Why Anti-Pollution Skincare is the Next Frontier in Anti-Aging — And How to Protect Your Skin
(Photo via Dr. Loretta Skincare)
The Pollution Problem
A wave of anti-pollution skincare products have hit the market — and the new skincare trend is based in scientific research and cold, hard facts. Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, a Harvard researcher, the co-founder of Dr. Loretta Skincare, and a skin-aging expert, gave me a crash course on the four non-UV related causes of the symptoms of aging skin.
"Four factors are responsible for 85% of [age-related] changes to exposed skin: pollution, light, climate, and irritants."
Her 40+ years of research reveal four key environmental factors other than the sun that impact the long-term health of our skin, which she explained to me for a Brit + Co. post (see below). My crash course in skin aging left me — as the kids say — shook. It revealed major holes in the industry's overwhelmingly SPF-centric prevention strategies. In other words, our regimens have some catching up to do...
To maintain your youthful complexion and address the emerging signs of aging on the skin, remember these skin stressors like they’re beauty commandments. But don’t scrimp on your broad-spectrum, mineral SPF, either. The bridge of my nose can vouch for the long-term effects of sun damage, and all dermatologists still emphasize the importance of using SPF religiously.
The point I am trying to make is that our commute-work-sleep lifestyles keep us indoors for a large percentage of the time, but it's still important to protect your skin from these four additional aggressors even when you’re indoors.
As a firm believer in strengths-based perspectives, I am all about focusing on what I want rather than what I don’t want (and trying not to freak out over what is lacking). Namely, how to use Dr. Loretta's groundbreaking research to fortify our anti-aging skincare regimens STAT. Here's how.
Pollution, Free Radical Damage, and Antioxidants.
Back when I lived in New York City, I had to adhere to a monthly facial regimen in order to prevent breakouts and to maintain the appearance of my skin. In California, while I kept regular facial appointments and used a regimen of products, my skin simply suffered less. My Aunt Liz, who shares my love of spa days, always pointed to the dirty city air and pollution as the culprit behind skin flare-ups... and it turns out she was right.
Depending on the neighborhood I lived in, I frequented a few NY spas for regular facials during my time there to maintain my temperamental skin. It was such an integral part of my life that I can even remember the skincare products I used when working with each esthetician.
First was the Paul Labrecque Spa on the Upper East Side, where I was introduced to the cult-favorite line, Biologique Recherche. Even though I lived in the East Village, I often visited my aunt uptown; the spa was just a couple doors down. Then there was Bliss 49 in Upper/Midtown East. I got my first gel manicure there, but stopped going after an unpleasant recovery from a chemical peel. For the last year of graduate school I went to the Spa at Equinox on the Upper West Side, where I worked out like a machine to manage my stress. I still used cult-favorite Biologique Recherche Lotion P50V, as well as the luxury line, SkinCeuticals, during my Equinox tenancy.
Without regular facials, my skin would start to break out. Sometimes it looked dull and congested, and I was horrified by the pore size and texture of my nose. I kept both a dermatologist and an esthetician in my life and maintained my complexion with a regimen, prescription Spironolactone for hormonal breakouts, and facials. My favorite city in the world was polluting my skin — and I didn't even know the extent.
I now know that regular facials are not nearly enough to protect the skin from the harmful effects of pollution. Dirt, grime, toxins, and pollutants are all wreaking free radical damage on our faces — and we need fortified protection that your typical, everyday antioxidants don’t provide.
Research shows that city-dwellers' skin ages worse — hence the appeal of pollution-protective nutraceuticals like Dr. Barbara Sturm Anti Pollution Supplements ($95)! Particularly when living in an urban environment, comprehensive antioxidant protection is needed to protect your skin from the environmental pollutants we are exposed to.
The Antioxidants You Need
Turns out there are three sources of damaging skin saboteurs: oxygen free radicals, nitrogen free radicals, and carbon free radicals. And staying inside won't cut it. The World Health Organization (WHO) found that indoor pollution — from sources like stovetop cooking, plastic, nicotine, and dust mites — is actually more concentrated than the forms we find outdoors — from car exhaust, fires, power plants, etc.
To give you a sense of how important the issue is, here are a few of the skin symptoms known to be caused or exacerbated by exposure to pollution:
To protect against and repair free radical damage, potent antioxidants are the answer. Except, Dr. Loretta states, "All the naturally occurring antioxidants, including vitamin C, vitamin E, Idebenone, and the rest, protect you only from one type of free radical — [from] oxygen." We are probably lacking protection from both nitrogen and carbon free radicals with our current serums.
Considering the cumulative effect of these pollutants has been found to be more harmful than sun damage, this info is important.
One solution is to opt for a lab-made antioxidant. Dr. Loretta developed a bio-inspired form of vitamin E, a lab-made antioxidant called Lipochroman. This synthetic antioxidant protects from all three forms of free radicals and can be found in her skincare line, including the Anti-Aging Repair Regimen Set ($215). You can also check it out in these products individually, like the Anti-Aging Repair Moisturizer ($70).
