Air Pollution and Your Skin


Ugh, air pollution…It looks appalling, it can make us feel unwell, and over time it does some terrible things to our skin, too.

This deeply-unpleasant-to-contemplate issue has recently come to the forefront, with unprecedentedly noxious air creating a toxic plume so visible and oppressive that it could not be ignored (the increase in awfully-dirty air was due in large part to the abnormally prolific forest fire smoke across parts of the US and Canada that exacerbated already present pollution like car, diesel and industrial exhaust).  

During the worst of it, Seattle’s air toxicity was rated worse than Beijing, the Chinese city notorious for massive industrial pollution. “Simply breathing” in Seattle was determined to be equivalent to smoking seven cigarettes; it was recommended that children not go outside. Portland’s air quality was likewise rated “unhealthy;” many outdoor youth activities were canceled as a precaution. While at first glance it seems astonishing how quickly our air quality turned from “seemingly fine” to “unhealthy to breathe,” the conditions needed for this to occur have been brewing for a long time.

Scientific study has already amply shown us that pollution is terrible for health and skin and people and the planet…let’s do a deeper dive here, to give this sad, frightening and important subject the examination it deserves both for skin care and humanitarian reasons.

What Air Pollution Does to Your Skin:

*Pollution accelerates aging. It bombards our skin with free radicals, which accelerates skin damage (which shows up as lines, wrinkling, hyperpigmentation and loss of elasticity);

*Pollution has been implicated in exacerbating and even causing breakouts, as air-born chemicals and toxins can clog your pores, causing breakouts to flare up;

*Certain particles in pollution can cause tissue hypoxia (deficiency in oxygen supply to the tissues) resulting in dehydration, dullness and an unhealthy pallor;

*Pollution has long been associated with certain types of eczema (definition: an often chronic skin disorder that can include dry, inflamed, flaky, itchy and sometimes weeping skin irritations) 

*Certain particles in pollution can lead to impairment of the hydrolipidic film (your skin’s natural, protective barrier), resulting in irritation and sensitivity;

*Certain particles in pollution can cause inflammation, increasing irritation and reactivity in your skin;

*Air pollution can exacerbate allergies.

As with almost every terrible-and-challenging thing in life, we are not helpless (although sometimes it can feel that way). There are at least two things we can do—right now—to help decrease the harm pollution can do.


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The First Thing We Can Do:

Since this is a skin care blog, I’ll address this topic first: the most immediate defense we have is how we care for our skin, given these circumstances. The following four skin care steps are indispensable:

*Cleanse thoroughly every night before bed. Getting the particulates that are in pollution off your skin every single night is essential. Use a deeply cleansing but hydrating (non-drying) cleanser. Cleanse twice or use a make-up remover first if you are wearing make-up.

*Hydrate! Well-hydrated skin is our first line of defense against irritation, inflammation, sensitivity and premature aging. Hydration can come in the form of a good hydrating mist and/or a hydrating serum, and is usually followed by a good moisturizer. 

*Fortify your skin with antioxidants. Antioxidants help to neutralize the skin damage that the free radicals in pollution cause. Whenever you can, opt for hydrating mist, serum, moisturizer and sun protection products that are chock-full of antioxidants. Layer in as many as you can.

*Protect! Yes, we need sun protection to ward off the damage caused by the ultraviolet rays in the sun, but good mineral sun protection can act as a shield against pollution as well. It is more crucial than ever to apply a layer of good mineral sun protection as your final layer each day. Think of it as your skin’s “coat of armor” against pollution.

Being fortified with the knowledge we need to take care of our skin in these polluted times is a solid beginning, and utilizing this knowledge can help us right now.


The Second Thing We Can Do:

Take action. No one wants toxic air to become the “new normal.” It can feel overwhelming; diminishing air quality is a global issue, and has numerous contributing factors. Among these factors are forest fires that increase unnaturally every year, the intensive logging that contributes to it (which includes the destroying of old-growth forests and the over-development of wild lands), burning fossil fuels, coal mining operations, industrial exhaust, car and diesel emissions, and on and on…what can one person do? 

But, we are not “one person.” We are many, many people who care deeply—and who can work together for clean air.

There are many ways to take action- here are three if you feel uncertain where to begin…

1) Sign petitions:  

*Moms Rising~


*Sierra Club~


2)  Support effective organizations that are dedicated to clean air:

*What’s In Our Air?

*Oregon Wild~

*Center for Biological Diversity~

* ~

*Union of Concerned Scientists~

*Rainforest Action Network~

*Rainforest Rescue~

*Amazon Watch~

*Jane Goodall Institute~

*Rebellion Extinction~

*Youth Strike for Climate~

*Sunrise Movement~

3) Call, email, write, or meet with your elected representatives, at the city/county level, the state level, and the national level—they absolutely need to hear that you whole-heartedly support drastically reducing harmful pollution:

Clean air is good for our skin, it is good for us, it is good for wildlife, it is good for plant life, it is good for babies and children, and for everything that grows…it is central to any quality of life.     

When the challenge feels enormous, taking care of ourselves (supporting our skin) and taking wise action to care for all of us (joining with other good-hearted, wise-minded beings to care for the earth and all of its inhabitants-both now and for the future generations to come) keeps us moving together on the right path.

We made the world we’re living in and we have to make it over.
— James Baldwin
So many aspects of life depend on fossil fuels, except for music and love and education and happiness.  These things, which hardly use fossil fuels, are what we must focus on.
— Mayer Hillman

Studies and articles on the negative impact of pollution on skin:

Negative impact of pollution on mental health:

Negative impact of pollution on physical health:

Causes of abnormally prolific wildfires and rainforest destruction:

Toxic air quality in Seattle:

Pollution in Oregon:

Global pollution and the corporations that cause it:

EPA weakening clean air regulations:

Collateral Damage of Pollution:

Pollution, Global Catastrophe and What We Can Do:

 Blog written by Marna Herrington with Rich Earth Organic Skin Care Studio
Blog copy editing and polishing provided by Karen-Eileen Gordon (

Pollution image at the top of this blog is by Petr Kratochvil. All other images and text in this blog are under the legal ownership of Rich Earth Organic Skin Care Studio. Permission is not granted for this text or these images to be copied and used out of the context of this blog, or for commercial purposes. If any part of the text is quoted in an article or other blog for educational purposes, a hyperlink to this page must be included.