City living can be rough on your skin. The high density of people, buildings, cars, and industry makes for a bustling place where, unfortunately, there’s also a lot of air pollution. Exposure to air pollution impacts our overall health, including taking a significant toll on your skin.

Air Pollution Effects on the Skin

In cities, our body is exposed to higher levels of air pollution from a large variety of sources, especially car exhaust and industrial emissions. These emissions release harmful pollutants into the air, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides, and more. 

These different pollutants cause oxidative stress in the skin. They produce reactive oxygen species (ROS), known as “free radicals” in skin care spaces. The ROS are unstable molecules that react with cells in the skin in slightly different ways, resulting in different types of damage.  

Because of the oxidative damage, the main air pollution effects on skin can lead to the following concerns and skin diseases

  • Premature aging such as fine lines, wrinkles, and loss of tone
  • Irritation, sensitivity, or redness
  • Hyperpigmentation such as dark spots or melasma 
  • Acne (especially inflammatory acne) 
  • Skin cancer or precancerous lesions 

Air pollution also causes ozone layer depletion, which worsens our exposure to the sun’s UV rays. This results in even more notable signs of photoaging and a higher risk of skin cancer. 


How to Protect Skin From Pollution

If you can’t avoid pollution in a big city, here are the best ways to protect your skin from it. 

Antioxidant Skincare

First and foremost, antioxidants are key when it comes to protecting the skin from air pollution. In skincare, the main antioxidants to look for include vitamin C, vitamin E, niacinamide, and green tea extract. 

These antioxidants donate an electron to the ROS found in pollution, effectively neutralizing them and preventing the damage they cause. Some of them can also help reverse some signs of damage, such as helping to reduce wrinkles or fade hyperpigmentation.  


Cleansing in the evenings is another important aspect of preventing air pollution from damaging the skin. Even when using antioxidants, some debris and nano particulates can still stick to your skin after a long day out and about. By cleansing gently at night, you wash that all away and allow your skin to rest in a pristine condition overnight. 


While sunscreen won’t directly protect you from air pollution, it’ll protect you from some related ills. Using SPF daily will prevent premature aging and pigmentation by preventing sun damage. Look for sunscreens with at least 30 SPF, and consider formulas with iron oxides to protect your skin from blue light damage. 

Reduce Hair Removal Irritation

Air pollution already increases our risk of skin irritation dramatically, leading to higher instances of conditions like dermatitis. Where hair removal is concerned, it also means the risk of razor bumps, ingrown hairs, and overall irritation is higher in cities, because of the oxidative onslaught. That’s where laser hair removal can play a big part in prevention! This treatment doesn’t just remove unwanted hair but it actively prevents regrowth. It’ll allow you to enjoy smooth skin while maintaining its resilience, without any more pain, bumpiness, and redness. 

Regular Skin Checks 

Have your skin checked by your doctor or dermatologist regularly for signs of skin cancer, such as irregular moles or growths. Have a look at the American Academy of Dermatology’s Skin Cancer Resource Center to learn more.  

air pollution effects on skin

How to Repair Air Pollution Skin Damage 

In addition to following all of the prevention steps, here are the measures you can take to repair your skin. 

Use Retinoids

Retinoids are ingredients related to vitamin A, such as retinol, retinaldehyde, and retinoic acid (i.e., Retin-A). They bind to receptors in the skin, triggering improved proliferation and differentiation of skin cells, which is how they’re able to reverse skin damage caused by air pollution. 

They’re considered the most effective ingredients for increasing collagen production, reversing signs of aging, smoothing skin texture, and evening the skin tone. Some retinoids are FDA-approved as acne treatments, thanks to their ability to speed up the skin cell turnover rate. 

Skin Barrier Repair Products

When it comes to dealing with irritation from pollutants in the air, barrier repair products can make a big difference. Look for products that boost the skin’s natural lipids such as fatty acids, ceramides, and niacinamides, and also consider soothing ingredients such as azelaic acid, centella asiatica, colloidal oatmeal, and more. 

Note that if you’re experiencing itchy or painful rashes, you may need to seek medical care for proper diagnosis and treatment.


Your body’s resistance to oxidative stress also comes from your lifestyle, and especially what you eat. There’s no secret recipe here – it’s all about eating a nutritious diet rich in antioxidant vitamins, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and limiting stress. 

Skin Rejuvenation Treatments

If you’d like to take the fastest approach to reversing the effects of air pollution on your skin, facial rejuvenating treatments are the way to go. There are a lot of facial treatments that will help jump-start your skin’s self-repair skills, to undo the worst of the damage caused by oxidative stress. 

The skin and body treatments that can help the most at SEV include radiofrequency, microneedling, and PRP or PRF.

Radiofrequency utilizes currents to power the skin cells and speed reproduction, microneedling encourages a healing cascade to increase collagen and elastin production, and PRP and PRF utilize your body’s growth factors and other signaling molecules to directly repair damage and stimulate renewal. 

Reparative Treatments at SEV 

From Morpheus8 and Potenza to gentle Forma, we offer plenty of treatments that can reverse the main air pollution effects on the skin, from deep wrinkles and sagging skin to surface-level discoloration or scarring. Do you want to undo the damage of city living? Book an appointment for a treatment or consultation at SEV to start repairing your skin.