We don’t want to alarm you, but when it comes to the health of our skin, pretty much everything is out to get it.
Every day we are exposed to many different environmental factors that can have profound negative effects on our skin health and integrity - from high levels of UV radiation to smog, smoke, airborne contaminants and extreme weather events (such as bushfires).
Scientific research has shown that exposure to environmental stressors can play a significant role in inducing skin sensitivity and irritation – contributing to conditions like atopic dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis and acne.
Prolonged or repetitive exposure to high levels of pollutants can lead to DNA damage in skin cells, interfering with the normal function of lipids and proteins in our skin barrier. (Read: skin ageing).
So, what do we do? How do we stop environmental pollutants messing with the health of our skin?
Good question, friends.
Below, we take a look at the three things you need to focus on in order to counteract the damaging effects of pollution and help protect the health of the skin.
Ready? Let’s go!
The best way we can support our skin? By maintaining a healthy skin barrier function and stopping the invasion of as many pollutants as possible into the skin.
“The stratum corneum is part of the top layer of our skin and plays the role of the skin barrier. It is our first line of defence, and acts as a biological shield against pro-oxidative pollutants,” explains skin expert and founder of Skin Virtue, Nina Gajic.
Made up of corneocytes and lipids, this layer helps to prevent the penetration of harmful microbes and the dehydration of underlying tissues.
Gajic said to think of it like a brick wall.
“These corneocytes and lipids resemble a brick and mortar structure. The corneocytes (or skin cells) make up the bricks, and the lipid interface makes up the mortar.”
When the skin barrier is damaged, the normally tight arrangement between these skin cells and lipids are lost, allowing external irritants to penetrate the skin more easily. This then leads to more water leaving our skin, which is known as transepidermal water loss (TEWL).
“Once the skin barrier has become compromised, it can lead to sensitivity and irritation that can show up visibly in the form of redness, rashes, hives and dry dehydrated flaky skin, this is a major and growing concern for many people these days,” she explains.
So! When it comes to strengthening the function of your skin barrier, there are a few different things you can do to help.
Gajic said you should reach for ingredients such as ceramides, niacinamide, panthenol and free fatty acids at optimal levels for specific skin types.
“For example, drier skin types require higher concentrations of ceramides and free fatty acids than oilier skin types,” she said.
“By incorporating these ingredients that replenish and fortify the skin’s surface, we are able to provide support to the skin’s lipid interface and skin barrier function. This will activate the skin’s natural defence mechanism, reducing the chance of pollutants penetrating the skin, and therefore reducing the impact that these pollutants have on the skin.”
Our second line of defence lies with our epidermal stem cells. These stem cells serve two main functions: to replenish and maintain cells within the skin and to regenerate damaged tissue.
Just to give you a bit of a rundown, our epidermis is renewed by stem cells roughly every 28 days – which is known as cellular turnover. This turnover rate reduces as our stem cells age. Sad, we know.
“Intrinsic or extrinsic stress factors can negatively affect the health and functionality of our epidermal stem cells, slowing them down prematurely,” said Gajic.
“So, it is vitally important for us to provide optimal protection and support to our epidermal stem cells, to help prevent cellular ageing and damage.”
The good news is all stem cells, independent of their origin (be it plant, animal or human), have specific epigenetic factors that can help maintain their self-renewal capacity.
“The inclusion of plant stem cells in formulations means that they are able to help our epidermal stem cells to maintain their characteristics and their capacity to build new tissue for longer.”
The outcome? Better protected stem cells, with increased proliferation and longevity, that help to maintain healthier-looking skin for longer.
Finally, the last vital piece of the puzzle is to neutralise and soothe oxidative damage.
“Oxidative stress occurs when oxygen molecules split into single atoms and their electrons become unpaired, they are known as free radicals,” explains Gajic.
“Electrons like to be in pairs, so free radicals scavenge the body to seek out other electrons so that they can become a pair again. This process causes damage to cells, proteins and DNA.”
But it’s not all doom and gloom – we promise. Incorporating global cell protection ingredients, powerful antioxidants and extremolyte microorganisms into formulations can help protect the skin and neutralise free radical damage.
“Global cell protectants and antioxidants help to reduce inflammation and irritation caused by environmental stressors,” said Gajic. “They neutralise free radicals as well as balance out excess radicals, protecting skin cells from free radical damage.”
A great example of a powerhouse environmental stress protection ingredient is extremolyte microorganisms - a relatively unknown antioxidant that possesses the ability to protect, revitalises and rejuvenate the skin.
“They are halophilic bacteria that survive and grow under extreme saline conditions in salt lakes, sea water and deserts,” explains Gajic. “They are exposed to high levels of UV radiation, dryness and extreme temperatures and they manage to adapt to these conditions and maintain cell stability.”
“Within the skin, they help protect against external stressors and accelerate the natural repair and protective mechanisms of skin cells.”
If you’re looking for where to start when it comes to skincare, we recommend trying our skincare routine finder.
What are your favourite pollution-busting skincare products? Share your views with us at email@example.com
By Gary Williams, Bio