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If you want healthy, glowing skin, the best place to start is with a healthy lifestyle and an excellent skin care routine. Nutritious food and adequate sleep are the building blocks for healthy skin. However, there is one often-overlooked factor in skin care that might be affecting the health of your skin—pollution.

Healthy skin starts from the inside out, but skin damage can start from the outside in. Smog, dust, dirt, and other particulates in the air pose risks to the skin, your largest organ. Short of staying indoors or donning a biohazard suit, there are steps you can take to shield your skin and reduce the consequences of pollution.

The Effects of Pollution

Unless you live high in the Himalayan Mountains, you most likely encounter some sort of pollution every day. The diminishing ozone has led to increased exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays and, as a result, increased rates of melanoma. Furthermore, the air is filled with all sorts of pollutants, such as cigarette smoke, car exhaust, smog, dirt, dust, and other particulates. These pollutants increase the levels of free radicals produced by the body. Free radicals are unstable molecules that attack human cells and damage DNA. They lead to aging, tissue damage, and possible disease.

Free radicals are everywhere—in the air we breathe, the foods we eat, sunlight, and pollution. In fact, recent research indicates that the average person inhales about 300 cigarettes’ worth of persistent free radicals (PFRs) each day.[1] PFRs are free radicals similar to those found in cigarettes and appear to be pervasive in the environment.

Pollution and the Skin

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Pollution is one of the main sources of damage to the skin. Free radicals interfere with the skin’s ability to produce collagen, which keeps it firm and healthy. When contaminants come into contact with your skin, they can interfere with the skin’s ability to regulate moisture, leaving the skin dry, splotchy, wrinkled, and clogged.

Think about the dirty film that builds up on your car between washes. That same film is building up on your skin—you just don’t see it.

Protecting Your Skin

Pollution is an inevitable fact of life. It’s unlikely that you can avoid it, but you can take steps to shield your skin from its effects. Here’s how:

  • Antioxidants: Antioxidants are substances or nutrients that can prevent or slow oxidative damage to the body. They have been shown to block free radical activity in the body. Eating a diet rich in antioxidants is an excellent line of defense against the damaging effects of pollution. Antioxidants are found in many fruits and vegetables, but most often those that are brightly colored. Consider including antioxidant-rich foods in your diet such as tomatoes, carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, leafy greens, and more.
  • Water: Stay hydrated to flush toxins through your system and keep your skin (and entire body) healthy.
  • Skin Care Products: Choose skin care products that contain protective ingredients such as vitamins A, C and E.
  • Cleanse: Cleanse your skin thoroughly each day to remove the layer of dirt and grime and prevent build-up and congestion.
  • Sunscreen: The diminishing ozone layer results in increased UV exposure, more sunburns, and higher rates of melanoma. UV exposure increases free radical activity. Protect your skin from the damaging effects of the sun and ozone.


[1] Truong H, Lomnicki S, Dellinger B. Potential for Misidentification of Environmentally Persistent Free Radicals as Molecular Pollutants in Particulate Matter. Environmental Science and Technology. 2010; 44(6):1933–1939.