According to a report published by World Health Organization, air pollution is responsible for an estimated 7 million deaths annually, or one in eight deaths linked to air pollution every year. What is troubling is that the impact is often not great to make dramatic headlines but it is a slow and silent killer.
We all probably know by now that filthy air is bad for your body – and it could also be affecting your skin, too.
We speak to Dr. Siew Tuck Wah, Medical Director of Radium Medical Aesthetics to find out the effects of air pollution on the skin and some recommended treatments to mitigate the damage incurred by the harmful pollutants.
What are the harmful pollutants in the air?
Primary pollutants emitted into the atmosphere include carbon dioxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, free radicals, compounds of toxic metals, chlorofluorocarbons, ammonia, radioactive pollutants, and particulates that are suspended in the air.
Particulate Matter, also called PM, is a term used to describe a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets in the air. PM2.5 is a standard adopted by many countries to measure the atmospheric PM that have a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers because they are fine enough for humans to inhale into their bodies.
PM2.5 can come from various sources such as power plants, motor vehicles, aeroplanes, wood burning, volcanic eruptions and dust storms.
Air pollution and premature aging
Medical scientists investigated a group of women and found that an increase in nitrous oxide caused darkening of pigments by 25%, especially around the face.
It was also noted that doctors in traffic-congested cities such as London saw more pigmentation-related issues, compared with countries that have less traffic such as Ireland.
“Studies have shown that there is a strong correlation between air pollution and signs of aging on the skin,” says Dr. Siew.
“We all think that the UVA and UVB rays from the sun are the only factors that are detrimental to our skin health. This new information about the effects of air pollution on the skin is making us rethink everything we know about pigmentation.” he adds.
Medical scientists believe that the PMs can be attached on your skin and dissolve in the sebum produced by your face, allowing them to penetrate the outer layers of the face. When the harmful particulates are left on the skin for a long time, hydrocarbons may go deeper into the skin tissue, leading to oxidative stress. This may cause chronic inflammation and break down the collagen in the skin.
People with sensitive skin may find themselves suffer from the effects of air pollution more than people who have normal skin.
Ways to combat skin aging from air pollution
In this modern day of rapid modernization, air pollution is ubiquitous. It is almost impossible to stay away from polluted air. However, there are ways to address premature aging and prolong our healthy skin.
Eating a healthy diet rich in omega oils and antioxidants help to support the body’s natural defenses against extrinsic aging. Take more fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, blueberries, dark chocolate, nuts, fatty fish such as salmon, avocado, and turmeric etc.
Cleanse your face thoroughly daily before you go to bed so that your skin has time to rest and repair itself at night. Choose a non-comedogenic skin care products and facial wash to prevent clogged pores.
Regular exfoliation is crucial to remove the residual debris and dirt lodged deep in the pores that cannot be removed through regular cleaning. Some deep cleansing facial treatments such as microdermabrasion and ultrasonic cleansing are gentle, yet effective in removing dead skin and unclog the pores.
Skin pigmentation remains one of the most visible signs of the effects from air pollution. According to Dr. Siew, skin pigmentation can be challenging to treat. Dual Yellow Laser is currently the most effective, yet gentle treatment for a wide range of skin pigmentation.
When the pollutants break down the collagen in the skin, the skin will sag and hang loosely from the face, adding another ten years to your appearance. Non-surgical skin lifting treatments such as Ultherapy and thread lift treatment are available to conveniently lift the skin with minimal risks and downtime.
One such thread lift treatment is Silhouette Soft. Silhouette Soft Thread Lift is a procedure that uses a dissolvable thread lined with tiny bidirectional cones, inserted under the skin to strategically anchor the face to its new, lifted position. After the treatment, one can immediately achieve a sharper facial contour.