When you hear "skin care," you probably think of the pots of nice-smelling cream on your bathroom shelf. But we should be protecting our skin the way we'd guard anything valuable: New research shows that the body's largest organ is highly susceptible to everyday environmental assaults.
"Think about your car; a day or two after you get it back from the car wash, you can already see that dirty film building back up again," says Seth Matarasso, M.D., a clinical professor of dermatology at the University of California School of Medicine in San Francisco. "The same thing is happening to your skin."
The air out there isn't as fresh as you might think; ozone is a major factor that may be taking a toll on our epidermis. "Exposure to ozone increases your risk for rashes and inflammatory skin diseases like eczema," says Dennis Gross, M.D., a Manhattan dermatologist and author of "Your Future Face."
Studies show that for every 1 percent reduction in the ozone layer, rates of non-melanoma skin cancer go up by 2 percent. Increasing UV exposure means more sunburns, but don't wait until you're red to worry.
"We know now that the sun starts to cause free-radical damage and stress well before you burn," says Jeannette Graf, M.D., a dermatologist in Great Neck, New York.
Traffic pollution is another culprit: It contains nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide, chemicals that interfere with the skin's ability to manufacture collagen, which keeps it firm and healthy.
Pollutants don't have to come from smokestacks: Plasticizing chemicals such as phthalates and formaldehyde give off gas constantly from our furniture, carpets, shower curtains, cleaning products, and other household goods.
According to a 2006 study, published in the journal Clinical and Experimental Allergy, normal levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) present in indoor air could damage your skin's epidermis layer and aggravate eczema.
While of course you can't spend your life in a biohazard suit, the right strategies can help protect and strengthen your body's first line of defense: your skin.
Eat a healthy, antioxidant-rich diet, drink plenty of water, and add skin-protecting products to your arsenal. Look for antioxidants to help fend off attacks from environmental aggressors, and a high SPF to protect skin from the sun.
The Best Defense
Employ these weapons to battle the daily onslaught of ozone, smog, and smoke.
REN Hydra-Calm Global Protection Day Cream contains omega-3 and omega-7 fatty acids that strengthen skin. $55; sephora.com
AnneMarie Borlind Orange Blossom Energizer is rich in antioxidants from blood oranges. $36; borlind.com
Aveeno Positively Ageless Sunblock Lotion SPF 70 for Face also features antioxidants. $11; drugstore.com
Eucerin Daily Skin Balance Skin-Fortifying Body Lotion contains nourisihing vitamin B5 and glycerin. $10; drugstore.com
Sea Enzyme Ultra-Umbrella Environmental Protection Moisturizer has shea butter. $40; seaenzymeca.com
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