Your Skin and the Environment
By Chelsea Campbell
By now, it’s likely that we all know that the sun causes skin damage and premature aging and how important it is to wear a daily SPF. However, dryness, irritation, acne, dullness, loss of elasticity, and conditions like eczema and psoriasis can be by-products of our environment as well. The beauty and wellbeing of our skin depends on protecting ourselves and avoiding common factors that contribute to unhealthy skin. As the climate slowly changes and responds to our lifestyle choices, how do environmental factors contribute to how our skin ages?
Here Comes the Sun
The news won’t come as a shock, even to sun-worshippers, but it bears repeating: that big ball of fire on the sky is your skin’s greatest enemy. There’s no doubt that the effects of the sun can wreak havoc on your skin, causing dark spots, redness, discoloration, dullness, fine lines, wrinkles, a breakdown of collagen, and of course, an increased risk for skin cancer. Because of changes in the atmosphere and ozone layer, our exposure to the sun has increased, and doctors are seeing a higher rate of skin damage than in years past. A study by the World Health Organization showed that UV exposure contributes to between eighty- and ninety-percent of visible aging signs, with uneven texture, tone and lack of firmness responsible for just as much as the more obvious culprit of wrinkles.
The temperature produced by the planet’s increase to sun exposure is also to blame for irritated skin. Sunny weather tends to cause people to perspire, and this can lead to clogged pores, which result in outbreaks of acne. The heat of the sun an often be a trigger for autoimmune diseases like psoriasis, an itchy, often painful condition where unsightly scaly patches appear on the skin. Likewise, crusty, scaly bumps called actinic keratosis are caused by exposure to UV radiation and are considered a precursor to skin cancer. It is vital that regardless of the weather, you wear a high-quality sunscreen of SPF 30 or more, that you wear hats, sunglasses, protective clothing, and seek shade as often as possible when it is sunny out.
By all means, make a run for the sunscreen aisle at the nearest drugstore - but keep in mind that there are other ways our environment affects our skin as well. Pollution can also be a huge factor to how our skin ages, and despite an increase in government regulations over the years, our air is still riddled with pollutants that cause real damage. We are exposed to air pollutants daily; emissions from cars and other automobiles, construction sites, factories, power plants, cigarette smoke, and smoke from fires are all to blame. The microparticles from these sources of pollution are so small that they don’t only sit on top of the skin, clogging pores and contributing to dullness, they are tiny enough to actually enter pores and penetrate the deeper layers of the epidermis. Once they are in these deeper layers of skin, they cause irritation, inflammation, dryness, and most importantly, break down collagen, resulting in an impairment of the skin’s ability to heal and protect itself from DNA damage. That means that skin is even more susceptible to the environmental factors that contribute to visible aging.
Don’t Touch That Dial
If you think that you’ll simply stay indoors all day, think again. Flare-ups of eczema, an itchy, red inflammation of the skin, can be triggered by environmental factors like pollution, pollen, mold, or pet dandruff allergens, but it can also spring up in response to changes in temperature. Think about it: in the blistering, humid heat of the summer, we may spend time outdoors, but then come inside to an air conditioner blasting chilly air. Likewise, in the blustery cold winters, we quickly run inside to get warmed by a toasty heater. Going from one extreme temperature to the next multiple times a day takes its toll on skin in the form of irritation, roughness, and dryness due to damage to the skin’s natural moisture barrier, whether you suffer from eczema or not. In order to minimize this aggravation to skin, be conservative with your thermostat and keep it set between 65 and 72 degrees.
If all of this information has you considering living in a giant, temperature-controlled bubble, take heart: there are things that you can do to keep your skin beautiful, healthy, and protected. As previously mentioned, wear sunscreen every day and aim to stay out of the sun during peak hours between 11am and 4pm. Avoid exposing your skin to extreme temperatures, and stay away from cigarette smoke or other sources of concentrated air pollution. Most importantly, make sure that you thoroughly cleanse your skin at the end of the day and apply topical antioxidant serums to combat the free-radical exposure from the day. Antioxidants are the best way to counteract the damage done by pollution and sun exposure. Finally, eat antioxidant-rich foods like berries and leafy greens, which are powerful tools to help repair skin damage, to make sure that you are nourishing and protecting your largest organ from the inside out!