A Clean Slate

Modern-day pollution is as bad for your health as it is for your skin


We don’t have to wait for the annual haze to choke our city to know that air pollution is on the rise. Across the world, reports of air pollution warnings have escalated over the years, most recently in London, where levels spiked in late January to the highest recorded since April 2011.

Which goes to show that when it comes to our skin, it’s not just the sun we have to worry about. City dwellers have other environmental hazards to contend with. “The burning of fossil fuels, higher traffic levels and the use of more chemicals indoors and outdoors… (result in) increased levels of eczema and inflammatory responses in the skin of individuals in this generation,” said Dr Calvin Chan, medical director of Calvin Chan Aesthetic & Laser Clinic.

He added that studies have shown how environmental pollution—once more commonly associated with respiratory concerns—accelerate skin ageing and can lead to skin cancer.

Pollutants trigger free radical damage and launch a chain reaction where cellular DNA is damaged. This, in turn, weakens skin cells, preventing them from repairing themselves. Dr Chan explained that a breakdown in skin’s protein structure, along with collagen degradation, lead to wrinkles and leathery skin.

The first thing to go is barrier function. Left unprotected, skin becomes sensitive and turns itchy and blotchy easily. To protect itself, inflamed skin will trigger pigmentation, its natural defence mechanism. When coupled with stronger UV exposure, this leads to visible age spots, particularly on fairer Asian skin.

Building An Arsenal

Since hiding away in a dark room isn’t the most practical way to live, it is important to develop a defensive skincare routine. At the bare minimum, always wear sunscreen with at least SPF50 to protect skin from UV damage. Look for formulas infused with antioxidants such as green tea and vitamin C.

When it comes to cleansing, regular foam or oil cleansers will do the job nicely, though products infused with charcoal are said to be better at ridding pores of pollutant residue. Similarly, a serum filled with antioxidants like vitamins A, C and E, or ferulic acid can prevent oxidative stress and enhance DNA repair. One of the pioneers in this category is Elizabeth Arden’s Prevage Anti-Aging Daily Serum made with the antioxidant idebenone that protects skin from environmental stressors while helping it repair itself. Another is Skinceuticals’ C E Ferulic serum, which features ferulic acid as its main ingredient. Found in apple and orange seeds, ferulic acid has been proven to fight free-radical damage.

All that said, the old skincare adage, “moisturise, moisturise, moisturise” still holds true. While many brands have impressive spiels on what their moisturisers can do, intrinsically, they all have but a sole purpose: to hydrate. The real benefit, then, is this: Hydrated skin has better barrier function, which shields the deeper layers of skin from toxins and pollutants. Think of it as having basic insurance in a dangerous environment.


Up your game

These advanced skincare products promise to protect skin from urban grime



Dr. Andrew Weil for Origins Mega-Defense Barrier-Boosting Essence Oil

This lightweight oil strengthens and nourishes skin’s barrier function with lady’s thistle, evening primrose and camellia. Use before or after moisturising.


Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair Intensive Recovery Ampoules

This rich yet easily absorbed formula works wonders on sensitive skin irritated by environmental damage.



Allies of Skin 1A All-Day Mask

Dubbed the first leave-on treatment mask (apply under sunscreen and makeup), it contains moringa seed extract and a blend of 11 antioxidants to help thwart the effects of pollution.

Kiehl’s Cilantro & Orange Extract Pollutant Defending Masque

Fights skin damage with orange extract and strengthens with cilantro seed oil. It also claims to prevent pollution particles from clinging to skin.


By Pearlyn Tham








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