry skin can try Odacité’s Very Dry Skin Serum Concentrate to speed up cellular regeneration and deeply nourish skin, thanks to its blend of moringa and petitgrain oils, fatty acids and antioxidants.
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Dr Lee also believes in the importance of effective cleansing to combat pollution, as a good cleanser can effectively remove harmful particles otherwise stuck within pores. Biotherm’s Skin Oxygen Depolluting Cleanser is a refreshing foaming gel containing Chlorella Algae Extract to sweep away pollutant particles that have accumulated within pores for a clarified complexion. Alternatively, Kiehl’s Cilantro & Orange Extract Pollutant Defending Masque is a natural antidote to urban pollution as it contains potent botanicals to draw out pollutants and heavy metal build-up while antioxidants counter free radical damage for brighter, more resilient skin.
Don’t forget a multi-tasking sunscreen, as “a good SPF is still the most important part of a skin protection programme,” advises Dr Lee. Murad’s City Skin Age Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 50/PA++++ provides all-rounded protection against city life. And spritz on REN’s Flash Defence Anti-Pollution Mist, which forms an invisible barrier over skin to repel pollutant particles for healthy skin faster than you can say “come what may”.
Here are your best bets against environmental pollutants for brighter, healthier skin:
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