Is city living, and the pollution in it, causing your skin to age quicker? The answer isn’t quite as simple as you’d think.

There’s no doubt that city living comes with its fair share of stressors. But in the last few years, skincare products that target pollution have made conscious consumers wonder: is the city taking a toll on our complexions too? The answer is yes—but it’s not just a matter of pollution. To learn more, we spoke to Dr. Julia Carroll, cosmetic dermatologist at Compass Dermatology in Toronto about the real effects that living in the big city has on your skin.

Anti-pollution is relatively new terminology gracing our skincare packaging, but it’s been on Dr. Carroll’s radar for about a decade. “I think we’re seeing more of an increase in talking about how the environment affects our skin thanks to marketing,” says Dr. Carroll. “People want to mitigate damage, so it’s appealing to have a cream that protects against pollution.”

Pollution, which can include things like smog, heavy metals, and even cigarette smoke, does affect the skin. It causes free radicals, which damage the DNA inside cells and result in increased risk of pigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles. The tricky part is, free radicals are also created by ultraviolet light, making it hard to isolate pollution as the main culprit of premature aging.

“Fighting free radicals is being repackaged as anti-pollution,” says Dr. Carroll. But she isn’t bothered by the verbiage as long as it promotes healthy practices in our skincare routines. Her recommendations for fighting free radicals are three-fold: cleansing, antioxidants, and SPF. “I always recommend to wash the day off; it’s important to cleanse in the evening,” she says. This helps to remove not only all traces of makeup and accumulated oil, but also any dirt and pollutants that are lingering on your skin. Next, incorporating an antioxidant into your routine will help to combat any free radical formation you might encounter during the day. Look for products with L-Ascorbic Acid (vitamin C). It helps neutralize free radicals whether they come from pollution or the sun. Finally, finishing with a sunscreen every day is a non-negotiable.

The good news? Protecting against pollution doesn’t mean novel ingredients or technology that will make your life—and skincare routine—more difficult. But fighting free radicals, wherever they come from, should be top-of-mind.

Dior One Essential City Defense

Ingredients like Moringa seed and Japanese Lily of the Valley protect the skin’s barrier while antioxidant-rich red hibiscus and vitamin C fight UVA and UVB. $75

Caudalie Vine[Activ] Anti-Wrinkle Serum

This lightweight and easily absorbed serum combines grape seed polyphenols and vitamin C to ensure protection from pollutants. Massage on your face in the morning and before bed to help smooth fine lines. $52

Chanel Hydra Beauty Essence Mist

This mist includes vitamins C and E, as well as moisturizing hyaluronic acid. Apply after makeup for a hydrating and protective spritz that will leave you looking—and feeling—fresh. $82

Charlotte Tilbury Multi Miracle Glow

Cleanse the day off with this rich balm that doubles as a face mask. Vitamins A, C and E help combat signs of aging and free radical formation, while sea buckthorn seed, rosehip and camellia oils hydrate the skin. $70

Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair Serum

This moisture-rich serum is perfect for those with dry skin. Work into your nightly routine by applying one drop onto each finger and massaging into the skin with circular motions. $125

Fresh Black Tea Kombucha Facial Treatment Essence

Fresh’s Black Tea Kombucha essence relies on antioxidant-rich fermented black tea, to combat free radicals. It’s quick-absorbing, and helps to improve overall skin texture. $85. 

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