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Beauty experts have long assumed that pollution has dire effects on the skin—and now, science is actually proving it.
Last month, Olay published a groundbreaking study that for the first time sheds some definitive light on the havoc pollution can wreak on your face. The study, conducted in Beijing, surveyed some 200 women from both the least and most polluted parts of the city and assessed the condition of their skin over a one-year period. Researchers found that participants in the more polluted areas saw significant degeneration in both skin hydration and skin barrier function.
"We went to Beijing because it's one of the areas that suffers the most from pollution," Olay senior scientist Frauke Neuser tells Racked. "We figured it would be a snapshot for this kind of study. The women have all lived there for at least 10 years and had similar levels of UV exposure—the main difference was the pollution they were exposed to. We found that pollution caused skin dehydration, of which wrinkles are a side effect. It also affected the skin's barrier, which is what keeps pollution out."
Linden and ginkgo extracts
"Gently cleanses skin of city impurities and built-up toxins to clear congested pores and stimulate circulation."
There are over a billion people living in communities that don't meet the World Health Organization's air quality standards, and pollution is only getting worse, according to the WHO. Air pollution in specific comes from a variety of causes: vehicle emissions, cigarette smoke, and the burning of fossil fuel, as well as chemicals from everyday items like deodorant, fertilizer, and paint.
In the United States, the most common pollutants are ozone and particle pollution. Ozone—a key component of smog—is a molecule created when gas, oil, or coal is burned and exposed to the sun, or when substances like solvents dissolve. While ozone in our upper atmosphere keeps out harmful UV rays, ozone on the ground is dangerous to breathe in. Particle pollution comes from the mixture of liquid droplets with solid particles like dirt, dust, smoke, and soot. It's the main cause of reduced visibility, or haze, and can seep deep into lungs and the bloodstream. The American Lung Association ranks Los Angeles, Houston, Newark, Pittsburg, St. Louis, Salt Lake City, Chicago, and Tulsa, as some of the cities in the US with the most amount of pollution.
Moringa and green tea extracts
"Instantly captures and clears pollutants that accelerate aging stress."
While pollution's effect on respiratory health has been a key discussion in the health field, very little data has been gathered on how it affects skin. Back in 2010, the Journal for Investigative Dermatology published a study which found that in a sample of 400 German women, those who lived in urban areas (and thus were exposed to more pollution) had a higher incidence of age spots. Now Olay's study has shown that pollution particles on the skin draw out moisture, causing wrinkles over time. In addition, chemicals, pesticides, and heavy metals found in some of the larger particles can affect the skin's biology.
After coming to its conclusion that yes, pollution is terrible for your face, Olay sought out ingredients that could both repair existing pollution damage and prevent future damage.
"It's important to keep the skin hydrated, build a skin barrier that can keep out particles, and have antioxidants like Vitamin C and Vitamin B work against free radicals," says Nauser. "All three of these elements are important and play a big role against aging and skin damage." Olay is banking on Niacinamide, a form of Vitamin B3 it claims has all three of these qualities, and will be rolling out products with it next year.
"Provides the total anti-aging power of hydration fused with vitamins and antioxidants for visibly younger-looking skin."
Olay isn't the only skincare company paying attention to pollution—the anti-pollution beauty category is booming, particularly in Asia. Last month, market research firm Mintel found a 40 percent increase in the number of anti-pollution products that hit the Asia-Pacific market between 2011 and 2013. Mintel believes interest in the category will spread to markets everywhere in 2015.
Not that we have to wait until next year: There are plenty of companies dipping their toes in anti-pollution beauty to win over early adopters. Organic skincare brand Orico London is a favorite among beauty insiders.
"I built the company on the premise that pollution is one of the main causes of skin aging," company founder Shirin Valipour explains. "It comes from everything: city living, car exhausts, air conditioning, central heating. It all completely depletes the skin of oxygen."
Alpine Sanicle and melon extracts
"Defends against the elements with a patented anti-pollution complex."
Christy Cella, vice president of education at Clarins, echoes the sentiment. While many of Clarins' customers turn to the brand for anti-aging products, the very aging in question often is the result of pollution. As such, she says, the company has been including anti-pollution ingredients like leaf extract from ambiaty, a healing plant from Madagascar, in its products since 1991.
"A majority of women will think pollution doesn't affect their skin, while they are worried about the aging process," Cella says. "But pollution plays a big role in signs of aging. It's important for women to know that skin protection against pollution should not be an afterthought."