You can see it lurking in a hazy layer over large cities. Its foul stench follows you through the streets. Sometimes you can even taste it. The culprit is smog. If the thought of breathing in a lungful of smog makes you choke because of the damage it can do to your respiratory system, you won't be surprised to know that smog can also damage your skin.
Charlotte is one of the worst cities for the skin on our list because of its high ozone and pollution levels, with 26.2 high-ozone days out of the year. The American Lung Association also ranked Charlotte as the tenth worst city for ozone pollution in the US in 2010. Why is it so polluted?
It may have something to do with the lack of airflow in the city on the hottest days of the year, which can be related to its geographic location: in the middle between the Appalachian Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean. Coal-powered plants might also play a factor, as well as population growth.
Smog is a chemical cocktail of low-level ozone (molecules of three oxygen atoms bound together), particulates (such as dust, soot and smoke), and other pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and lead. When pollutants in the atmosphere are absorbed through your skin, your whole body can suffer the consequences.
You hear a lot about the ozone layer these days, and for good reason. The ozone layer in the stratosphere, or upper atmosphere, protects you by blocking harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun, but ozone in the troposphere, or ground level, is a major component in smog.
When the sun's rays hit the smog, it breaks down into free radicals. If they enter the body, the free radicals bounce all over the place within the cells and chip away the cells' walls. Several diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, have been linked to free radical damage.
In addition to being a factor in serious diseases, free radical damage can also cause premature aging. When the pollutants in smog rob your skin of its oxygen supply, the result is signs of aging, such as wrinkles and loss of elasticity in the skin.
If you already have mature skin, you will be more susceptible to high pollution concentrations because your ability to fight free radicals diminishes as you get older.
Fortunately, if you live in Charlotte - or any area with a significant amount of pollution, you don't have to pack your bags! (We <3 Charlotte!) There are measures you can take to protect your skin from pollution.
Antioxidant nutrients help to block free-radical activity in the body, so include antioxidant-rich foods in your diet.
Many skincare products contain antioxidant ingredients, such as vitamins A, C, and E- Obagi has a popular Vitamin C serum line which neutralizes free radicals to prevent skin cell damage. Skinceuticals also have an entire skincare line devoted to Prevention.
Cleanse your skin thoroughly at night to wash off collected dirt and grime.
Water: Stay hydrated to flush toxins through your system and keep your skin (and entire body) healthy.
Sunscreen!: The diminishing ozone layer results in increased UV exposure, more sunburns, and higher rates of melanoma. UV exposure increases free radical activity. Protect your skin from the damaging effects of the sun and ozone.