In 2015, a report by the World Bank claimed that the air hanging over the UAE contained worrying levels of pollution. This toxicity was attributed to emissions from the energy sector and exhaust fumes from cars, as well as the dust that’s constantly kicked up by the wind and construction projects. All of this, coupled with the harsh sunlight that we face almost year-round, can wreak havoc on our skin.
“The growing pollution levels in urban locations and our daily exposure to dust, smog, exhaust fumes, harmful sun rays, and even cigarette smoke and the blue light from our phones and other devices can damage our skin if we don’t guard it,” says Leena Al Abbas, founder of Dubai’s Organic Glow Beauty Lounge. According to London-based skin aestheticienne Rita Rakus, while there’s no getting away from organic signs of ageing, “pollutants and grime add further oxidative stress, clog the pores, inflame our skin and, therefore, worsen the effects of ageing”. Inflammation, which is a direct result of air pollution and exposure to the sun, damages the collagen and elastin present in our skin, which in turn can lead to spots, wrinkles, pigmentation, breakouts, a dry and dull complexion, and loss of elasticity.
In fact, the effects of pollution on skin are now a globally recognised problem, giving rise this year to products and regimens that are being billed specifically as “anti-pollution solutions”. According to the NPD market-research group, the anti-pollution-skincare category grew by 30 per cent in the first six months of 2017, while a quick search of the term on portals such as Sephora and Cult Beauty throws up hundreds of results.
Of course, when it comes to the beauty industry, gimmicks abound; from unsubstantiated claims to exaggerated promises, skincare is often the victim of over-the-top marketing campaigns. Al Abbas maintains that when it comes to selecting an anti-pollution product, hybrid is the way to go. "I'm a big fan of multitasking products, versus having one product for one purpose only. Anti-pollution products need to include pollutant guards, ingredients that prevent and rectify skin damage caused by pollution, and that enhance protection against the environment," she explains. "I use the term 'hybrid' because an anti-pollution product should do multiple things for the skin, such as hydrate and brighten it, protect it from ultraviolet rays by acting as an extra layer of sunscreen, remove impurities, revitalise the skin, as well as be an antioxidant and anti-ageing cream."
Given that the aim of such products is to counter the effects of the chemicals found in our surroundings, it follows that the salves themselves should be as natural as possible. Cleansers and creams that contain preservatives (parabens), plasticisers that lend elasticity (phthalates) and foaming agents (sulfates) may look, smell and feel better, or at least be more familiar. However, these are filler ingredients that are ultimately counterproductive to a regime that’s aimed at protecting your skin against mostly man-made elements. “Our skin already deals with so many external environmental issues, so using skincare that contains chemicals, which would do more harm to your skin [in the long-term], is a big no-no. On the other hand, skincare and cosmetics that contain natural ingredients and natural fragrances are not harmful, and they can be equally effective for your skin,” says Mukta Tweani Purain, co-founder of beauty e-tailer MissPalettable.com.
"Can" is the operative word here. When it comes to anti-pollution skincare, there is no one-cream-suits-all formula. Putting an effective regimen in place depends on factors such as your skin type and hormone levels, as well as where you live and the elements you're exposed to, all of which can alter based on age, location and lifestyle. Rakus recommends getting regular in-depth reviews from a skin specialist. "The products available at medically led clinics can be more powerful and effective than those bought over the counter. Look out for instances where you're paying more for the packaging and promotion rather than the actual ingredients. Also, anything that promises results immediately is just a gimmick. Always."
Of course, beauty products, regular facials and the like are only one aspect of skincare. Hoping for a quick fix or looking for miracle solutions only serves to feed the marketing frenzy. Instead, complement a product that suits you with the three Es of a healthy lifestyle: eating, exercising and exfoliating. A moisturiser will never outperform a diet rich in chemical-free foods and plenty of filtered water, while perspiring makes for a better detoxifier than a face wash ever could. And the simple act of using an exfoliating brush improves blood circulation, which in turn leads to shinier surface results.
Finally, the products you do end up using can work against you if not removed properly. And that’s perhaps the top tip when it comes to anti-pollution skincare. An SPF is the most vital part of your routine, but it needs to be washed off and reapplied each time you step out in the sun and removed completely before you go to bed. The same goes for make-up, creams and lip balms. Even if you’re switching from a day cream to one for the night, ensure that you eradicate all traces of the former and the pollutants that are likely to have clung to it. “The important thing,” says Rakus, “is to get and then keep the skin clean, both on the surface and at a deeper level.”