How to protect your skin from the effects of pollution

Australia is a country of many and varied environments. That means we’re all exposed to pollutants and other chemical threats in different ways, and so is our skin.

Depending on where you live, the city or a rural location, you might see the effects of pollutants like smog, exhaust fumes, unsafe building substances or chemicals and pesticides on your skin. During Skin Awareness Month, we want to share how exposure to these pollutants can cause signs of sensitivity such as dryness, irritation, roughness and flaky skin.

In the video above, we’ve looked at how pollution affects our skin, along with how you can mitigate those effects.

What’s going on with my skin?

Our skin works hard to protect our bodies against infectious threats and chemical harm on top of all the other jobs it does, like enabling physical sensations and keeping our body temperature in check.

It’s made up of several distinct layers, each of which performs an important function. The outermost layer, known as the stratum corneum, is made up of tightly packed cells, held together by lipids and fatty acids, that regulate both the flow of water across the skin and how permeable it is.

Below this is the keratinocytes, which make the keratin responsible for our skin’s structure. Next are the melanocytes that produce our skin’s pigment (read: tone) and hair.

The last layer includes immune cells that protect us against germs — our skin’s last line of defence, if you will. They work in tandem with antimicrobial proteins that offer our internal organs broad protection.

How does pollution affect our skin?

Importantly, when it comes to pollution we should remember that exposure can occur indoors and outdoors.

Pollutants can increase the signs of ageing, as well as exacerbate the symptoms of more serious skin conditions that might appear as dryness, flaky, irritated or oily skin for example.

When already-vulnerable skin is dehydrated by the use of soap-based products, microscopic cracks can cause moisture to escape and infections to breach its defences.

How can I protect my skin from the effects of pollution?

As we’ve noted above, your skin is a well-oiled machine—no pun intended—and it needs moisture, fats and proteins to operate as such.

In addition to maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine, cleansing regularly is one of the most effective ways to remove dirt, grime and pollutants from your skin.

But not all cleansers are created equal: many contain soap or soap substitutes that strip the skin of its natural moisture, extracting our skin’s naturally occurring fats and oils, and ultimately weakening the skin’s structure and leaving it more vulnerable than before.

Soap-based products and sanitisers can be particularly damaging to the skin’s moisture barrier, meaning skin that is exposed to these products frequently—like the skin on your hands—can be damaged faster and to a worse degree. This can be a particular problem with our heightened levels of hygiene and handwashing during a pandemic.

To effectively clean your skin without making things worse, try using a soap-free liquid or foaming cleanser. Cetaphil’s Gentle Foaming Cleanser for your face is perfect for sensitive skin and proven to effectively cleanse skin from environmental pollutants. Cetaphil’s Gentle Skin Cleanser for your body is formulated to work with the skin’s natural pH and is suitable for all skin types. It actually moisturisers while it cleanses.

And while it can be tempting to crawl into bed after a long day without cleaning your skin, dirt, impurities and make-up left on overnight can irritate your skin and clog pores, leading to break-outs.

Follow up with a dermatologically formulated moisturiser that helps rehydrate the skin on your face and body, like Cetaphil’s Daily Hydration Lotion with Hyaluronic Acid for your face and Cetaphil’s Moisturising Cream for your face or body. A few minutes spent effectively washing away impurities and generously applying some moisturiser now will save you a lot of frustration in the long-run.