Unlike smoking and health problems, there isn’t as clear an association between air pollution and physical woes.

But the truth is that there is a link, and sometimes it becomes evident in skin. It has long been shown that excessive sun exposure can cause wrinkles, sunspots and even cancer. So we all wear (or try to wear) sunscreen daily. But what about other toxins we encounter outside? Especially in urban areas, air pollution can become a serious issue. In fact, toxins in the air can cause skin allergies and eczema. Soot and dirt can collect on the outermost layer of our skin, leading to clogged pores and causing acne. Air pollution can also give the skin a duller appearance.

But there are other factors when it comes to air pollution besides dirt and smog. Nowadays, air pollution can include potentially toxic gasses that can affect your skin. And let’s not forget about free radicals.

“Free radicals are formed when the oxygen in your skin reacts with other foreign molecules from substances that are in our air,” says Faye Grossblatt, a licensed aesthetician in Atlanta. “This is a major problem because it could start a series of negative chain reactions in our DNA.”  In other words, these free radicals in the air could not only cause skin damage, they can be a contributing factor in the development of cancer, diabetes and heart problems.

So what can you do about it?

Protect what you’ve got. If you know you live in a particularly smoggy environment (such as an urban area with lots of cars), then make sure to wash your face well each night. Experts suggest using an oil-based cleanser first to get off all the major “gunk” of the day, then use a mild cleanser to scrub off whatever is left.

Even if you don’t feel like you need to focus on your face at the end of the day (say you’ve been indoors most of the day anyway), you should still get into the habit of washing your face at night. There are always particles that you don’t see on your face (even dust from a phone or a computer) that can contribute to skin damage. Washing your face thoroughly each day can prevent acne and clogged pores.

Oxidative stress occurs when the production of free radicals penetrates the protective defenses of the body. That’s why skin products and foods with antioxidants in them are key. “Antioxidants are so important because they help prevent the free radicals from affecting you in a potentially harmful way,” says Grossblatt. “Using these products at night is especially important because that’s when your skin’s cells are renewing themselves. The antioxidants can work to counterbalance the effects of what your skin has experienced during the day,” she explains.

Diet helps too. Eat lots of nutrient-rich veggies and of course, drink lots of water to keep your skin and body hydrated. Make sure the water is clean, though! Water that is contaminated with chlorine and other pollutants can be harmful also.

What’s the bottom line? Air pollution can be harmful, but so can a myriad of other things we encounter every day. Being outdoors can do wonders for your health, so protect your skin the best you know how and enjoy the beautiful weather!

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