By Shahnaz Husain
WHEN India shut down in the month of March in a desperate bid to “flatten the curve” of coronavirus cases, the skies over its polluted cities quickly turned an azure blue, and the air, unusually fresh.
When India went into the world’s biggest lockdown, the air pollution plummeted to levels unseen in living memory. The Metropolitan Indians rejoiced over spotless, pollution-free, blissful skies celebrating the city’s “alpine weather”. The pollution level in cities came down by 80% during the lockdown, mainly owing to halt in human activities, trains, planes, automobiles and factories which improved air quality index dramatically in the majority of Indian cities.
But now as the government is slowly easing COVID-19 lockdown norms to restore back normalcy, pollution is peaking once again. Sadly, it’s not just the lungs and heart that are vulnerable to air pollution. The skin takes some abuse as well.
The return of busy life scheduled which is full of hustle and bustle can be a pretty unhealthy environment for your skin. The daily exposure to pollution dramatically impacts skin’s health and appearance.
A major factor behind the high pollution levels at this time of year is farmers in neighbouring states burning crop stubble to clear their fields.
Doctors and environment experts believe that most Indian cities are likely to experience extreme levels of air pollution during winter months due to an increase in human activities, massive vehicles on roads, industrial activities, city’s geographic location, unfavourable weather, stubble burning and local sources of pollution.
Various air pollutants such as ultraviolet radiation, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, oxides, particulate matter, ozone and cigarette smoke affect the skin as it is the outermost barrier. Second, only to the sun, pollution is the biggest aggressor when it comes to ageing your skin.
Regular reports on increasing pollution levels, deteriorating air quality, depleting ozone layer has increased the demand for anti-pollution creams and formulations in the beauty industry.
I think the biggest concern is an increase in hyperpigmentation. But that’s not all. Particulate matter can also clog pores, compromise skin function and even lead to premature signs of ageing, dull and fatigued skin including lines and loss of firmness. Environmental aggressors such as traffic fumes, cigarette smoke and UV light can leave the complexion more susceptible to irritation, rashes, eczema and breakouts.
Pollution hurts your skin’s barrier function by breaking down collagen and the lipids contained within it. Once this barrier is compromised, lipids and collagen (responsible for delivering hydration and plumpness to the skin) start to break down and the complexion suffers. Small nanoparticles in the form of dirt, dust or soot can enter and negatively impact your skin cells leading to an increase in dry patches, spots and an overall lack of glow.
Chemical pollutants also disrupt the normal balances of the skin and scalp, leading to problems like dryness, sensitivity, rashes, acne, irritation or allergic reactions, dandruff and related conditions. They also make the skin and hair dull, lacking vitality. All of us who live and work in urban areas need protective beauty care, whether they are housewives or working women. Of course, for working women, the job may involve travelling long distances to work. The skin is thus more exposed to the pollutants in the air.
Cleansing of the skin assumes more importance in order to get rid of the impurities and pollutants that are deposited on the skin. If you have a dry skin, use a cleansing cream or gel. For oily skins, cleansing milk or face wash may be used. For oily skin, also use a facial scrub after cleansing.
Look out for products with ingredients like sandalwood, eucalyptus, mint, neem, tulsi, aloe vera, etc when you buy cleansers. The anti-toxic and tonic properties of such ingredients have helped in clearing the skin congestion and eruptions that result from exposure to chemical pollutants. Aloe vera, for example, is also a powerful moisturizer and an anti-oxidant. So are ingredients like apricot kernel oil, carrot seed, wheat germ oil, etc. the skin needs to be protected. If the skin is prone to eruptive conditions like acne, pimples, rash, it should be protected with specialized creams that not only protect but also reduce oiliness and deal with the problem. If you are buying market cleansers manufactured by beauty companies than avoid cleansers containing Sodium lauryl sulphate and sodium Laureth sulphates or denatured alcohols as they dry out the skin and can damage our skin barrier over time.
After cleansing, wipe the skin with a rose-based skin tonic or rose water, to complete the cleansing process and refresh the skin. Soak cotton wool in chilled rose water and tone the skin with it, patting briskly. It also improves blood circulation to the skin surface and adds a glow. Green tea also makes a good skin toner. If there is a rash or eruptions, add a little rose water to sandalwood paste and apply on the face. Wash off with plain water after 15 minutes.
Anti-pollution cosmetics help to provide protection and reduce the damage caused by environmental effects. These are basically “cover creams” that form a barrier between the skin and pollutants.
A sandalwood protective cream is very useful to protect the skin from environmental effects. It forms a transparent protective cover. Sandalwood soothes the skin and protects it from irritation reactions and eruptive conditions. It suits all skin types and increases the skin’s moisture retention ability too.
The hair also needs frequent washing if one regularly travels long distances for their work. Pollutants also collect on the scalp. Shampoo, hair rinses, serums and conditioners help to restore the normal balances if they contain ingredients like amla, brahmi, trifala, bhringaraj and henna. They also coat the hair and form a protective cover. Mix one teaspoon each of vinegar and honey with one egg. Massage the mixture lightly into the scalp. Leave on for half an hour and then wash the hair. Rinse well with water.
Or, give the hair hot oil therapy. Heat pure coconut oil and apply on the hair. Then dip a towel in hot water, squeeze out the water and wrap the hot towel around the head, like a turban. Keep it on for 5 minutes. Repeat the hot towel wrap 3 or 4 times. This helps the hair and scalp absorb the oil better. Leave oil on overnight and wash hair the next day.
The impurities and pollutants can also affect the eyes, causing burning or redness. The eyes should be washed with plain water several times. Soak cotton wool pads in chilled rose water and use them over the eyes as eye pads. Lie down and relax for fifteen minutes. This really helps to remove fatigue and brightens the eyes.
Keep yourself hydrated by taking 10-12 glass of water in a day to replenish moisture .Opt for coconut water , Nimbu Pani , Juices and Soups to detoxify the body and help heal the skin damaged by free radicals and keep the immune barrier healthy, keeping your skin supple and soft.
Add berries, leafy greens, citrus fruits, and seafood containing Omega-3s in your daily diet Citrus fruits, beetroot, oregano, apples, avocado, blueberries, and leafy greens and beans play a significant role in the body’s capability to heal itself, especially the skin.
Your diet plays a big role in the fight against pollutants. Avoid spicy food, pizza, burger, junk, maida and aerated drinks which can drain moisture from your body.
Most of us use sunscreen in hot humid days but you need to apply an SPF 30 daily with broad-spectrum protection every morning to protect yourself from negative impact of pollution on Skin.
Precautionary measures in Ayurveda can help bring the moisture level of one’s skin up through herbal remedies. One can try getting Siro Abhyanga massage for the hair and Kaya Abhyanga to combat dry skin. In addition, the use of sandalwood in different forms on the skin can help those with oily skin.”
I personally feel that a routine of antioxidants, cleansing and barrier repair is the best defence against air pollution.
The pollutants we encounter every day may be largely inescapable, but there’s ample reason to be defensive in our skincare routine.
- The author is an international fame beauty expert and is called Herbal Queen of India
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