Smog & The City: How Urban Life Can Age Your Skin

According to New York dermatologists, Dr. Eric S. Schweiger and Dr. David E. Bank, urban settings are rife with factors that rapidly dull skin, coax out wrinkles and splatter complexions with the type of pigmentation spots that accelerate the look of your years.

Now as a city girl, I don’t like the sound of this one bit.

Not only do I have to deal with a cost of living that makes a cardboard box apartment seem plausible, but now I have to worry about looking old before my time?

I asked the good doctors to explain the city’s biggest culprits that speed up the hands of mother nature’s clock, and tips for mitigating and even reversing the symptoms into beautiful, healthy-looking skin.

So if you pound pavement daily in any of the country’s major cities, put down that Blackberry and steal a New York minute to learn how to protect and recharge your skin against the less-than-glamorous parts of city life.

City sun rays are more dangerous, because they’re sneakier. While non-city folk usually experience their strongest daily sun exposure in a predictable pattern that hits the driver’s side half of the face and body, city dwellers often unknowingly bathe completely in the age-inducing rays. “We’re walking everywhere, and we’re constantly being exposed to the sun,” says Schweiger. Add to that the fact that most people are out and about during the most intense light during the morning and lunch hour, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for premature wrinkles. Make applying a daily sunscreen lotion for the face and body of at least SPF 30 part of your grooming routine, and you’ll quash one of aging’s most dangerous triggers.

Pollution taxes skin, and requires deep cleansing. “Think about all the car pollution, construction zone soot and other allergens and dirt that gets kicked up by subways, people and cars daily. Don’t sleep on an unwashed face!” says Schweiger. For a more intensive cleaning, look to foaming formulations or a tool like the Clarisonic to loosen and remove layers of pollution that invisibly melt onto the skin during the day. Schweiger recommends Neutrogena Fresh Foaming Cleanser or Purpose Moisturizing Foaming Cleanser for dry skins, while I can personally attest to the addictively squeaky-clean results left in the wake of a Clarisonic cleansing.

Stick to smoke-free areas. Cities like Los Angeles, Boston and New York may ban smoking in enclosed public places, but you can still ask for a light in destinations like Dallas, Las Vegas and New Orleans. What you may not know: even if you’re not the one doing the smoking, your skin is paying the price. “Smoke is one of the worst things for your skin. It accelerates skin aging and leads to early sagging and wrinkling,” says Bank of the vapors that settle onto skin like pollution. “The best thing is to avoid being in smoking areas, and to stop smoking if you’re a smoker yourself in order to prevent damage.”

Try allantoin to soothe city-weary skin. Found in the comfrey plant, allantoin stimulates skin cell regeneration for a softer, smoother and more luminous complexion. “Allantoin is very helpful in protection from environmental conditions and helps the outer layers of your skin shed, which is beneficial in a city lifestyle that is filled with pollution,” says Bank. H2O+’s line of cleansers, masks and toners contain the healing ingredient, as does Obagi Clenziderm M.D. Therapeutic Moisturizer.

Lack of sleep and stress takes a toll on skin. The dizzying pace of city life combined with high expectations for a demanding career usually makes for little sleep and lots of coffee. The resulting stress triggers inflammation to spike in the body, which is the cause of aging. And without sufficient sleep, the body doesn’t have time to heal during the necessary regenerative phase. “Establishing stress management and good sleep habits are critical to looking younger,” says Bank.

Antioxidants are the best prescription against aging. The age-inducing free radicals caused by all the different factors of city life can be ‘eaten’ or even reversed by the presence of antioxidants. Diet-wise, you an find the powerful fighters in richly colored fruits and veggies, like blueberries, strawberries, pomegranate and kale. Antioxidants are also present in skin care ingredients like Vitamins A, C, E, and are most effectively absorbed through serum form at bed time. Loading both your diet and skin care routine with the powerhouse element can harbor dramatic anti-aging results, says both dermatologists.

Stick to a routine, day and night. All the fancy ingredients in the world can’t compete with simple routine if they’re not applied consistently, says Bank. A twice daily cleansing and protective moisturization is needed morning and night to protect skin that is under constant assault from the city environment. “To keep skin healthy and young when living in the city, it takes more work and dedication,” says Bank. “It’s about sticking to a routine morning and night, including cleansing and sun protection. The most important thing for city dwellers is to make sure they take care of their skin so the skin has god natural immune function.”

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