Why pollution could be causing your acne – and how to prevent it

We know that keeping our skin cleansed and moisturised is key to keeping our complexion clear. But it’s not just about what we do – loads of outside factors can affect our skin and cause acne.

The weather can mess with our complexions; we often end up with red, irritated skin in the winter. UV rays from the sun are the biggest cause of skin ageing and can make our skin oilier in the summer. But did you know pollution can affect your skin too?

Here, we’ll cover how air pollution can cause that dreaded acne and how you can stop it in its tracks.

How does pollution affect acne?

Air pollution releases small particles of gases, including carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, and nitrogen, in the air. We know these gases are dangerous to breathe in, but they can also wreak havoc when they land on our faces.

Pollution manifests itself as debris and dust, and this physical dirt is bad news for clear complexions. When this muck lands on your face, it can clog your pores, which leads to acne.

If that wasn’t bad enough, pollution causes free radical damage, and this can make your skin age faster. It’s bad news all around if your goal is to keep your skin smooth and youthful.

Three ways you can combat pollution acne

Air pollution is worse in city and town centres because traffic congestion contributes to it. But if you’re not a countryside girl, fear not – you don’t have to commit to a new rural life to keep your skin crystal clear! Here are three ways you can help to combat pollution acne.

1) Look after your skin barrier

When it comes to fighting acne, we’re often guilty of waging war on our skin with harsh ingredients instead of playing nice with it. And while using proven acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide can definitely ease and prevent acne, we shouldn’t be going too hard with them.

If you use them too much, these acne-fighters can damage your skin barrier. This is the first line of defence for your skin, and keeping it happy means your skin will stay clear, soft, and smooth. Pollution also damages your skin barrier, so the last thing you need is to weaken it even further.

Adding ingredients that make up your skin’s barrier is a sure-fire way to keep it healthy. Ceramides and lipids make up most of it, so look for cleansers, serums and moisturisers with these ingredients – they’ll help build up that essential defence. Niacinamide can help to soothe your skin barrier (and, as a bonus, can make your pores look smaller!), while antioxidants will fight off that free radical damage.

If you don’t look after your skin barrier, you’ll never get that glowing, clear complexion of your dreams.

2) Cleanse… and cleanse again

If you live, study, or work in a busy city or town centre, it’s hard to avoid pollution. We know you’ll be working that cleanser in extra hard, but did you know that just one cleanse doesn’t do the job?

More than just a TikTok trend, double cleansing is a guaranteed way to get every last bit of makeup and grime off your skin. If you aren’t cleansing your skin properly, muck and make-up build up – that’s a recipe for acne.

First, you want to use a cleansing oil or balm. Micellar water is also good for getting make-up off, and it is an easy replacement if you use make-up wipes at the minute (they’re not good for your skin). This step will clean the surface of your skin and get rid of most of what’s on it. The second cleanse, which is your usual water-based cleanser, will wash away anything left over, as well as getting into your pores to clean out some of the nasties that have made their way in.

3) Ditch the pore-cloggers

Because pollution particles can make their way into your pores, the last thing you need is more pore-clogging – AKA comedogenic – ingredients. If you’re loading your skin with comedogenic products, even double cleansing might not be able to fully clean out your pores.

These ingredients can be found in a lot of the products we put on our face, from make-up to self-tan, and even our skincare! But making some clever swaps will help you keep your skin as clear as possible, which will make fighting pollution pimples much easier.

When it comes to skincare, steer clear of products that contain ingredients like coconut oil, cocoa butter, and cetyl alcohol. Instead, stick to lighter hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid. A lot of make-up items, like primers and foundation, are now formulated with skincare ingredients, meaning they’ll enrich your skin while you glam up.

And if you love a year-round bronzed glow, switch from pigmented facial tan to clear tan drops – the pigment in traditional self-tanners can clog pores, so eliminating that will help you to keep your skin clear.

When it comes to keeping acne at bay, it can be hard to stay on top of all the things that can cause it. Many of us might not have known that pollution can cause or worsen it. But now that you do, you’ll be able to confidently prevent it!

Photo by Zulmaury Saavedra