City living and your skin

I can’t have been the only person that was slightly alarmed at the Time Out London story from last week.  Eight days into 2016 and London’s pollution levels are already above the annual limit.  For those of us city dwellers, this is definitely not good news for our skin.

As skin is your outermost barrier, it is one of the first and largest targets for air pollution.  So, what exactly is air pollution?  Air pollutants include the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), volatile organic compounds (VOC), oxides, particulate matter, ozone, and cigarette smoke.  Prolonged and repetitive exposure to these agents can have negative effects on the skin.

Scientific studies in both animals and humans have shown that these components of air pollution can contribute to premature skin ageing (wrinkling, pigmentation spots) and worsening of inflammatory skin diseases such as eczema, psoriasis and acne.  One major mechanism is via the generation of reactive oxygen species that can damage DNA in skin cells.

Short of leaving the city and moving into the countryside, what can you do to limit damage?

  • Cleanse your skin every night to remove dirt and environmental toxins from the skin surface
  • Exfoliate once weekly (less if you have dry or sensitive skin) to give your skin a deeper clean. This will also improve the penetration of any products that are later applied to the skin.
  • Use an antioxidant serum – antioxidants such as vitamin C and resveratrol have the ability to neutralize damage caused by reactive oxygen species. They certainly have a role in your anti-ageing armory.
  • Use a regular sunscreen (SPF 15 or above) – don’t forget your skin also needs UV protection to help reduce risk of skin cancers and signs of premature ageing.
  • Moisturise daily, particularly if you have a tendency to dry, inflammatory skin conditions e.g. eczema and psoriasis. This will keep your skin hydrated helping to maintain the integrity of the barrier function of your skin.

For many of us settled in city life, it is worth thinking about taking extra precautionary measures to protect against noxious chemicals we are exposed to on a daily basis.  We may not be able to control the environmental factors that lead to skin inflammation and ageing, but it is in our hands to try and limit these.

Dr Anjali Mahto is a dermatology consultant at the London North West Hospitals NHS Trust.  She works privately at the Cadogan Clinic and Highgate Hospital and is happy to consult on any skin, hair, and nail disorders in adults and children.  Anjali has trained in dermatology at some of UK’s leading teaching hospitals including Imperial College Healthcare and the Royal Free Hospital.  She is a spokesperson for the British Skin Foundation and expert dermatologist for Vichy Laboratoires UK.