How Pollution Really Affects Your Skin

Q: Can pollution in the air around me damage my skin?

A: Yes. Next to the sun, pollution is probably the top environmental troublemaker for your complexion, because exposure to chemicals in dirty air can trigger the production of free radicals. "These unstable molecules cause reactions that inhibit the way skin builds and repairs itself," says Vincent DeLeo, M.D., a chairman of dermatology at New York's St. Luke's-Roosevelt and Beth Israel hospitals. "This can lead to wrinkles, discoloration and even skin cancer." (In one independent study, researchers at the University of California at Berkeley found that levels of free-radical-fighting vitamin E--a vital component of healthy skin--was depleted after a brief exposure to heavily polluted air.) Plus, smoggy air may lack moisture, which is a big problem if your skin is dry and sensitive. Because it's impossible to avoid pollution entirely, protect skin with sunscreen and products with antioxidant ingredients--like vitamin C and green or white tea--which help neutralize free radicals. Editor favorites: Clarins Expertise 3P ($40;, a refreshing facial mist formulated with white-tea extract; and Neutrogena Healthy Defense SPF 45 Daily Moisturizer ($12; at drugstores), a broad-spectrum block with antioxidants.

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