The newest enemy in skin care: the air. Well, the stuff in the air, anyway.
Anti-pollution is the latest "thing" in skin care, as a slew of new products have popped up aiming to ward off the irritating and aging effects of the smog all around you with ingredients like yogurt probiotics, algae, turmeric, ginger, zinc and orange extract. But do they really do anything special or is this all a marketing ploy? I asked two dermatologists, Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, director of Capital Laser & Skin Care and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the George Washington University Medical Center, and Dr. Dendy Engelman of Manhattan Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery, to break it down for me.
As far as ingredients go, the ones featured in these products are mainly antioxidants and inflammatories. In other words, "There's nothing new here, necessarily — it's a retooling of what was out there before," explains Dr. Tanzi. However, there is a "but" here: That doesn't mean they aren't useful and effective.
The fact is, we've known for years that irritants in the air (like cigarette smoke, for instance) age skin, and a recent study has specifically linked air pollution to an increase in age spots. Dr. Engelman says pollutants cause hyperpigmentation, inflammation, a breakdown of collagen and elastin, and leave you with rough, damaged skin. So, while UV rays are still the top priority in aging, think of the bad things in the air as the second tier of agers to block. "If a person is regularly avoiding excessive sun exposure, never gets tan and always uses sunscreen, pollution is the next skin 'worry' they should tackle with daily antioxidants and proper cleansing," says Dr. Tanzi.
So the question is: Where is this coming from all of a sudden? Turns out, like a lot of our skin-beautifying movements (hello, masks!), we've got Asia to thank. "Pollution levels are extremely high there," Dr. Engelman explains, "but it's now become a global issue that is affecting all major cities in the world." True story — and not just in big cities, either. Air quality has taken a hit across the board; if you're curious to see how what the pollution situation is like where you are, check out the Air Quality Index map at airnow.gov.
As for the products themselves, Dr. Engelman gave us a heads up on one coming from Elizabeth Arden called Prevage City Smart this summer, and here are seven more new releases that'll get you in on the protective action in the meantime.
REN Flash Defense Anti-Pollution Mist, $38, available at sephora.com. This spray protects with a mix of yeast extract, seaweed and Sophora japonica flowers. It's really refreshing and a nice thing to spritz on in the middle of the day when you need a little pick-me-up. Plus, it sets your makeup, which is a nice bonus.
Decléor Anti-Pollution Hydrating Gel Cream, $50.25, available at dermstore.com. This uses an anti-adhesive ingredient from a Sub-Himalayan plant called the Moringa tree to repel all the bad stuff coming at you. Plus, it gives skin a slightly dewy finish that's very on-trend right now. It absorbs quickly so you can smear it on and apply makeup right on top.
Kiehl's Cilantro & Orange Extract Pollutant Defending Masque $32, available at Nordstrom. This one comes with some research to back up the benefits. In the brand's own study, it removed 84 percent of micro-particles, and 76 percent of users showed an inhibition of cigarette smoke pollution and UVA-induced oxidation. In my one-person study, it also left my face significantly softer than it was pre-mask.
Clarins UV Plus Anti-Pollution SPF 50 Broad Spectrum Sunscreen, $42, available at ulta.com. A sunscreen that's spiked with white tea to hold off pollutants while protecting your skin from the sun isn't a hard thing to get on board with. But this one also has the benefit of being incredibly lightweight and coming in a tinted version, which means it's going to be my summer go-to.
Shea Moisture Raw Shea and Capuaçu Shea Butter Soap for Environmentally Stressed Skin, 4.99, available at sheamoisture.com. This bar is spiked with antioxidant-rich passiflora oil to prep your whole body with anti-pollution effects. That means spots that age other than your face — like your décolletage and hands — can hop on the trend, too. Because of the shea and Cupuaçu butters, it's super softening and mild on the skin. It also smells like pistachio ice cream, so you might have to hold yourself back from eating it.
Tata Harper Purifying Mask, $65, available at sephora.com. The idea behind this mask is to remove all the toxins the air has planted on your skin. And since it has a complex that involves 23 ingredients (including fennel, prickly pear seed oil and probiotics), at least some of them are bound to work. It goes on cool, which makes it a great after-gym treat — my pores really did look cleaner when I rinsed it off. But a warning: this tingles a bit, which you may or may not love.
Dior One Essential Eye Serum, $78, available at dior.com. The company claims the red hibiscus extract in this cream "targets 100 percent of the toxins identified within the eye area" and regenerates skin to up its resistance to environmental aggressions over time. What it did in one application is plump my fine lines and make my eye shadow go on more smoothly. Note: it hits stores on May 1st.