“The concern about pollutants in the air is that it creates more oxidative stress for the skin,” says Ivy Lee, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Pasadena, California. “Oxidative stress can sometimes appear on the skin as premature aging.” Oxidative stress is what happens when sunlight creates reactive oxygen species (ROS) in your cells that can accumulate on the skin over time, degrading collagen and compromising the skin barrier.
Compare the Market analyzed 50 cities from around the world, looking at factors like pollution, prevalence of tobacco smoking, average annual temperature, and average weekly hours of sunlight to determine inhabitants’ overall skin health. Dr. Lee says that the last one is a biggie.
“When you look at skin health studies and the geographic locations of those cities, remember those are higher latitudes,” says Dr. Lee. “So they’re probably not getting as much sun as people like me in Southern California, right? That probably also plays a factor in the amount of UV exposure and the oxidative damage from that.”
Dr. Lee adds that culture could also play a role.
“There may be a cultural aspect too, depending on what is their cultural norm or standard skin-care regimen,” says Dr. Lee. “In America, we have a lot of options in terms of skin care products and certainly a lot of sources of information. And so sometimes, I can see a lot of stress induced on the skin by just product overload or a constancy cycling through products. So I think it’s likely multifactorial.”
If you don’t live in one of these cities and are feeling a bit jealous, there are things you can do in your routine to try and get close: use antioxidants and sunscreen. Antioxidants will help defend against pollution and prevent oxidative stress, and sunscreen will protect you from UV light exposure. “That’s why many of us in dermatology tout the role of antioxidants in our daily routine, whether it’s something that’s integrated into our sunscreen or whether it’s a standalone product,” says Dr. Lee.
Learn about the benefits of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant:
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