Is Pollution Bad For Your Skin? How to Protect Skin Against SoCal Smog!

 a factory smokestack blowing smoke

Southern California doesn’t disappoint with beautiful, picturesque sights and unforgettable experiences. Our air quality, though? Well, that’s another story. Is pollution bad for your skin?

As the war with SoCal smog continues, we locals consider it a small (hopefully temporary) price to pay for living in such a magically scenic destination. Sunshine year-round? Can’t beat that! But at what cost?

Can smog damage your skin? You bet. Air pollution is bad for your skin. In fact, it’s often the quiet culprit causing major stress on our complexion. Not only is it the understated enemy of fresh, glowy skin, but it’s also unavoidable. Fun, right?

So how do you work around the ol’ catch-22 and protect your skin against the SoCal smog? I got you, sis. Here’s how to keep your skin fighting back and looking fine, fresh, and fierce!

What is air pollution anyway?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines air pollution as any contaminant of the indoor or outdoor environment changing its natural atmosphere. In not-so-sciency terms, it’s any particles floating around the air impacting the environment. When these air particles mix with our ozone, they produce smog (or air pollution that looks like smoky fog).

Not only is pollution bad for your skin, but it’s terrible for our planet (that’s a whole other conversation, though). So why’s it so unavoidable? 

Air pollution is mostly created by:

  • Vehicle emissions
  • Factories
  • Natural gasses
  • Dust & pollen
  • Mold spores
  • Volcanoes
  • Wildfires
  • And more

In other words, it’s all around us. So how do you tackle it? We’ll leave that to the pros (sup, Nasa?). However, when it comes to helping your skin fight against all that smoggy ick, consider us your personally-appointed anti-pollution skincare mentor reporting for duty! 👋

So how can pollution affect the skin?

Air pollution has major impacts on the ecosystem, climate, and our bodies — skin included. Just how bad is pollution for your skin, though? 

Here’s what air pollutants can do to your complexion:   

  • Disrupt the skin barrier causing irritation, skin texture, and dryness
  • Increase breakouts, acne, itchy skin, and skin blemishes
  • Accelerates aging resulting in loss of suppleness, wrinkles, and fine lines
  • Reduces skin’s ability to produce collagen resulting in loss of pigment, dullness, and depleted skin function
  • Increases flare-ups of existing skin conditions (like eczema or rosacea)
  • Impedes your body’s ability to absorb vitamins (like Vitamin D3, which is essential for skin cell growth and repair)
  • Oxidative stress (imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants) results in inflammation and increased risk of DNA mutations, psoriasis, or skin cancer

On that note…

How can you protect your skin from smog?

Now that you get how bad pollution is for your skin, what can you do about it?

When it comes to skin, the best offense is a good defense. Even if you’ve already experienced your skin reacting to air pollution, don’t panic! Shielding your complexion from air pollution isn’t just preventative — it can also help undo and reverse the damage that’s already been done.

Damage like dry, itchy skin and breakouts.

So how do you prevent acne pollution and other effects of smog exposure on your Cali-complexion? Here are our ride-or-die tips for keeping the smog from taking a toll on your skin!

Use a sunscreen that doubles as anti-pollution protection.

Wait, what? 

You heard that right. Anti-pollution SPF is a thing. Some sunscreen brands understand how bad pollution is for your skin, so they do more than just block UV rays. Some are formulated with ingredients that proactively fight against environmental stressors. 

What ingredients protect skin from pollution

  • Antioxidants
  • Vitamins B3, C, and E
  • Ceramides
  • Zinc oxide
  • Titanium dioxide
  • Activated charcoal

So when it’s time to refill your SPF, make sure you reach for one that’s pulling double duty — protecting your delicate skin from the sun’s harmful rays, air pollutants, and free radicals. 

Take that, SoCal smog! 

Moisturize. Then moisturize again.

We know pollution is bad for your skin, but how does pollution make your skin dry? Pollutants penetrate your skin barrier compromising its entire function. That’s why after shielding your skin with the right SPF, it’s important to keep it nice and hydrated. 

Keeping skin hydrated combats any damage that’s already been done. Moisturizers help replenish the fats (or ceramides) and other components that keep your skin barrier healthy. It also acts as an additional layer of protection between your skin and all that ick floating around in the air. 

Skin barrier repair and double-protection? Yes, please!

Give your skin some back-up from within.

As much as I wish we could survive exclusively on rosé and double-doubles, the truth is that as bad as pollution is for your skin, it isn’t just an external fight — it starts from inside. 

When it comes to how to treat acne caused by pollution and other skin woes, we’ve gotta prioritize drinking more water and eating foods that feed our skin. Fruits, veggies, healthy proteins, and antioxidant-packed spices help our skin build resistance against the effects of SoCal smog. 

Our fav way to give skin a little TLC from within? embody’s Retinol Gummy

You see, retinol (or vitamin A) helps skin repair by increasing cell turnover and regeneration. The downside? When applied topically, it can make your skin bug out before it gets better.

No sweat! These tasty AF, skin-supporting gummies let us reap retinol’s benefits while bypassing any potential irritation! #SkinWin 🥳 Just don’t forget to check with your doc first!

Wash your face at least once a day.

Sure, pollution is bad for your skin, and SPF and moisturizer work wonders in battling it, but that doesn’t mean you should leave them on your face indefinitely. 

I’ll be the first to admit that, on occasion, I’ve crawled into bed after a night out and forgotten—er, said F it—to washing my face. While it isn’t necessarily ideal, forgetting once or twice isn’t going to wreak havoc on your complexion (we can’t say the same for your pillowcase). But making a habit of it is quite the contrast.

When you wash your face, you aren’t just removing dirt and makeup. You’re also removing all the residue of pollution that is bad for your skin. It settles into your skin, creating free radical damage, leading to those not-so-great effects we discussed earlier. Cleansing it daily helps prevent potential pollution-related skin woes.

Enter: embody’s One & Done Cleanser, a.k.a. my holy grail, would-die-without-it face wash. 

Why? Because it does the work of a double-cleanser in one product. Just like you can ski at Big Bear in the morning and dip your toes into the Pacific at Sunset, this cleanser gives you the best of both worlds, just like So Cal!

The best part? It’s packed with hydrating ingredients that support your skin’s barrier. We stan a lazy-girl-approved, multifaceted cleanser.🙌

Don’t Let SoCal Smog Cloud Your California Dreamin’

Now that you know how you can protect your skin from smog, you can spend more time getting outside and enjoying all that sunny SoCal has to offer. After all, nothing comes close to the Golden Coast — Katy Perry said so herself. 

Sure, all that SoCal pollution is bad for your skin, but you know how to keep your skin shielded and thriving now!

So hit the trails at Runyon Canyon, cruise down the PCH, or go shopping at The Grove. Do what nourishes your soul and leave what nourishes your skin to us — your official skincare besties, embody.💗