Protect Your Skin, Hair From Air Pollution


May 25, 2015


We’ve written a lot about air pollution on this site – about the link between asthma and pollution, about how to pollution-proof your home – but that’s because air pollution does more than just add to the stress of modern living; it insidiously threatens our health. Every day, as we wade through traffic, commuting to work or travelling around our town or city, we’re being exposed to high levels of toxins. These can affect us superficially – aging our skin, damaging our hair – as much as they take a toll on our health. Guarding our outsides from air pollution is as important as guarding our insides. Here’s an action plan to help you stay healthy and glowing.


“Vitamin C is an antioxidant that can help us fight the devastating effects of pollution,” says Dr. Karuna Malhotra, skin specialist, cosmetologist and homeopath physician at Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi. “It can rid our bodies of free radicals that cause our cells to age more rapidly.”

It can also help us breathe easier. When 200 patients between the ages of 54-74, many of whom were asthmatic or had COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), were surveyed at a The Imperial College in London, researchers found that those with lower levels of Vitamin C were more vulnerable to breathing difficulties and hospital admission, especially on days when air pollution levels outside increased.

Natural sources for Vitamin C are available in plenty, especially in a diet full of fresh foods and nutrient rich fruits and vegetables.

“If you’re looking for the best sources of Vitamin C, oranges, pineapples, guavas, papayas, strawberries, amla (gooseberries) are all ideal choices,” says Dr. Malhotra. “I highly recommend that you make a paste of amla and add it to a litre of drinking water. Sip on this throughout the day.”

Vitamin C is also found in vegetables; stock up on capsicum, kale (a kind of spinach), broccoli, chilli peppers, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts. For a steadier, more measured dose, chewable tablets of 1000 mg Vitamin C are also an option.

For more protection inside and out, try a Vitamin C serum (a lotion with at least 15-20 % Vitamin C), suggests Dr. Malhotra. She advises applying it to the face at night.


Many of us don’t bother with make-up, especially during the hot summer months, but contrary to expectations, a freshly scrubbed face is often more vulnerable to the damaging effects of air pollution. With no barrier between your skin and the air, toxins and UV radiation can sink directly into your skin.

“To prevent this, add more layers to protect your skin,” says Dr Malhotra. “Never step out with a raw face. Choose a light moisturizer, follow this up with a sunscreen, and dust on a loose powder before you leave your home.”


Not only is an unprotected face more likely to be damaged by air pollution, but a frequently washed face can also harm your skin. It’s tempting to wash your face often, especially after battling the heat and grime of Indian roads. But frequent washing strips your skin of essential oils, making it more prone to acne and other skin problems. Avoid washing more than three times a day, advises Dr. Malhotra. If you need refreshment between washes, try a vaporizing spray equipped with sulphur springs or sulphur water to keep you well moisturized.


Sweat, dust, grime—all this can settle in the roots of your hair, causing excessive hair loss, says Dr. Malhotra. Washing your hair every day with a gentle shampoo will help. A head massage, once every two weeks, can also help stimulate blood circulation, improve the health of the scalp, and refresh you after a long day in polluted air. Use coconut oil or mustard oil in the summers, Dr. Malhotra says, and almond or olive oil during winter months.


Written By Kamala Thiagarajan

Kamala Thiagarajan is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the International New York Times, The Reader’s Digest (Indian edition), National Geographic Traveller, American Health & Fitness, Firstpost.com and more. She has written articles on the subjects of health, fitness, gender issues, travel and lifestyle for a global audience and has been published in newspapers and magazines in over ten countries. Visit her virtual home at kamala-thiagarajan.com or follow her @Kamal_t


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