As a beauty editor, I’ve been hearing for years that pollution—and particularly these pesky little things called free radicals—can completely ruin my skin. I live in New York City, so there’s NO way I can avoid pollution.Does not inspire confidence. That said, I’m also aware that lots of people don’t even know what free radicals are. So naturally I decided to talk to some dermatologists to find out whether these environmental stressors are really worth the worry, or if they’re total BS.
What I discovered is that pollution is a valid concern when it comes to aging (yes, ANOTHER thing that can cause wrinkles). But there are simple things you can do to reduce the damage, like filling your plate with antioxidant-rich foods and applying vitamin-boosted serums. Get the full science lesson ahead.
Yes, pollution particles exist and there is nothing you can do to avoid them.
Originally I figured I’d be more exposed to pollution because of my big-city locale, but that’s not necessarily true. “Sadly pollution is not limited to cities,” Ava Shamban, M.D., a dermatologist featured on The Doctors and Extreme Makeover and a ** Bellafill spokesperson, tells SELF. “Pollution is generated by a lot of machinery and some of the chemicals that are applied to farmlands. It’s pretty hard to escape unless you live in an isolated area in a small little cabin.” Read: pollution is everywhere.
First, a quick note about how pollution and free radicals are linked. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, the amount of pollution has been growing in the atmosphere. Lots of these pollutants—like smog, cigarette smoke, metal ions, radiation, and even the chemicals in your household cleaners—generate free radicals that exist in the atmosphere alongside the polluted air.
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Here’s why it matters: Free radicals are tiny nano-particles that have unpaired electrons, which makes them chemically unstable. The free radicals in the air are on the hunt for other electrons to reach a more stable state, so they snatch them from other atoms—like the ones in human cells. By stealing electrons from your body’s cells, free radicals can accelerate the aging process. That’s because these nano-sized particles are small enough to get into your pores and can be inhaled through your nose, which can lead to inflammation—your body’s natural reaction to foreign objects.
“It’s like a mini-city when you look under a microscope with all these pathways that allow for healthy skin regeneration,” Christine Choi Kim, M.D., a dermatologist in Santa Monica, tells SELF. “If you disrupt any of these pathways, it’s like putting a monkey wrench in a factory.” Free radicals are one of the many things that can cause these disruptions.
But there is good news. Your body has natural defenses against pollution.
“The skin is designed as a barrier to keep our organs inside and to keep outside elements out like viruses, bacteria, fungus, foreign objects,” says Dr. Shamban. Your body is also naturally prepared to take on pollution with antioxidants that you get from your diet. Antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E protect your cells by offering up electrons to satisfy free radicals’ needs. Foods like blueberries, green tea, and walnuts can provide your skin with the necessary antioxidants to fight off the aging effects of pollution internally. You can also add antioxidants to your beauty routine to prevent damage from environmental stressors.
Cleansing, exfoliating, and applying antioxidants to your skin can fight free radical damage.
“Even though these particles are tiny and can get into the superficial layers, you can help protect yourself against these nano sized particles by exfoliating and applying creams to help improve the barrier function,” says Dr. Shamban. Exfoliating helps remove the pollution particles from your skin and an antioxidant serum creates a layer of protection against pollution.
Pollution is bad and all, but the sun is still your biggest worry.
“Eighty percent of free-radical formation is from UV radiation,” says Dr. Kim. “I would never say put on this antioxidant serum in place of sunscreen. I would say layer it underneath a sunscreen or use a sunscreen that already has antioxidants built in.” It’s especially important to get your daily dose of antioxidants in the morning before you encounter harmful pollutants, just like with SPF.
Unlike sun damage where you get a tan, there’s no immediate sign you’ve encountered environmental pollution. However the effects on your skin could appear later in life. Bottom line: better safe than sorry. Your mom was right, you need to eat your fruits and vegetables—for their antioxidant power, of course.
Read more at: http://www.self.com/story/the-effect-of-pollution-free-radicals-on-skin