SPF is no longer enough, hair and skin need an extra layer of defence, performed by specific antipollution skin care products, a key rising trend, currently top of industry’s agenda.

Globally air quality has deteriorated seriously in the past few decades with economic development and modern industrialization. It has become the leading global risk for public health, and most megacities in developing countries are experiencing the worst air pollution, a complex mixture of particles and gas-phase pollutants arising from a myriad of sources (tab.1).

Most megacities in low and middle income level countries experience extremely high levels of both visible (particulate matter) and invisible (gases) forms of air pollution, and their dwellers are at the highest risk of cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases and nevertheless of skin alteration, responsible of ageing, allergic-inflammatory reactions, hyper-keratinisation and cancer.

Skin acts as a barrier protecting us against environmental agents and when progressively loses it’s integrity because of pollution, shows visible sign of accelerated ageing. This is why SPF is no longer enough, your hair and skin need an extra layer of defence. Cosmetic industry has been facing this new awareness formulating new specific anti-pollution skin care products, able to stay on the top of the skin where they can effectively shield pollutants without the risk of clogging pores, and the pollution particles will then fall away or be removed when you wash your face.

Anti-pollution is a key rising trend, currently top of industry’s agenda, increasingly looking for novel ingredients to meet the growing consumer demand. In Asia, particularly in China, you meet the greatest opportunities for anti-pollution ingredients. USA and Europe are a step behind due to a different awareness of the issue. Although some of these new ingredients seem to be very promising, further clinical research is necessary to better understand their effects against pollution. Natural is the way to go, consumers who are interested in anti-pollution wouldn’t want ingredients that might contribute to the pollution. A combination of a variety of botanical extracts, vitamins and ingredients that creates a physical barrier, is likely to be the preferred option by consumers.

Dehydration, reduced natural anti-oxidant defences, collagen break down: Pollution skin damages

From European to Asian cities, you can see effects of toxic fumes on skin. Air pollution in urban areas, much of which comes from traffic, includes tiny particles called PMs, nitrogen dioxide (NO2), chemicals such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and many others (tab.1). They can penetrate skin barrier through follicle bulbs, spreading and getting into the deeper layers of the epidermis. causing free-radical damage, which, in turn, can cause premature cellular death. In other words, it can wreak havoc on the skin right down to its DNA. Once pollutants get into the skin, they activate multiple pathways of inflammation, some of which ignite the melanocytes, which create far too much pigment and end up giving you unwanted sun spots. Other pathways ignite messengers that make blood vessels grow, that’s what results in increased redness and potentially rosacea. Moreover, damaged skin goes into repair mode and excites enzymes which re-adsorb damaged collagen. But, when the chronic inflammation is too much, these enzymes remove more collagen than how much skin can create. Pollution breaks down collagen and the skin’s lipid layer, which compromises the barrier function. This produces skin laxity and that’s where fine lines and wrinkles come in. Other visible consequences are dehydration, loss of elasticity, dullness, clogged pores, uneven skin tone, darkening of the skin and acne-like eruptions, all in all, ageing. According to a German research published on the Journal For Investigative Dermatology, women living in polluted cities, have many more spots on the skin compared to peers who live in rural areas. But bad consequences concern also hair. The free radicals increasing level, damages hair follicles and promote hair loss. Besides, fine particles set down the cuticle, ruining the stem.

Skin care as a pollutant relief: next trends

Consumers are now worrying about the impact of air pollution on their skin. Major beauty companies have begun their own research and are launching the first products formulated to battle skin damage from toxic air. University and private laboratories, are screening for ingredients that could counteract some of the damaging effects, it being understood that the ingredients most featured in anti-pollution products are antioxidants and inflammatories.

The key trends see the rise of multifunctional products that combat pollution and lifestyle stressors together, products that relieve fatigue and reenergize skin with an added aromatherapy touch for emotional wellbeing. Of course the formulation need to be free from chemicals and based on naturals, very appreciated are the ones inspired by food, like those containing probiotics, vegetables or fruits extract (for example broccoli or orange) to cleanse, detox, renew dull and damaged skin, respectively.

