Pollution: How Bad Is It For Your Skin?

Every well-beauty-educated girl worth her salt knows that good beauty is built upon a regimen that puts skin first. And if she’s read a magazine or blog or two, she knows that a) impurities are bad and b) hydration is good. Therefore, she’s picked up good habits like drinking a lot of water, cleansing her face every night, etc.

So what’s a girl to do when she’s looking at the prospect of spending a lot of time in a place like Shanghai – notorious for its less-than-pure river water running through the taps and air that could clog loosely woven gauze?

Well that’s what I was looking at when I spent a month in Shanghai and thought about whether I could picture myself living there. I’m not suggesting that air/water was a make-or-break factor for me, but I won’t lie – the environment I’d be living in was something that crossed my mind!

I mean, take, for example, a leisurely run outdoors…are the health benefits cancelled out by the air I take in? If you think I’m being melodramatic, then you haven’t seen a picture of Shanghai recently. And if you have, then you’ve probably spent more time in Beijing and it’s just that in comparison, Shanghai doesn’t look too bad.

Okay, but in all seriousness, it’s entirely livable. But yet, the question remains: are there any adverse effects, in the long-term, if you are living in an environment that’s not pure vs. one that is? And zooming out, I’m now referring to any big, bustling, relatively polluted city with the modern-day products of technology and cosmopolitan-living floating through the air vs. any picturesque location pulled from Nat Geo.

There’s been plenty of debate about the impact of the environment on general health – and consensus is stretched between conclusions of “nominal” and “dramatically adverse.” But what about beauty, specifically? Is my skin going to suffer in the long-term if I were to spend the rest of my life in Shanghai or Beijing?

Kristen on TotalBeauty.com posted an article last month called “Anti-Aging Skincare Advice: Become a Country Bumpkin that purported that living in a city ages you by as much as 20%. It’s actually a fantastic little article, but I must admit I scoffed a little bit when I first read the headline because, well, moving out of a city to avoid wrinkles? Silliest thing I ever heard. Hell, if you’ve moved to the middle of nowhere to achieve perfect skin, how many people are going to see the fabulous results you’ve sacrificed so much to achieve anyways?

But then I thought about it: moving is a little dramatic, yes, but if the danger is real, then maybe precautions ought to be taken.

Total Beauty cites a study in Germany that has found that exposure to air pollution may cause an increase of red and brown spots on the forehead and cheeks by 20%.

The scientists from the study hypothesize that components of pollution found in cities may “directly stimulate proliferation of pigment cells in the skin” from “pollution induced oxidative damage.” That is nerd speak for: despite the fact that you slather on sunscreen everyday like it’s your job, you’ll still get age spots on your face because you live near too many people.


While I’m not sure how willing I am to accept a figure like that at face value without learning a little bit more about the actual study, it’s still a scary thought.

But as a born-and-bred city girl, I will eagerly accept advice on how to protect myself from the negative impact of city-living. Dr. Chapas, the quoted dermatologist in the above article, suggests using products with an antioxidant like Vitamin C to lighten pollution-induced pigmentation, and recommends Clinique Even Better Skin Tone Corrector , $49.50 to her patients because it “incorporates antioxidants plus skin lighteners.

Fancl , a Japanese skincare brand, unveiled what I thought was a pretty brilliant ad about a year ago (I think?). It focused on this concern exactly. It was the first ad I’d seen address this issue and thought it was quite an effective ad because it tied in the product directly with a relevant and relatable skin concern. In the ad, she battles away impurities and this product promises “pollution-free skin.” I love it, see it here.

At the end of the day, prevention is way better than relying on correcting serums and laser-treatments at the dermatologist to fix the damage. So if you’re not ready to move out of the city for the sake of your skin quite yet, it’s all the more important that you’re extra-diligent about cleansing your skin. Even boil the water if you know it’s not the purest (we can’t all afford to splurge on mineral water for face-washing after all!). Pick-up a brightening/skin-tone correcting product, like Clinique’s, while you’re at it and use it on a regular basis anyways. I slather Lancome’s Bright Expert Intense Brightening Spot Correcting Serum, $90, all over my face and not just on existing/emerging spots.


About jessyclaire

A blogger passionate about the beauty industry and the quirky beauty differences across the globe.
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