The Algae Solution
Another way her line protects against pollution-wrought damage is through the incorporation of marine algae into her Gentle Hydrating Cleanser ($35). My own research concurs that nature's potent detoxifier could hold the key to anti-pollution protection. Tip: Leave the cleanser on for a couple minutes to help to absorb the pesky micro-particles of pollutants on the face. She adds that these pollutants are so small, you need an electron microscope to see them!
Algae is commonly-cited in skincare for its absorptive properties that protect our skin from toxins and aggressors, as well as a slew of other benefits, like photo-protection and skin barrier-repair. The renowned pollution-fighting properties of algae are no secret in other domains, either — in fact, France has installed microalgae-powered pollution-fighting "carbon sinks,” while algae farms placed alongside freeways demonstrate its emission-reducing effects, as well.
To learn more about its direct effect in skincare, I spoke to one of my favorite dermatologists, Dr. Michelle Hure of OC Skin Lab. My lovely expert provided the following quote on the function of algae in skincare, noting that she refers to ROS and free radical damage as "photo-aging" below.
"Compounds found in marine algae, namely antioxidants, phlorotannin, tyrosinase inhibitors, and sulfated polysaccharides, have been shown in studies to inhibit and reverse photo aging, repair the skin barrier, inhibit bacterial, viral, and fungal growth, lighten the skin, and help prevent skin cancer," Hure begins. In other words, ocean-derived greens offer serious support, both directly and indirectly. "With so many different species of algae with unique [and] beneficial compounds, the possibilities for cosmeceuticals and pharmaceuticals is vast."
She is 100% right. Turns out, a French company called BioTech Marine, has already found a way to extract a naturally-occurring compound from algae to protect the skin again ozone, heavy metals, and microparticles. The active ingredient, called Contacticel, is one way that the beauty industry is attempting to protect our skin from premature aging brought on by pollution.
By strengthening the skin's barrier, they also enhance your body's ability to better protect itself. A helpful analogy for me is to think of tending to the skin barrier as a way of tending to an interpersonal boundary. Just as we learn to set and maintain interpersonal boundaries to keep negativity and harm from draining or toxic relationships out, supporting your skin-boundaries helps to keeps toxins and pollutants out. While these compounds heal damage and make natural detoxification possible, it is also brightening up skin tone, and helping to heal conditions like psoriasis and eczema.
After scouring the market, I am smitten with this fabulous botanical serum from one of my favorite green, Aussie lines, Grown Alchemist (see below). Their Detox Serum Antioxidant+3 Complex ($55) targets all three sources of free radicals (i.e. oxygen, carbon, nitrogen) and helps counter the effects of our favorite "toxin-laden" activities, from boozing it up to the exposures of city living. Don't ask me how, but I found the serum on Amazon for only $44 at this link — but there are only 3 left in stock.
Now we know why so many anti-pollution serums have been hitting the market!
Before you go, I wanted to share a few other pollution-saving products I have discovered. Then, be sure to come back for the next part of this four-part series: Light! (And it's def not just UV.)
1. At-Home Pollution-Savers
Dyson Pure Cool Link 2-in-1 Purifier & Tower Fan with Extra Filter ($365, orig. $500)
After getting an air purifier for my room and living room, I stopped having asthma attacks!
I then got this one for my office.
Considering your exposure to toxins during time spent in transit is particularly relevant in LA.
Awair Glow ($99)
This sensor monitors air quality, syncing up with your air filtration
system to activate when air quality dips below a certain threshold.
My good friend, Karyn Bailey, recommends Spider Plants for being low maintenance, and aloe for its added skincare perks of soothing burns and cuts.
Silvon Antibacterial Sheets ($180-220)
Look for Broad-Coverage Antioxidant Protection or Pollutant-Absorbant Algae
This set contains her patented rockstar antioxidant, Lipochroman.
The Seaweed Bath Co. Purifying Micro-Scrub ($13, orig. $17)
This line uses hand-harvested bladderwrack seaweed to create their patented Algaderm Complex, a detoxifying, restorative, and protective marine active. My boyfriend's little sister, Jessica, gives their Restoring Marine Night Therapy ($25) a 10/10!
A two-step oil cleansing system with anti-pollution protection that didn't come from K-Beauty.
This is supposed to pair well with sonic cleansing devices.
I adore this eco-luxe Aussie line.
Just discovered this unisex line!
Verso Anti Pollution Toning Mist ($47, orig. $50)
I adore this luxury Swedish skincare line. They make the only daytime-safe retinol!
Orveda Eye Unveiler 422 ($255)
This luxury, vegan skincare line contains a marine enzyme, bio-lipids (ceramides, lipids, etc.), fermented Kombucha black tea, prebiotics, hyaluronic acid, and more. They should have it at Saks, soon.
J. One Red Jelly Pack ($42-46)
A protective, algae-infused primer that is sold out at Glow Recipe and a K-Beauty cult-favorite.
Note: I didn't include Algenist because they are not cruelty-free
Do you incorporate anti-pollution measures into your lifestyle? Tell me on Instagram!
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