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When you think of skin protection, what’s the first thing that pops into your mind?
Sun protection is usually the first thing we automatically think of, but did you know that there are other skin aggressors we need to be aware of that can negatively affect skin health and contribute to premature ageing?
These aggressors are skin irritants that can be found almost anywhere, particularly in industrial or highly populated areas such as large towns and cities. While we can’t always avoid these irritants in our day to day lives, we can make every effort to shield ourselves from them.
So, what should we be protecting ourselves from?
UVA and UVB Ultraviolet rays
As much as our bodies need sunlight for the production of Vitamin D, we also need to limit exposure to avoid damaging the skin. UVB rays, which are stronger during the summer months, damage the surface of the skin causing visible sunburn.
The sun also emits UVA, visible light and invisible infrared-A, all of which are proven to cause damage to the skin. This damage can lead to premature skin ageing, and harm the health of our skin. What’s more, these types of radiation cause damage all year round, penetrating cloud and even glass. So, even on the cloudiest days or while driving, our skin is at risk of damage. Another great reason to keep a supply of SPF50 in the car.
It’s not just factory emissions that cause pollution, large towns and cities can have lower levels of air quality due to vehicle exhaust fumes, dirt and dust particles. As well as effecting the quality of the air that we breathe, these aggressors can affect our skin barrier, breaking down collagen and lipids which lead to premature ageing. They also build up on the skin causing irritation and clogging pores. Once these irritants cling to the skin, they can make it more likely for rashes or acne to appear.
We all know how both smoking and passive smoking can increase our chances for serious illness. But did you know that cigarette smoke can also choke skin cells by limiting the amount of oxygen in our bodies, causing skin wrinkling and premature ageing.
Tobacco smoke (like pollution) causes oxidative stress, limiting the supply of oxygen to the skin and restricts blood supply to the skin and other parts of the body. It also degrades collagen, delays wound healing, reduces moisture levels in the skin resulting in dry, coarse skin. Studies show that smokers are three times more likely to develop deep facial wrinkles than non-smokers!
Nicotine narrows the blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the skin.
Carbon Monoxide blocks oxygen from attaching to red blood cells which starves body tissues.
Free radicals found in smoke and tar attack the healthy tissues that are around them, including collagen and elastin.
Indoor Heating and Air-conditioning
Coming into a cosy and warm centrally heated house on a cold winter’s day or a cool air-conditioned office in the summer may feel like bliss, but your skin may not appreciate it quite so much.
Heating and air-conditioning reduce humidity levels which cause our skin to lose moisture to the air, leaving it feeling dehydrated, dull and lacking radiance. A good level of humidity should be around 30-50% to keep sinuses feeling healthy and your skin feeling plump, hydrated and happy.
Most of us will have suffered some type of skin reaction caused by an irritant. This could be a skincare product, cleaning products, perfume, metals and material, pet hair, insect bites, dust mites and pollen. When our body encounters something it thinks is dangerous, our immune system reacts by releasing antibodies to fight off the “invaders”. This can trigger symptoms like rashes, hives and swelling.
Contact dermatitis is caused when the skin has been in contact with an allergen such as nickel, a chemical soap or lotion. Particles in the air such as pollen can trigger airborne contact dermatitis when they land on the skin. Shaving lotion and perfumes can cause photo-allergenic contact dermatitis when worn in the sun. Symptoms can include redness, swelling, blisters, rashes, burning and hives.
What can we do to help ourselves?
As well as protecting our skin with the correct level of SPF protection, we need to remember to cleanse away the pollution and irritants that build up on the skin throughout the day to reduce irritation.
Double Cleanse at the end of the day – the concept originated in Japan and South Korea and involves using an oil-based cleaner to remove make-up, sunscreen and other residue and irritants that have built up throughout the day. Follow this with a water-based cleanser then gently cleanse the skin itself.
Toner – not only does a toner remove any last traces of cleanser, it also helps to restore the skin’s pH levels, tighten pores and improve skin tone.
Nourish your skin overnight – Our skin naturally replenishes overnight after working hard to protect itself through the day. Give it a helping hand by nourishing and hydrating it with a serum and night cream that is rich in vitamins and antioxidants.
Stay Hydrated – Our skin is the largest organ of the body and just like any other part of the body, it is made up of cells. All cells are made up of water and without it, they will not function well. Keeping the skin’s barrier healthy and hydrated allows it provide protection against injury and hazardous substances.
Eat the rainbow – Many antioxidants function as plant pigments. Their role is to provide protection for the plant from free radicals, microbes and ultraviolet light. Antioxidants possess an extra electron that helps prevent cells becoming damaged by free radicals. Fill your plate with red, yellow, orange, green, purple and white vegetables every day.
Go green – Try making your home a little greener by adding green plants that can help you breathe better indoors. Plants like Aloe Vera and Spider Plants will help absorb pollutants in the air and provide better air quality within the home. Aloe Vera is also my go to First Aid saviour for everything from burns, skin reactions, cuts and stings.