Your Simple 4-Step Guide To Protecting Skin Against Pollution

Every day your skin is subjected to the ravages of pollutants, much of which are invisible, that affect skin not only on a topical level, but on a cellular level too. So how do you protect yourself from this barrage of skin abusers? We've devised the perfect defence plan for the savvy urbanite.

As city dwellers, it’s almost impossible to escape pollution. Besides causing harm to your health, smog, ultraviolet rays and free radicals can affect skin and accelerate the ageing process. A study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology compared women who lived in urban and rural environments over a quarter of a decade, and found those who were exposed to pollution had more dark spots and wrinkling. Dr Tan YZ of Mizu Aesthetic Clinic comments, “Pollutants like free radicals damage healthy skin cells and can bring about other skin problems like redness, dryness and skin sensitivity.” Dr Teo Wan Lin of TWL Specialist Skin & Laser Centre adds, “PM 2.5 particles generates reactive oxygen species which increases the process of ageing, via the effect of collagen degradation in our skin and wrinkle formation.”

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You may not be able to help stop the pollution, but you can certainly prevent or neutralise its brutal attack. Simple changes to your skincare, cleansing and adopting antioxidant-rich products, can have a positive impact on your skin, guarding it from these modern-day threats. We show you how with our four-step defence plan: Just remember the 4 Ps – Purify, Prevent, Pamper and Protect.

STEP 1: PURIFY

Being exposed to the haze is practically an annual affair in Singapore, and over the years we’ve been taught that it’s the PM 2.5 particles that are most harmful to the body. In layman terms, PM 2.5 means particles that are smaller than 2.5 micrometres. To illustrate just how small that is, one PM 2.5 particle is just three per cent of the diameter of a strand of hair – small enough to enter the skin and penetrate deep into the lungs.
In a joint study focusing on the effects of PM 2.5 particles on skin cells, scientists from Shanghai Medical School and Fudan University have discovered that exposure to concentrated amounts of PM 2.5 particles lead to weakened cell membranes, increasing the possibility of inflammation. This increases the risk of eczema and other inflammatory-related skin problems.

So, the first thing you’ve got to do is to use cleansers that help get rid of the PM 2.5 particles and other pollutants that might stick to the skin’s surface.

STEP 2: PREVENT

Free radicals are by-products of metabolism produced by the body, but they also spawn from pollution, radiation or cigarette smoke. Free radicals have missing electrons which are purposefully created by the immune system to bond with bacteria and viruses in a bid to neutralise them. However, when left to their own devices, free radicals will capture electrons from healthy cells, leaving them vulnerable to damage.

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Enter the unsung heroes that end free radicals’ cycle of destruction: Antioxidants like vitamins C and E readily give up their own electrons to stabilise free radicals, taking the damage for regular cells. You get antioxidants in certain foods and fruits (berries are a great source), but application of topical skincare products also yield effective anti-ageing results as they contain high concentrations of the good stuff.

STEP 3: PAMPER

As free radicals attack, cell membranes weaken over time. This can manifest in the form of inflammation, itchiness and skin sensitivity. Besides daily application of antioxidant-rich creams, give skin the chance to bounce back to health with masks which not only help counter free radical damage, but also soothe redness and strengthen the skin’s barrier.

STEP 4: PROTECT

We’ve heard this a million times: Sunscreen is good for you. However, many still fall behind in terms of sun protection. The bare minimum means putting sunscreen every day, but ensuring adequate protection requires more than just slathering it on. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation in the US, the amount of sunscreen applied on the face should at least be a dollar-coin dollop, and because sunscreens photo-degenerate once exposed to the sun, you should reapply it every two hours. Choose a broad spectrum sunscreen that have an SPF rating of at least 30 to protect against UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin and cause premature ageing, while UVB rays cause the skin’s surface to burn. So, don’t leave home without sunscreen.

Text: Arissa Ha / Photos: Vee Chin / Makeup: Larry Yeo / Hair: Samuel Sim, Hairloom using Goldwell / Model:Yasmin M, AVE Model Management

A print version of this article can be found in the March 2018 issue of The Singapore Women’s Weekly. 

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