Pollution and your skin

Why is antipollution a top skincare priority?

The skin works as an active shield. It defends daily from UV radiation, viruses, and infection. It keeps the good in and the bad out. It’s protective, preventative and highly functional. However like any shield, the more it’s used, the more visible wear and tear skin begins to reflect.

As skin ages, its abilities become compromised. It becomes less able to retain moisture, less able to create an even complexion and less able to defend against wrinkles. The rate at which this occurs is inbuilt into a person’s DNA, pre-determined and pre-defined. Scientifically this is called the intrinsic ageing factor.

The rate skin ages at is predetermined genetically, however it is not independent. Diet, lifestyle and the environment all have the ability to influence the speed at which it ticks. These factors are scientifically referred to as extrinsic ageing factors – they are external and completely controllable. Extrinsic ageing factors speed up the body’s natural rate of ageing. They proactively age skin. Taking control of these factors ensures skin will naturally age at the speed it was designed to – at the slowest rate possible.

Which ageing factors do you currently protect against? Are you safeguarding your skin from pollution?

Pollution – an ever important extrinsic ageing factor

Tiny particles of pollution exist everywhere. They can be visible enough to cause smog or invisible enough to penetrate the skin. They exist in cities, towns, villages, motorways, roads and subway stops… they’re experienced during the morning commute, when exercising outdoors and when shopping in town.

Air pollution exists everywhere but at different levels. Industrialised areas are known pollution hotspots with the pollution particles created being spread by wind and rain to rural areas. Wherever you live, your skin and body are not immune. This makes antipollution care a top priority.

An antipollution skincare routine is a very effective defence strategy. We’ll show you exactly how to create your own after we visit the multiple ways pollution’s effects skin.

Pollution – how it affects skin

It was during 2010[i] that researchers begun unveiling the damaging effects pollution can enact on the skin. Prominent skin ageing factors like sunlight have been widely publicised and airborne pollution is fast becoming the skins newest adversary.

Everyday skin gathers an invisible layer of particulate matters (PMs) – small, often invisible particles that attach themselves like glue to the surface of the skin. Once rested these foreign particles activate a cascade of biological reactions measurably resulting in wrinkles and age spots.

The 4 ways pollution affects skin

A 2015 study[ii] by Dr. S.Wang et al concluded there are 4 key ways pollution denigrates the skin’s health, each can be individually defined and each can, therefore, be individually tackled. These 4 ways are summarised below;

  • By generation of highly reactive particles named free radicals.

  • Via activation of skins protective inflammatory response causing a long-term impairment of the skin’s barrier function.

  • Through activation of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor whose chronic activation has been linked to tumour growth[iii].

  • By alteration of skins delicate microflora

Each activation and impairment leads to a proactive ageing effect of skin as natural balances are thrown from normal and led astray.

The process begins with free radicals – a specific type of pollutant particle having an extreme amount of energy. Free radicals can be created by fossil fuel consumption with airborne levels increasing on exposure to UV light.  Higher concentrations of ambient free radicals increase the likelihood of their reaction with skin. On contact, the extreme amount of energy they contain is offloaded into the skin causing a momentary period of extreme skin stress.

Naturally, skin contains several defensive ingredients we call antioxidants, these help to protect skin’s health from environmental stressors like free radicals. However with pollution levels ever increasing, the skins natural defence mechanisms are being overloaded. When skin reserves are zapped, skin believes it’s under attack and premature ageing is initiated.

When skin believes it’s under assault whether from free radicals or pollutant particles, inflammatory pathways are activated. Inflammation can be visible or invisible. The visible forms are most commonly noted as redness with skin disorders such as acne, rosacea, and eczema all being characterised by this reactive response to attack. Small and controlled periods of inflammation helps the body to heal. Prolonged and chronic periods of inflammation cause the opposite reaction, proactively ageing skin.

Finally the accumulation of free radical exposure combined with the damaging chronic inflammatory effects of pollution lead to long-term changes in skins biology. Changes such as activation of the skins aryl hydrocarbon receptor and equilibrium of the skin’s microflora. Both are bad news as they compromise skin’s health.

  • The aryl hydrocarbon receptor is seen to be chronically activated in highly aggressive tumours linking this change to extreme health risks like the promotion of tumorous growths.

  • Skins microflora is a delicate balance of protective bacteria’s that defend skin in the same way as friendly bacteria promote gut function. This microflora is noted as distinctly altered in skin diseases such as acne and rosacea.

The skin effects of pollution are obvious when examined under the microscope – can they be seen with the naked eye?

The noticeable skin effects of pollution

Airborne pollution levels have risen significantly since the industrial revolution and our scientific learnings are ever evolving with them.

During 2008 to 2009[iv], a team of researchers noted the visible signs of skin ageing in 400 Caucasian women, aged from 68-79 all living in European cities. Participant’s skin was examined and graded for factors such as pigment spots, coarse wrinkles, and telangiectasia (broken capillaries).

Published in 2010 and the first study of its kind, Dr.Jean Krutmann et al placed antipollution skincare as a top anti-ageing priority. This landmark study showed that people living within high airborne pollution areas had significantly more facial pigment spots alongside an increasing depth of facial folds e.g. the area between the cheek and mouth often referred to as a smile line.

2010 was the first year pollution had been identified as an important factor in the progression of naturally ageing skin.

Of all pollution types, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) may be linked directly to the use of fossil fuels, making it a very interesting measure of facial ageing driven by traffic pollution. Since Dr.Krutmann et al’s initial results were published, the team have gone on to strengthen the link between pigment spots and airborne pollution. At publishing date in 2016[v], it was revealed just a small increase of NO2 (10 micrograms per cubed metre) correlated with a 25% increase in age driven pigment spots. In short, traffic pollution initiates skin ageing and the visible sign of this is an increase of age spots.

