Is environmental ageing through pollution causing more problems than UV rays?

It’s long been believed that the number one contributor to premature skin ageing is from UV rays.  Whilst it’s certainly true that the sun’s rays contribute to skin damage and even skin cancers, it’s only part of the story. 

During his 20-years treating age related skin conditions, our founder, Dr Michael Prager noted that many of his clients were showing signs of damage thought typical of sun exposure.  These clients were from all over the globe, exposed to different levels of UV rays and most, if not all, took precautions like covering up and wearing sun block when outside.  The damage was less localised and not the result of overexposure. 

Dr Prager realised that there were other factors at play causing the premature ageing they were experiencing and started to explore what the real culprit might be.

At the same time, several highly prestigious institutes, including the Journal of Investigative Dermatology and WHO (The World Health Organisation) had started intense research into the effects of environmental pollution on the skin. 

Interestingly, all concluded that environmental influences are responsible for up to 90% of skin damage. 

As explained in our article ‘Protection from Pollution: Why it’s Your Number One Skin Priority’ when your skin is attacked by pollutants, it’s delicate bacterial balance changes for the benefit of harmful bacteria.   

It also puts strain on the ability of your skin to create enough antioxidants to fight the attack, causing stress at a cellular level. Many of these pollutants have molecules up to 20% smaller than your skin, meaning they can be absorbed by the deeper dermal layers, resulting in the deterioration of the skin’s appearance. 

Some pollutant particles, most prevalent in smog, are too big to penetrate the skin but can do significant damage to the skin’s barrier function.  A 2017 study showed that Vitamin E in the sebum is seriously inhibited in polluted environments, affecting the skin’s barrier. Hyperpigmentation is another a key indicator of pollution damage, as proven in a German study which demonstrated a 22% increase in women exposed to pollution with controlled UV exposure.

Pollution also disturbs the skin’s ability to produce collagen (which helps it maintain elasticity as we age), it’s lipid balance and PH, as well as encouraging it to secrete more sebum (not good for those with acne or oilier skins).  It can penetrate deep into the skin’s surface, leaving it irritated, dehydrated and unable to repair itself, showing lines and uneven texture far faster than in a ‘clean’ environment – with or without additional UV damage. 

The fact is, damage caused by pollution is far easier to be exposed to than UV damage. By 2030 an estimated 92.2% of us will live in areas defined as urban. This means being regularly exposed to a cocktail of soot, acid and microparticles from the burning of fossil fuels to power cars and machinery. 

Protecting yourself is doubly difficult when you realise that unlike that from the sun, we also face pollution damage in our internal environments.

Of course, we’re not saying to disregard the risks of the sun entirely, and you can read more about our recommendations here. 

We absolutely believe though, that time will show the need to protect our skin from pollution is not only desirable but essential for our long-term health and wellbeing.