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December 12, 2019 4 min read

A year living in London is the equivalent to smoking 251 cigarettes, according toa Berkeley Earth study comparing air pollution levels to the harms caused by tobacco use. For some people, such as our non-smoking mates and rural-based pals, that’s more cigarettes than they’ll consume in a lifetime. 

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that exposure on a typical day in some cities can be theequivalent of smoking 20 cigarettes. That means we could be paying the price for nearly a pack a day simply by being a city dweller. 

The same frightening results are being recorded the world over - take a look at your hometown air pollution on thereal-time air quality index, here

Pollution is officially a crisis, and it’s not just about our lungs. This environmental crisis affects our skin and mental health. 

What forms of pollution are we being exposed to in the city?

The threat to our health can be hard to grasp, especially since it’s practically invisible, but air pollution is literally all around. The main causes of this pollution are:

  • The burning of fossil fuels (car emissions, air travel, etc.)
  • Emissions from factories and industrial work
  • Indoor air pollution from cleaning products, chemicals, paint, etc. 
  • Gas and wood burners 
  • Agricultural activities and mining operations surrounding the city 

Even London, a city with a low emissions zone, still ranks traffic as the number one pollutant. Diesel vehicles make the biggest impact, emitting around 40% of the city’s total Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) emissions.

According to the‘Demystifying Air Pollution in London’ report by London Councils, Particulate Matter (usually split into 2 sizes, PM2.5 and PM10) and Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) are the two main pollutants that impact health and the environment. 

How do these pollutants affect our skin?

Extinction Rebellion andGreta Thunberg have been leading climate strikes and gaining global attention recently, and Ohana recognises that climate change negatively affects our skin, too.

Through pollution, free radicals (highly unstable molecules) are generated on the skin, essentially destroying skin support structures, accelerating skin aging, and introducing host diseases. But free radicals don’t just sit on the outer layer of skin. 

Nanoparticles of dirt, dust and soot (sometimes 20x smaller than pores) penetrate the deeper layers of the epidermis. This causes cellular-level oxidative stress (an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the skin) which can lead to inflammation, dehydration and loss of elasticity and firmness. 

Our skin acts as a natural barrier against pollution, and whilst it protects against many things, rising pollution levels mean that there is a greater chance of toxins penetrating the skin. 

In fact, astudy in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology compared women living in urban and rural environments, and found that those exposed to increased pollution had more dark spots and wrinkles. 

It’s clear that city life may be a culprit of irritated, dehydrated, acne-prone skin. As the saying goes, you are what you eat...and if your skineatspollution daily, then it will react accordingly. 

How can you protect your skin from pollution?

  • Follow a daily cleansing routine. Wash away the day’s toxins as you cleanse to take off your makeup, and simultaneously remove some of the pollution buildup.
  • Use our Daily Protect Serum (launching March 2020!) to neutralise your skin and counteract the effects of harsh pollution. This serum contains plant-based active ingredients that are specifically formulated to protect skin from pollutants (in other words, it’s full of antioxidants). Remember, pollution oxidises the skin, so using antioxidants can help to balance this out.
  • Create a skin barrier for everyday protection. Use our Phyto Retinol Night Oil (launching March 2020!) which contains key ingredients to strengthen the skin barrier. Daily use, after cleansing, can help boost the skin-repair process and create a barrier to protect your pores from future nasties. 

Protect your skin from the inside out. Introduce more antioxidant-rich foods to your diet. Some of my favourites are blueberries, leafy greens and beans. 

Ohana skincare adds a protective layer to the skin, but pollution is now thought to affect us on an even deeper level. 

Can pollution affect our mental health?

In a word… maybe. If we rephrase the question to “can sunshine affect our mental health?,” most people would say without hesitation, yes! 

People with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) would argue that the environment definitely takes a toll on their mental health. Pollution can hide the sun and blue skies, and paint the city in grey-scale. If SAD affects you, it’s possible that the negative effects of pollution could, too.  

In addition, theUniversity of Chicago analysed health data from 151 million people in the US and Denmark from 2003 to 2013, and discovered a significant link between mental health disorders and exposure to air pollution. In the study, countries with more severe air pollution saw a 27% rise in reports of bipolar disorder compared to countries with better air quality.

The researchers of this study don’t claim that air pollution is the sole cause of these conditions, but it does support our suspicion (hint hint!) that a city break could help more than just your skin health. 

How can you use a city break for better skin and mental health?

Stepping outside of the hustle and bustle of a city, and all the city smog, may be exactly what your skin and mental health needs. Head out to a more remote, green, natural space like the countryside. This will give you, and your skin, time to detox and rejuvenate. 

I’m a big advocate for taking the time to reflect, and sometimes that means taking a break from harmful pollutants, whether those toxins be environmental or social.  

Fundamentally, no matter which way you look at it, a city break is good for the soul. 

Are you planning a pollution-free city break? Let me know on Instagram@ohanacbd

Photo byAlev Takil onUnsplash


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