Antioxidants, like Vitamin E and C derived from fruits and vegetables, are your best bet you can found in products protecting against pollution, these help to neutralize free-radical damage, which, in turn, will minimize the appearance of hyperpigmentation, wrinkles and sagging skin over time. Vitamin C works directly to trap ozone and seems to have a higher antioxidant potential than that of Vitamin E. Moreover, in human skin, it seems to regenerate tocopherol, starting from the tocopheroxyl radicals, as well as have a synergic effect with Vitamin E.

Antioxidants including green tea and ferulic acid, seamlessly blends into skin to act as a shield against irritants in the air. Moreover, anti-pollution it’s a sustainable beauty, all cosmetics claiming to be pollution-proof, need to minimize impact on the environment. According where you live in the globe, you find different anti-pollution skin care. In China, products are relatively more focused on hydration and whitening claims, in Japan on UV protection in addition to brightening and hydration claims. Europe and North America prefer antioxidants and vitamin fortified claims for a brightening and anti-aging finally effects. Especially in Europe, organic, free-from (e.g. parabens) and environmentally-friendly product claims, are relatively higher. Finally Latin America and south est Asia are more active in the cleanse and protect space.

Clean It Off, Neutralize It, Create a Barrier

Much can be done to protect your skin when you live in urban centers very polluted. 3 simple step in your beauty routine, can have a big, positive impact on skin. Starting out especially by a good cleansing, in the morning use a mild cleanser, then at night, you need to go deeper to remove the layer of dirt and grime to prevent build-up. Just a cleansing milk or a SOAP based on vegetable oils, you can also use brushes for cleaning, but they are not suitable for those who suffer from rosacea. It is important that the products do not contain aggressive substances responsible of drying and irritating reactions, but they need to stimulate skin resources. There are also excellent scrubs that stimulate cell turnover.
The second step is neutralize skin. Pollutants literally poke holes in the collagen, which is what gives skin its firmness, so this is why you need to use antioxidant based beauty cream which can donate an electron where needed, effectively neutralizing the free radical and diminishing its havoc-wreaking effects on your skin. It is important to use beauty creams without peg, oil, vaseline, all derivatives of the petrochemical industry.
At the end create a barrier. Man-made pollution not only damages skin directly but also contributes to the erosion of the ozone layer, which helps shield us from the sun’s harmful rays. So you’re getting more sun exposure than ever before, even on cold, cloudy days. This is why the first form of defense, above all else, should be sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher, but also in this case, the products must be environmentally friendly.


Extremely high pollution levels  is now becoming a global issue that is affecting all major cities in the world, and not just big cities.

Smog damages the skin proteins, such as collagen and elastin, destroys the skin’s protective barrier, which become more prone, in the long term, to ageing, dark spots, acne, eczema, skin darkening, and other more serious conditions, including skin cancer. To defend it, the best way is to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to make the full of antioxidants, use proper skin care anti pollution products and taking care of your skin with an appropriate beauty routine. Current scientific evidence suggests there are four mechanisms by which ambient air pollutants cause adverse effects on skin health: generation of free radicals, induction of inflammatory cascade and subsequent impairment of skin barrier, activation of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) and alterations to skin microflora. The scientific discoveries are now driving the world’s biggest cosmetics companies to search for solutions, including medicine-like compounds that directly block the biological damage. Many new ingredients are of natural source and they have to exert antioxidant and anti inflammatories properties. The anti pollution skin care is set to became the next key trend of the cosmetic world.

A 2016 study from the Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine, in Germany, showed NO2 also increases ageing. They studied people in both Germany and China and discovered that age spots on their cheeks increased by 25% with a relatively small increase in pollution, 10 microgrammes of NO2 per cubic metre. Many parts of Europe have illegally high levels of NO2, for example London breaking its annual limit in the first week of 2016, with levels reaching over 200 microgrammes of NO2 per cubic metre.


by D. Barillaro, cosmetologist