I think about pollution every day. I really think about it when I run outside (which I do three or four mornings a week). Next to a highway. In Manhattan. While I'm diligent about applying an antioxidant serum and sunscreen before I run (even if it's cloudy in the middle of February), according to a recent study published in the "Journal of Investigative Dermatology," that's not enough. Pollution is giving me wrinkles.
The study followed 400 women ages 70 to 80 who were either living in polluted urban centers or clean rural towns in Germany. It factored in things like sun exposure and sunscreen use and concluded that the women exposed to significant amounts of pollution had about 20 percent more pigment spots and significantly more wrinkles and sagging.
"We talk a lot about sun and smoking [causing extrinsic aging], and there's no debate about that," says Seattle dermatologist Lauri Tadlock, M.D. "Now, there's some pretty good evidence that pollution can be added to that list."
Unless you want to pack up and move to Cheyenne, Wyoming (it's ranked No. 1 for cleanest year-round particle pollution), here's what you can do to keep pollution from damaging your skin. And I'm not just writing this for my fellow New Yorkers -- even Cincinnati, Ohio is in pretty bad shape.
Types of Pollution: Ozone
For reference, I'll give you the scoop on the two worst types of pollution. The first is ozone pollution -- like the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) emitted by cars. You can't see it -- even if there's a lot of it -- because it's a gas. But it definitely affects your air quality -- and your skin. "Ozone directly oxidizes cellular proteins and lipids," explains Washington D.C. dermatologist Elizabeth Tanzi, M.D. "And that's a bad thing." Tanzi believes antioxidants are the key to fighting ozone -- after all antioxidants defend your skin from oxidation. (More on antioxidants later … )
To find out how bad the ozone is in your area, visit stateoftheair.org. (My running route got a big fat F.)
Antioxidants for Ozone Protection
When ozone attacks the proteins and the lipids in your skin, it causes massive amounts of inflammation (a significant cause of aging on its own). "The best defense is a good offense," says Tanzi. "You want to stop the inflammation before it happens." In addition to wearing a sunscreen every day, you should layer an antioxidant serum underneath. "There are lots of antioxidants out there, but the key is stability," says Tanzi. She recommends Skinceuticals C E Ferulic, $157, which happens to be my go-to, as well. The combination of ferulic acid with vitamins C and E helps the antioxidants last longer while moisturizing skin and calming inflammation.
Particulate pollution, as the name suggests, is made up of tiny particles, most of which you can't see unless they're clumped together. "You're worried about those that are 10 microns in size or smaller," says Tadlock. "A human hair is 70 microns, so these particles are significantly smaller." They're so small, in fact, that they get into our pores -- and that's where they do their damage. "It looks like those very fine particles cause skin aging," says Tadlock. "Nobody really knows how it works yet, but there's evidence. And whoever is living in the places with the highest levels of pollution is most susceptible."
Stateoftheair.org measures the particulate pollution over the last 24 hours. (This morning, my air was a C, which isn't great, but at least it passed.)
Cleanse Really, Really Well
Because particulate pollution is almost like dirt gunking up your pores, you can get rid of it by washing your face … sort of. Your regular cleanser-plus-hands routine probably isn't going to cut it. Research shows that sonic cleansing is the best way to get rid of particulate pollution that's deep down in there. Tadlock recommends using a Clarisonic Cleansing Brush. "It oscillates and it's extremely gentle," she says. "And it cleanses 30 times better than manual cleansing."
If you're looking to amp up your exfoliation with sonic benefits, try the Skin Perfecter, $225. I'm currently obsessed. It's a metal spatula-like device that you glide along your skin in a choreographed pattern. It cleans makeup, dead skin cells and pollution(!) from your pores, while extracting clogs and increasing collagen production. Genius, right?