#SkinSchool: How The Environment in Which You Live Affects Your Skin

While we’re often preoccupied with treating our skin ‘type’, we can overlook the obvious need for treating our skin in accordance with our environment. Levels of sun exposure are well known to dictate skin health, but did you know that the water quality, pollution levels and winds where you live could compromise your skin, too? Dr. Justine Hextall, dermatologist on behalf of The Harley Medical Group, explains why and how to combat the effects.

Erik Madigan Heck for Harper’s Bazaar

Pollution levels

“Pollution particles are microscopic, ten to twenty times smaller than our pore size which allows them to infiltrate deeper layers of the skin, increasing inflammation and triggering acne and rosacea, and skin pigmentation,” Dr. Hextall reveals. “Free radicals [generated by environmental pollution] also up-regulate damaging enzymes such as MMP-1 which break down collagen and elastin, our skin’s scaffolding. This leads to skin sagging and wrinkles.”

So, if you live in an urban area, how do you do damage limitation? “It is very important to remove these particles at night,” the expert explains, so make sure you’re double cleansing. “Nighttime is when our skin regenerates, so it’s the perfect time to apply an antioxidant serum and protect against that daytime free radical damage from the likes of pollution, stress and UV exposure.

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“Topical treatments such as vitamin C, and also powerful systemic antioxidant supplements have been shown to be effective. The gold standard in my view is a healthy diet of fruit and vegetables rich in antioxidants.”

Water quality

“As a dermatologist I find the greatest effect on skin comes from the water quality in an area,” Dr. Hextall says. Live in a hard water area? Sadly, it’s bad news. “Hard water leaves alkaline minerals on the skin, which can cause dryness and irritation. This explains why individuals quite often note their skin flares-up when staying in hard water areas. The minerals in this water can remain on the skin and hair after washing as they can be difficult to remove causing irritation and dryness. The issue with this is the subsequent damage to the skin barrier. This can leave skin sensitive and reactive, it can also flare inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema and rosacea.”

Luckily skincare can work to counteract the effects. “My advice is always to try and remove this water and its residue off the skin by using hydrating cleansers, and by making sure an effective moisturiser is used to soothe, hydrate and essentially protect the skin barrier. I look for cleansers that not only clean the skin but put hydrating and soothing products back into the skin to protect it. This will protect the skin barrier and make it more robust against damage from hard water minerals. I suggest starting with a humectant such as hyaluronic acid (such as DermaQuest’s Advance B5 hydrating serum) and then layering a protective cream or lotion depending on your skin type.”

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Sun strength

No matter where you live, whatever the weather, sun protection is vital. Dr. Hextall explains: “Many of us never think to apply sun cream in the UK, but I always tell patients the best anti-ageing cream is a SPF 50. It is important to protect against UVA rays all year round to reduce the effects of skin ageing.” Why? “Over time chronic sun exposure causes uneven skin tone, one of the most ageing changes. It also accelerates the breakdown of collagen and elastin [as explained above], leaving skin slacker and wrinkled. I am a believer in maintaining skin health and having a good skin care regime, healthy diet, plus having intermittent non-surgical interventions which a dermatologist can advise on.”

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High winds

While the coastal air might feel like it’s doing you the world of good, your skin might react differently. “Living by the sea can often mean increase exposure to high winds,” Dr. Hextall notes. “Harsh weather conditions disrupt the skin surface barrier affecting the skin’s ability to retain moisture.”

To beat beauty woes from wind like dryness, tightness, and cracking, your skincare routine will require some extra thought. “Gentle cleansing is a must, you need your skin barrier to be as healthy as possible so that it can retain vital moisturiser. As a rule of thumb if your skin feels tight after washing it is likely the cleanser you are using has disrupted your skin barrier. Skin should feel calm and hydrated after washing, if you are reaching immediately for your moisturiser you may want consider a more gentle cleanser. I like DermaQuest Essential Daily Cleanser and Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser.” Look for serums containing hyaluronic acid to retain moisture and a cream or lotion depending on your skin type.

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From: Harper’s BAZAAR UK