Does Anti-Pollution Skin Care Work? Here's What Experts Say

It's a nice idea, but it's not a regulated term. Here's what you need to know about anti-pollution beauty products.

You might have noticed various “anti-pollution” beauty products launching over the past couple years, from skin care to makeup, high-end to drugstore. While we all know pollution is bad, what does the term “anti-pollution” actually mean when it comes to beauty? HuffPost spoke to experts to get the answers.

What is anti-pollution skin care?

If you live in a city, you’re likely exposed to all types of pollution ― free radicals, UV exposure, exhaust fumes, subway emissions and even the blue light from our screens are all part of the problem. Unless you can move to a mountain with cleaner air, you may be tempted by the idea of anti-pollution skin care.

Brands claim that anti-pollution skin care will protect your skin from damage due to environmental factors and fight against saggy, lackluster, dull, inflamed and prematurely aged skin. But here’s the problem: “Anti-pollution” isn’t a regulated term because non-prescription products can’t be considered a drug. That means brands have no legal obligation to follow any rules and they can mark a product as they wish when it comes to anti-pollution.

“The law nor the FDA regulations require specific tests to demonstrate the safety of individual products or ingredients,” said Lana Kashlan, an American board certified consultant dermatologist and medical director at CosmeSurge Dubai Marina. Kashlan stressed the importance of doing your research before buying in a brand or product. “Our skin is bombarded by the air, water and sunshine, and we have strong evidence that these elements contribute to extrinsic aging of the skin, wrinkles, pigmentation, urticaria (hives) and even eczema,” she said.

But do anti-pollution products work?

The term anti-pollution has been slapped on many types of skin care products ― primers, face creams, facial spritzes and more. Though skin care routines can be an excellent way to protect our skin from pollution, that doesn’t necessarily mean an anti-pollution product is essential, according to experts.

For instance, skin care products can be loaded with pollution-fighting ingredients without being labeled anti-pollution. Some of those ingredients include vitamin C and E, algae, niacinamide, ceramide 3, green tea, prebiotics, zinc oxide and other mineral barriers. If your skin are already includes them, you’re in good shape even if it doesn’t include an “anti-pollution” label.

“We need to use stable products with efficacious concentration of anti-pollution ingredients,” said Vicky Vega, a skin biologist and founder of the company Flawless Canvas. “Most of us already use antioxidants that also protect against pollutants. Antioxidants such as vitamin C and E ... are great ingredients to combat free radicals produced by pollutants,” Vega told HuffPost.

Kashlan added to that point: “I do believe in antioxidant serums and sunscreen being protective from environmental exposures, but I caution people to be a bit more skeptical of clay masks claiming to be anti-pollution. These masks can be considered clarifying, but there isn’t much scientific data that they remove environmental impurities.”

Valerie George, a cosmetic chemist and co-host of The Beauty Brains podcast, finds many benefits in anti-pollution ingredients overall. “These products typically work by forming a protective film over the skin, which prevents pollution particulate from attaching directly to or penetrating into the skin. They also help reduce the signs of inflammation or stress on the skin, through the use of antioxidants, or restore the skin barrier.”

Does anti-pollution makeup work?

The experts are more cautious about the effectiveness of anti-pollution makeup.

George likes the fact that makeup can provide a physical barrier against pollution, but suggests a proper skin care routine targeted at pollution is essential. “I would avoid products that aren’t for use all over the skin (like an anti-pollution highlighter) or touch-up sprays. The benefit probably isn’t the highest there,” she added.

Kashlan adds another concern, noting, “I prefer keeping the active ingredients, like antioxidants, in separate skin care products, not makeup, because I worry about the makeup formulation affecting the stability and the efficacy of the antioxidants.”

The Verdict

All the experts HuffPost spoke to agree that skin care products can have excellent anti-pollution properties. However, you need to be careful that you don’t buy into a product just because it claims to be anti-pollution, especially when there are great options available that don’t take advantage of trend-led terms.

Looking at the main ingredients of a product will be more efficient and friendlier to your wallet than relying simply on an “anti-pollution” label.

Below are some antioxidant serums, moisturizers and sunscreens our experts recommended for their ability to protect the skin’s barrier against pollution, inflammation and UV-induced free radicals.

HuffPost may receive a share from purchases made via links on this page. Prices and availability subject to change.

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%
The Ordinary
SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Serum
ColoreScience Sunforgettable Total Protection Face Shield SPF 50
SkinCeuticals Resveratrol B E serum
SkinMedica Lumivive System
Osea Atmosphere Protection Cream

Before You Go

The Ordinary’s Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution

Doctor-Approved Anti-Aging Skin Care

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