The Skin Nerd Presents: Anti-Pollution Skincare - how to protect your skin from free radicals

What are free radicals anyway? And how can you protect your skin from them? Let Jennifer Rock, the Skin Nerd, tell you how.

The Skin Nerd, Jennifer Rock

Skincare and beauty brands are tripping over themselves to create anti-pollution products right now. Pollution is the new big concern when it comes to the skin. It’s been known for a while that UV rays damage the skin (not that this means you should neglect protecting your skin from them on the daily) but a lot of the research and studies into exactly how pollution affects the skin are much more recent.

Why do we need to think about our skin when we talk about pollution? It’s very logical, really. Your skin is the protective shield to all of your other organs and it is constantly exposed. The skin is an organ though, not simply a tarp draped over the precious goods inside, and in this, it can only take so much. Your skin has to continuously fight off the stress that is put on it by pollution, as levels of pollution, for the most part, simply rise as time goes on.

Air pollution causes an abundance of things called free radicals to attack the skin. Free radicals are not a specific subtype of activist, they are molecules that are missing an electron. This makes them shoot around like mad things looking to find an electron. They then latch on to healthy cells to steal the electron from each healthy cell. When the electron is stolen from a healthy cell, that healthy cell is then missing an electron and so the cycle continues! This process causes a little thing called oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is the thing that leads to your skin looking a whole lot older a whole lot faster and is the technical term for an imbalance of how many free radicals there are in comparison to your antioxidant defence.

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What anti-pollution skincare does is protect the skin from these wily yet misunderstood free radicals so that the oxidative stress doesn’t occur to the same extent in the first place. Anything that markets itself as “anti-pollution” beauty is going to be chockfull of antioxidants. Antioxidants stand in the way of free radicals when they are trying to do their electron-thievery and stop them before they can start their cycle!

There are so many different antioxidants out in the world. You’ve got vitamins like A, C and E, you’ve got green tea, ubiquinol, grape seed extract, resveratrol and phloretin as well as oodles of others. The fab thing about antioxidants is that antioxidant ingredients usually have other benefits for your skin. For example, vitamin A is key for the health of the skin cell and vitamin C is a brightening ingredient.

For hydration and antioxidant protection, I highly rate Yon-Ka’s Vital Defense. Antioxidant-wise, it contains vitamin E, C and A as well as co-enzyme Q10 (or CoQ10). It hydrates the skin with plant glycerin which is great for those with very, very dry skin.


If you have highly reactive skin, you may be a bit spooked by the idea of adding something new to your routine. Well, the sensitive skin experts at Avène formulated a super-light antioxidant moisturiser for you. The A-Oxitive Antioxidant Water-Cream contains pre-tocopheryl, a precursor to vitamin E, and ascorbyl glucoside, a highly stable derivative of vitamin C. Of course, if you’re likely to react to new products, always patch test first!

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Personally, I believe in the power of serums and think you can skip the moisturiser but I know that this is an unpopular opinion. For my fellow serum-lovers, there is no shortage of antioxidant serums out there. The IMAGE Ormedic Hydrating Anti-oxidant Serum has long been a staple in my skincare kit. Its main antioxidants are EGCg AKA Japanese green tea extract and coastal marine fennel, which has the added benefits of increasing the ceramides that are key to your skin’s barrier function.

SkinCeuticals have not one but two globally-beloved antioxidant serums, in Skinceuticals CE Ferulic and Phloretin CF. CE Ferulic is 15% l-ascorbic acid (pure vitamin C) alongside 1% vitamin E and 0.5% ferulic acid to protect like nothing else. CE Ferulic is best suited for drier skins and those who are not spot-prone due to the vitamin E. Phloretin CF is the oily-skinned, spot-prone version of CE Ferulic, which combines 10% l-ascorbic acid with 0.5% ferulic acid and 2% phloretin, to help with hyperpigmentation.

In my opinion, it is worthwhile to speak with a skincare professional about adding antioxidant products to your skincare routine rather than guessing yourself. A consultant, such as our Nerdettes at The Skin Nerd online skin consultancy, will be able to tell you which product will suit your skin best whilst providing it with the things it needs to battle those free radicals.

Jennifer Rock, AKA The Skin Nerd, is the founder and CEO of The Skin Nerd Online Skin Consultancy and the Cleanse Off Mitt makeup removal tool. For more information on The Skin Nerd’s online consultations, where results are more than a promise, click here

If you want to read more of the Skin Nerd's wisdom, see her previous entries below:

How to tackle dark circles like a pro

Getting to the bottom of Rosacea, the Curse of the Celts

How to go about treating acne scars


Why spritzing needs to be part of your skincare regimen

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