Since the link between skin ageing and pollution was made, further studies have gone on to reveal the ageing impact pollution has on skins collagen networks[vi]. The impact it may have towards rearing atopic skin conditions like eczema and even towards changing a person’s skin types[vii].

Skins biology – how pollution invokes age spots

Pigment spots also commonly called age spots are a visible indicator of skins age. The more extrinsic ageing factors the skin has been exposed to, the higher the chances are of developing them.

Age spots are formed from exactly the same ingredient that causes the skin to tan – melanin. All healthy skin types manufacture melanin year round. Every person’s natural skin colouration is caused by a genetically pre-programmed strength and that strength can be affected by the environment e.g. exposure to sunlight.

When skin is young, youthful and healthy it has all the right processes in place to evenly distribute its melanin content. When skin becomes stressed, aged or weakened, these processes can fail, leading to the formation of an age spot.

Skin is comprised of 3 defined layers – epidermis, dermis, and hypodermis. The body’s brown pigment, melanin is created by skin cells called melanocytes right at the base of the skin’s uppermost layer – the epidermis. When healthy melanocytes manufacture and distribute melanin evenly, this results in a healthy and even skin tone. However, when this process is placed under stress an uneven creation of melanin is initiated and skin struggles to distribute it evenly resulting in the formation of an age spot.

The evidence is revealing pollution as a key stressor of the processes needed for a healthy and even complexion.

Antipollution skincare – how to halt skins ageing rate

Everyday skin is under a constant barrage of assault. Take no action and it won’t be long before skin tells tales of its silent war. On the other hand, you can choose action in the form of an effective antipollution skincare routine helping to leave skin visibly younger for longer. With 3 short skincare steps, the stress pollution places on your skin can be minimised.

This is incredibly important if you live in a built-up area as pollution incidence is at its highest. If you live surrounded by countryside, your skin is also not immune. Changing weather fronts cause the spreading of pollution particles to rural areas. Although at reduced levels it’s still important to protect your skin’s health from its ageing effects.

Step 1 – Daily cleansing

The least thought of skincare step is the most important for an effective antipollution skincare routine. Cleansing involves the use of ingredients which gently remove makeup, excess oil and particles of pollution from the skin’s surface.

Removal is the best defence against pollution driven skin ageing. The longer pollution particles cling to skin, the greater their effects. This makes night-time cleansing the most important step in an antipollution routine.

Gentle and naturally based cleansers such as our griffin+row, Cleanse – skin cleanser gel effectively remove pollutants and impurities while also protecting and rebuilding skin’s inner resilience.

Step 2 – Sun protection

Daily sun protection is the next most important step in an antipollution routine. The reactivity of air pollution is increased by UV light. It’s the very cause of photochemical smog. When skin’s collected a layer of pollution particles, any exposure to UV light will accelerate their ageing effect. It may also result in the formation of those highly reactive free radicals.

Daily application of sun protection absorbs the energy of UV light before it has a chance to heighten the ageing skin effects of pollution.

Step 3 – Antioxidant rich cream

Pollution is oxidatively ageing to the skin. The easiest way to protect from oxidative ageing is to use skincare high in anti-oxidants. These ingredients help to neutralise environmental stressors like pollution.

Antioxidant-rich skincare is best used twice daily – morning and night. Morning creams such as our griffin+row Nourish which is a natural skin moisturiser supplies skin with a protective dose of antioxidant vitamin E helping to defend from daily environmental assault.

Nighttime moisturisers like our griffin+row Enrich is an antioxidant night cream which is enriched with a higher concentration of our centess+complex expertly formulated to help replenish the skin’s antioxidant reserves, providing the resilience needed against pollution and ageing.

With just 3 steps you too can create an effective antipollution skincare routine. Effective at all ages and for all skin types steps 1, 2 and 3 form the basics your skin requires to become youthful, healthy and resilient. What are you waiting for?


[i] Vierkötter, Andrea et al., Airborne Particle Exposure and Extrinsic Skin Aging,  Journal of Investigative Dermatology , Volume 130 , Issue 12 , 2719 – 2726, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/jid.2010.204

[ii] Mancebo, S. E. and Wang, S. Q. (2015), Recognizing the impact of ambient air pollution on skin health. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol, 29: 2326–2332. doi:10.1111/jdv.13250

[iii] Murray IA, Patterson AD, Perdew GH. AH RECEPTOR LIGANDS IN CANCER: FRIEND AND FOE. Nature reviews Cancer. 2014;14(12):801-814, doi:  10.1038/nrc3846.

[iv] Vierkötter, Andrea et al., Airborne Particle Exposure and Extrinsic Skin Aging,  Journal of Investigative Dermatology , Volume 130 , Issue 12 , 2719 – 2726, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/jid.2010.204.

[v] Hüls, Anke et al., Traffic-Related Air Pollution Contributes to Development of Facial Lentigines: Further Epidemiological Evidence from Caucasians and Asians, Journal of Investigative Dermatology , Volume 136 , Issue 5 , 1053 – 1056, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jid.2015.12.045.

[vi] Kim KE et al., Air pollution and skin diseases: Adverse effects of airborne particulate matter on various skin diseases. Life Sci. 2016 May 1;152:126-34. doi: 10.1016/j.lfs.2016.03.039.

[vii] Lefebvre, M.-A., Pham, D.-M., Boussouira, B., Bernard, D., Camus, C. and Nguyen, Q.-L. (2015), Evaluation of the impact of urban pollution on the quality of skin: a multicentre study in Mexico. Int J Cosmet Sci, 37: 329–338. doi:10.1111/ics.12203.

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