How to reduce the impact the environment has on your skin

It’s not only what we apply onto our skin that can affect us but the harmful pollutants that we encounter on a daily basis, finds Alina Hardcastle. We take a look at how to reduce the impact that damaging environmental factors have on our skin.

Dr Claire Jamieson of Ordinary skincare says that human skin is a complex and highly adapted organ which has many functions from hormonal production to protection. “Skin has three layers that work together to keep moisture in and keep environmental pollutants out. Skin is finely tuned to react to sensation and exposure to temperature, pressure and chemicals.”

Lamelle Skincare adds that ageing begins at the moment of birth. “Gradual changes in the structure and functioning of the skin accumulate over time driven by both the pre-determined speed of decline via genetics and accelerated by the harsh environment that we live in.”

Air pollution

Liza-Marie Prinsloo, product educator of Poise Brands, the exclusive distributor of Mii Cosmetics, Juliette Armand, Mio and Mama Mio skincare in South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa says: “Damage from air pollution is not always immediate and is more dangerous as we are not aware of the harm it is causing.”

She states that most common sources of air pollutant particles include cigarette smoke, dust, smog, and car exhaust fumes. “These sources contain tiny particles that are small enough to penetrate the skin’s protective barrier and cause damage not only to the skin but can affect the entire body by damaging cells and causing diseases.”

The effects on skin alone include decreased moisture and elasticity, acne, dull and dry skin, eczema, skin allergies, rashes, and wrinkles.

Other environmental irritants

Poor quality air increases the concentration of air born irritants. Plant based allergens such as poison ivy or even common grass allergies cause skin reactions with redness, burning and itching. Jamieson explains that these symptoms are designed to alert one to the presence of an irritant and to avoid further exposure. She says that this can also happen when the skin comes into contact with the following:

  • Latex (rubber gloves or condoms)
  • Nickel (bra clips, metal fastenings, watch straps, jewellery)
  • Fragrance
  • Sunscreens containing cinnamates
  • Skincare products that contain sensitizing ingredients
  • Emulsifiers (washing powders, dishwashing detergents)

Sun damage

Along with air pollutants and irritants, Jamieson expresses that the most harmful environmental factor that affects skin is the sun. She says that the exposure to UVA and UVB rays accounts for most skin damage as it causes photo ageing and cancers. “Some sources claim that 90% of skin problems can be attributed to the consequences of sun damage.”

The healthy skin solution, a website about skincare trends and products, adds that the harmful rays break down the skin’s support structure, the all-important collagen and elastin that keeps the skin tight and supple. “Someone with sun damaged skin will have deeper lines and wrinkles compared to someone who does not have sun damage.”

The online resource, further explains that exposure to extreme weather conditions (cold, heat, wind, rain and sudden changes in temperature), pollutants and poor air quality all adversely affect the skin’s quality, resulting in dryness and dehydration.

What can you do to protect your skin?

Though you may not be able to escape environmental pollution, it is possible to shield yourself from its damaging effects. Jamieson explains that there are three easy ways to protect your skin:

  • Cleanse: Cleanse your face regularly with a mild cleanser and warm water. Ensure that you don’t use soap with bactericidal additives, this is not necessary and may be harmful to your skin. Prinsloo suggests that this is done twice a day (once in the morning and evening).
  • Moisturise: Use a simple yet effective moisturiser to help maintain the lipid barrier and help protect your skin from irritants. Dry skin is more prone to irritation and sensitivities. Avoid any irritants that may include ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), anti-ageing chemicals, botanicals, peptides or names you have not heard before. Izette Deyer of Royale South Africa adds that to combat the effects of pollution on your skin, you need to use a good anti-oxidant, for example pomegranate seed oil. It fights the free radicals caused by pollution.
  • Protect: Apply sunscreen and make use of a physical shield such as hat, cotton clothing, warm clothing when it is cold, gloves and appropriate footwear. It’s important to wear an SPF daily even on cloudy days.

In addition, Prinsloo advises the following tips:

  • One should improve ventilation by allowing more fresh air in from the outdoors.
  • Keep the humidity inside low.
  • Use products that emit lower amounts of formaldehyde (colourless, flammable, strong-smelling chemical that is used in building materials and to produce many household products).
  • Use a vacuum cleaner with a high-efficiency particulate arrestance(HEPA) filter and vacuum regularly to clean up particles of dust that settle in carpet and on other household surfaces.
  • Keep air conditioner filters clean so they can trap pollutants blown indoors.
  • Remove carpets and replace them with hardwood or tile floor.
  • Have couches with covers that can be removed and washed.
  • Use blinds instead of drapes, because they collect less dust.
  • A diet rich in antioxidants from fruit and vegetables will give the body the vitamins and nutrients to fight skin damage.
  • Drink lots of water every day to combat dehydration and the drying effects of air pollution.
  • Use skincare products that contain collagen and elastin, antioxidants, vitamins and proteins to protect the skin and prevent premature aging.


Prinsloo suggest the following products from the Juliette Armand range:

Juliette Armand Sensitive Cleansing Gel: Innovative cleansing gel for sensitive, reactive and oily skin. Prinsloo says: “It is great to be used by people living in highly polluted environments. It contains a plant extract, Osmopure, which protects the skin from cytotoxic action of smoke, cigarettes, and other air pollutants and heavy metals.” The recommended retail price for the Sensitive Cleansing Gel is R405 for a 210 ml.

Juliette Armand Sirtuin Serum: Biological aging regulator of skin vitality, delivering instant radiance and a youthful look. Prinsloo explains: “Sirtuin proteins are naturally present in the body to make a cell stronger, healthier and more reliant and long-lived. They eat free radicals and ionized materials to reactivate the cells process and restore skin youth.” The recommended retail price for the Sirtuin Serum is R690 for a 20ml.

Juliette Armand Sunfilm Face Gel SPF 30: Soothing tinted sun gel with a delicate non-oily feel. “This product is ideal for sensitive and oily skin as well as children”, says Prinsloo. The recommended retail price for the Sunfilm Face Gel SPF 30 is R605 for a 55ml.