Ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun has long been deemed skin’s worst enemy, wreaking havoc on a cellular level and resulting in fine lines, pigment gone wild, and even skin cancer. But experts warn of another stealth skin saboteur: pollution.
From the incessant soot lining you windowsills, you already know you’re constantly surrounded by pollution—what’s alarming is that the particulate matter suspended in the air actually enters the skin, attacks cell DNA, and, over time, causes wrinkles, dryness, inflammation, and uneven tone. “Pollution microparticles are 20 times smaller than your pores, so they easily infiltrate the skin,” says NYC dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD.
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Digital light pollution—the blue light emitted from your phone, tablet, or computer—is also a threat. This high-energy visible light (HEV) causes free radical damage, as UV light does, but penetrates the skin more deeply than either UVA or UVB wavelengths. “HEV destroys the DNA of skin cells and leads to premature aging and cellular death,” says Barbara Sturm, MD, an aesthetic doctor based in Düsseldorf, Germany, whose Anti-Pollution Drops are a cult favorite. The good news: You can bolster your skin’s natural defenses.
Create a protective force field in the A.M
First, apply an antioxidant serum “to bind to free radicals and keep them from causing cellular damage,” Engelman advises. Next, block particles as well as digital light with a product designed to “form a semipermeable membrane that protects pores from getting infiltrated,” she adds (try Clinique Dramatically Different Hydrating Jelly, which safeguards skin against pollution). As the final step in your routine, use a mineral sun- screen to deflect UV as well as HEV: “Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide act like tiny shields on the skin’s surface against a broad spectrum of light,” Engelman says.
At night, remove toxins from the skin’s surface
Don’t skip washing your face before bed. A facial brush can help you to achieve a deeper clean: “Ultrasonic devices, like Clarisonic, loosen pollution particles from the pores, so they can be easily removed,” Engelman notes. Wipe away residual debris with a cotton pad soaked with micellar water or an essence (try Exuviance Probiotic Lysate Anti-Pollution Essence, $49). Follow up with a charcoal mask a few times a week (such as Talika Bubble Mask, $10; or Burt’s Bees Detoxifying Charcoal Sheet Mask, $3). “Activated charcoal helps to clear out superficial toxins before they can do serious dam- age,” Engelman explains.
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Repair DNA damage while you sleep
According to Beverly Hills dermatologist Ronald Moy, MD, undoing even some of the dam- age caused by debris, toxins, digital light, and UV rays will help keep skin healthy. His RMD skin-care line harnesses the power of DNA repair enzymes, derived from plankton, blue algae, and mustard greens (try RMD DNA Night Renewal lotion, $130). To detox from the inside out, Moy recommends taking 500 mg of vitamin B3 (aka niacinamide) twice a day, which has been “shown in studies to boost DNA repair and lessen signs of aging as well as decrease the potential for skin cancer.” And bolster your body’s—and skin’s—inherent ability to repair overnight with Moy’s RMD Nox Blend ($25), which contains vitamin B3 plus calming lemon balm extract and melatonin to promote better sleep. “When your circadian rhythm isn’t operating at peak condition, you’re damaging your skin’s ability to protect and heal itself,” he explains.
From left to right: Dr. Barbara Strum Molecular Cosmetics Anti-Pollution Drops ($145) neutralize damage and strengthens skin’s barrier.
BareMinerals Complexion Rescue Defense SPF 30 ($39) has mineral sunscreens and cacao extract to block UV and blue light, while sugar molecules create a protective layer.
Clinique Dramatically Different Hydrating Jelly ($28) contains sodium hyaluronate, glycerin, and barely extract to defend skin from pollution.
Antioxidants—THD Ascorbate (a powerful form of vitamin C), vitamin E, and ferulic acid—in Peter Thomas Roth Potent-C Power Serum ($95) fight free radicals.
This article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of ELLE.