Down and Dirty


Emma Hobson

Education Manager

The International Dermal Institute and Dermalogica

The world is becoming a dirty place to live. According to the World Health Organisation in 2012, as a result of air pollution exposure approximately 7 million people died. That’s one in eight of the world’s total deaths! This finding confirms that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk.

It’s for this reason pollution damage repair will be one of the key drivers in the 2017+ skin care market. As the consumer’s awareness shifts onto this subject, we can expect to see the demand soar for newly created category of anti-pollution products.

The increased research into the effects pollution has on the body has led to a greater understanding of the associated health risks; one being the effect it has on our largest living organ and outermost barrier, the skin. Studies have shown a link between exposure to air pollution and signs of skin aging, ranging from hyperpigmentation and dehydration to a weakened skin structure and increased sensitivity. One research study found that an increase in soot and particles from traffic was associated with 20% more pigmentation spots1. This is due to the fine airborne particles which land on the skin and become lodged within the skin’s deeper structure, generating free radicals that trigger inflammation. The free radicals break down the skin’s natural lipid barrier, increasing trans-epidermal water loss and creates a sensitised skin.

Pollution is categorised into indoor air pollution (IAP) and ambient pollution which refers to air pollution in outdoor environments; from particulate matter (PM) and gases. The level of pollution varies throughout the day, by season, geographic location and according to the level of human activity. During summer stronger levels of UV increases ozone production.

Although our morning UV sunscreen ritual protects us from sun induced ageing, unfortunately it doesn’t protect us from atmospheric stressors caused by indoor or outdoor pollution. When we step outside our skin is being suffocated by exhaust fumes, industrial smoke, tobacco, air conditioning and ozone, which don’t dissipate when the sun goes down.


It’s estimated we have:

  • 6 million+ chemicals in our atmosphere, 2800 of which have allergenic or contact sensitising properties
  • Over 150 potentially harmful chemicals in our household cleaners


Recapping the effects of pollution damage:

  1. Creates premature skin ageing
  2. Increases age spots
  3. Dullness and dehydration
  4. Rough, uneven skin texture
  5. Skin congestion leading to breakouts
  6. Breakdown of the skin’s lipid bilayer (one of the main defence mechanisms of the skin)
        a. Accelerated skin ageing through the loss of elasticity and the breakdown of collagen creating fine lines and wrinkles
        b. Increased pigmentation (20% more pigmented spots*)
  7. Increased skin sensitivity
  8. Increased inflammation leading to ‘Inflammaging’
  9. 2 hours of exposure to ozone can reduce our Vitamin E content within the skin by 25%


It’s for this reason pollution protection and damage repair ingredients are the ‘new era’ of anti-ageing products, becoming of equal importance to that of UV protection.


When it comes to essentials in one’s skin care regimen for pollution protection and damage repair your key players are:

  1. Cleansing: Thorough double cleansing of the skin is essential. Using powerful pre-cleansing oils combined with deep cleansing products and tools to ensure the pollutant partials on our skins surface are dislodged and removed effectively.
  2. Exfoliation: Using AHA’s and BHA’s to clear dirt and pollution debris from the pores and skin surface.
  3. Barrier repair: Using key ingredients e.g. silicones to prevent trans epidermal water loss and repair an impaired barrier function.
  4. Powerful skin protection: Using ingredients that will not only seal and protect the skin from the environment but also neutralise the effects of low level ozone and oxidation e.g. powerful anti-oxidants.


Expect to see anti-pollution products such as:

  • Specialised, pollution removal and absorbent cleansers
  • Mists which can be sprayed on intermittently throughout the day for all day skin protection
  • Exfoliants to help draw out and dislodge pollution particles
  • Specialised masks using the adsorption properties such as activated Binchotan Charcoal powder
  • Multi-purpose moisturisers using powerful anti-oxidants, barrier and lipid repair and protecting ingredients combined with UV protection


Here’s a quick guide to some of the key ingredients we’ll be seeing within these new products. Not only is it about the ingredient synergy it’s also about the delivery system they are housed within (such as microencapsulation), ensuring these powerful ingredients are protected whilst targeting the desired location in the skin.


  • Activated Binchotan Charcoal Powder derived from Ubame Oak (also referred to as “white charcoal”) attracts and binds itself to impurities in the skin, pulling them out of pores. Microfine particles resurface the skin and draw out particulate matter, as well as excess sebum and other impurities
  • Enzymes of papain, lipase and subtilisin dissolve proteins in the skin, deeply cleanse skin while accelerating exfoliation
  • Anti-adherence complex (Red Algae and Tara Fruit Extract) helps preserve the natural barrier function of the skin by providing a non-occlusive molecular mesh that inhibits penetration and adherence of environmental pollutants
  • Niacinamide provides anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties to prevent adhesion of pollution particles and prevent signs of skin ageing


Excellent antioxidants:

  • Dongbaek Seed Oil (twice the power of Vitamin E)
  • White, Green and Rooibos Tea
  • Tamanu Seed Oil
  • Carrot Root Extract
  • Grape Seed
  • Licorice
  • Red berries
  • Vitamin A, stabilised Vitamins C (MAP), Vitamin E
  • Ginkgo Biloba


Excellent ingredients for barrier repair:

  • Silicones
  • Evening Primrose Oil
  • Borage Seed Oil
  • Oat Kernel Oil
  • Vitamin E

So when you wake up tomorrow, don’t just reach for your sunscreen to protect your skin. Give your skin a little more support by cleansing for just a minute longer, spritzing with a burst of anti-oxidants and reinforce the skins barrier with a reparative moisturiser with another healthy dose of anti-oxidants!

1 Andrea Vierkotter. Airborne Particle Exposure and Extrinsic Skin Ageing. Journal of Investigative Dermatology (2010) 130, 2719-2726