Air Pollution – Can It Really Be The Cause Of Acne?


polluted city

Pollution has been blamed for many things in today’s society, from heart conditions to respiratory problems, however now it has been linked with acne too.

Experts now believe that air pollution is prompting breakouts, causing those with acne-prone skin to experience ongoing problems. It’s a very interesting idea, and for those of us who live in the inner-city environment, it represents a problem that needs addressing.

Air Pollution In Today’s Cities

No matter where in the world you are, if you live or work in a major city, you’ll certainly be familiar with the gunk that can build up on your body simply by being outdoors in the urban environment.

If you’ve ever looked at the grime that runs down the drain when you shower at the end of a long day, you will, no doubt, be well aware of the toll that pollution can take on your skin.

It should come as no surprise, then, that a recent review in the Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology journal pointed to evidence that acne cases are considerably more prevalent in areas that are known to have high levels of air pollution, and that flare-ups are especially connected with periods when air quality is at its worst.

Why Does Air Pollution Cause Acne?

Although a link has been spotted between air pollution and acne, the reason it causes breakouts is not yet fully understood by scientists.

A study from China, however, has revealed that people who live in urban areas have sebum levels which are double those of people who live in less polluted, rural areas. This has corroborated the findings of a study from Mexico City which also revealed that people in polluted areas had higher sebum levels as well as reduced levels of squalene and vitamin E.

Pollution particles are also believed to aggravate acne, and since pollution weakens the immunity of the skin and affects its ability to combat free radicals, it becomes even more susceptible to pimples, whiteheads and blackheads.

UV Rays Compound The Problem

The inflammation and oxidative stress caused by particles of pollution lies at the heart of the increased acne problem, and some studies have suggested that particles can even penetrate through the skin’s outer layers, depleting its natural antioxidants while compromising the skin’s natural defences.

When the sun’s harmful UV rays are added into the mix, this disturbs the natural lipid level of the skin, sapping vitamin E – a vital antioxidant. The entire result is that your skin becomes more vulnerable to irritants and susceptible to damage.

When this is combined with dust, sebum, bacteria and dirt build-up caused by city living and working, it makes sense that inflammatory acne cases are on the rise.

Taking Steps To Protect Your Acne-Prone Skin From Air Pollution

man with a protective mask

While all of this may sound quite alarming for any acne sufferer, the good news is that you don’t have to move away from the city to experience better skin.

There are some steps that you can take to reduce the number of outbreaks you suffer, even when you spend most of your time in built-up, highly polluted areas.

  • Use products which contain ingredients which strengthen and restore your skin’s natural barrier. These include ceramides and niacinamide together with natural plant oils such as rosehip.
  • Eat lots of foods with antioxidant properties to combat the free radicals which break down the skin’s natural defenses. Apply skincare products which contain antioxidant ingredients too for a doubly impressive effect.
  • Make sure to keep your facial skin as clean as possible by putting in place a regular cleaning routine. Make sure you wash away the pollution of the day the minute you return home after being outdoors since the longer dirt and pollution particles remain on the skin, the more damaging the effects.
  • Use an oil-based cleanser which breaks down the pollution and cuts through grim build-up before using a cream cleanser that thoroughly removes the pollution particles from your skin.
  • Exfoliate your skin regularly, but avoid scrubbing your skin. This will only cause more damage to your skin barrier. Instead, use a liquid exfoliant designed for use on acne-prone, oily skin to clear away the dead skin cells, pollution particles and bacteria.
  • Make sure to consume plenty of foods that contain high levels of vitamins E and C to replace the amounts which have been depleted by pollution. This will protect your skin from a wide range of skin damage including age spots and blemishes.
  • Choose skincare products which contain squalene, an emollient that will build up your skin barrier and help to prevent the bacteria that causes acne from getting in.
  • Always use a sunscreen with at least SPF 20, but make sure that you choose a non-comedogenic sun care product. This will protect your skin from inflammation, UV rays, DNA damage and the elements themselves without clogging up your pores.
  • Give yourself a daily facial massage to remove the toxins and leave your skin looking radiant, glowing and well-hydrated.
  • Use regular face masks to restore your skin’s natural defense barriers and to leave it looking and feeling refreshed ready to face the challenges that city life will throw at it.

Coping With Your Acne Prone Skin In The City Environment

Although it can be difficult to cope with acne-prone skin at the best of times, if you live and work in the highly polluted environment of a city it can be especially challenging.

Hopefully, when more pollution-reducing measures are adopted by worldwide governments, we should see a reduction in the level of pollution in the air and experience much clearer skin.

However, until that time, if you take the time to choose the correct products, to clean your skin thoroughly and regularly, and to use an SPF sunscreen every time you leave the house, you’ll find that your skin will be well-protected from the harmful effects that air pollution can have on your skin, and you should experience far fewer acne breakouts in future.


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