Skin & The City: Is London Ageing You?
Apparently the air on the London Underground is heavily polluted. In fact, a recent report states that spending just one hour on the tube exposes us to the same amount of pollution we would face in a day above ground. For some time I have heard that city living was toxic, but this definitely brought home the point. This week's blog will examine the ways in which city living is bad for our skin.
London is one of several UK cities that exceeds the pollution limits set by the WHO for healthy air. It has been this way since 2010. This is largely due to the amount of diesel vehicles on the roads. Diesel was once touted as the "cleaner" fuel because it released less carbon dioxide. Unsurprisingly, the public was encouraged to purchase them. However, burning diesel releases nitrogen dioxide, which inflames the lungs and is associated with chronic respiratory decline.
The number of vehicles entering London has dropped by 25% since the introduction of the London Congestion Zone. However, the rise of private hire vehicles, such as Uber, has quadrupled and slowed traffic to a crawl. Research has shown that the stop-start nature of traffic, along with long periods of idling has resulted in significant rises in pollution. Perpetual road works, the rise of online delivery as well as private hire taxi apps has only exacerbated the problem.
While most of us think of air pollution as a problem endemic in Asia, London's levels of nitrogen dioxide are almost on par with Beijing and Delhi. Unfortunately scientists believe the the high levels of air pollution in London have been responsible for 9000 premature deaths each year.
A weakened respiratory system has direct links to our complexion as less oxygen is delivered to our skin. In fact, research has shown that breathing in polluted city air has similar effects on our skin to the effects that smoking cigarettes can have.
As if inflamming our lungs isn't bad enough, nitrogen dioxide also irritates our skin directly. Its metabolites have been linked to dermatitis and ezcema. Whenever the air becomes particularly smoggy, this is due to the conversion of nitrogen dioxide into ozone. Long and repetitive exposure to ozone strips the upper layer of our skin of antioxidants. This sets off a chain reaction of inflammation.
Nitrogen dioxide and ozone aren't the only pollutants we need to worry about. Particulate pollution is composed of soot, smoke, pollen, dust, solids released from burning fossil fuels, and mineral dust thrown into the atmosphere when vehicles travel on roads. It used to be thought that particulate pollution was too small to penetrate skin, but that is no longer the case. Thousands of these particules are able to fit in a single pore. They then damage the protective outer layer of our skin. Without this protection our skin loses moisture and in turn is more susceptible to UV radiation. In the long term , our collagen is damaged and wrinkles set in.
In fact, research has shown that living in an urban setting causes skin to age 10% faster than in the countryside. Women living in cities also have more hyperpigmenation, age spots and deeper wrinkles than women in rural areas.
So is there anything we can do to protect our face from the age-mask that is city air?
1. Minimise your exposure: for the runners, cyclists and out door activity enthusists, avoid exercising in central london. This is especially the case in the City, but also along the river from Battersea to Tower Hill, where pollution levels are the highest. Time your jog to miss peak traffic times and heavily congested areas. Any bus route is not a good idea as these tend to have higher levels of congestion, stop-start traffic and idling of cars. For our cyclists, consider investing in a face mask that filters particulate matter. P.S.Try to avoid the areas where smokers congregate outside of buildings.
2. Stay Above Ground: Recent research has shown that there are very high levels of particulate matter in the Underground air This may be due to the old age of the tube system and its depth underground. The Northern Line is the most affected, with Hampstead station, the deepest in the entire network, having 30x more pollution than at street level.
3. Reinforce the Barrier: Moisturise, moisturise and moisturise. Water-based creams are especially good as these do not block pores (so are good for acne-prone skin). Well-hydrated skin is better able to fight pollution. Don't forget sunscreen.
4. Give your skin a fighting chance: The constant bombardment of pollution produces free radicals in our skin. We all know that free radicals directly damage collagen and are responsible for skin ageing. To give your skin a chance, it is vital to have antioxidants in your skincare. Look for products that contain vitamin C, which mops ups free radicals. Vitamin E is also a must as it is a powerful moisturiser and antioxidant. If your skin is not prone to acne, consider adding squalene to your daytime regime. Research has shown that squalene is particularly effective at combating nitrogen dioxide and ozone. Think of these skincare agents as another layer of protection, just as crucial as sunscreen.
5. Double Cleanse: After avoiding, protecting and fighting pollution, it only makes sense that you would want to wash it off of your face. First cleanse with a cream as this tends to help remove make up and creams. Next wash with a gel, and this will get the deeper pollution off. Periodically exfoliate with chemical peels and facials as these will help to remove the dead skin cells that have pollutants trapped inside.
London living can be fantastic, but it has its downsides. Hopefully armed with this knowledge your skin won't pay the price for city living.
Our lifestyle has a major impact on our skin. To see what I mean, check out these blogs Is Your Cellphone Ruining Your Selfie., The Scariest Things You Do To Your Face, and Sleeping Beauty: Is Sleep Ageing You.
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