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This post is part of a series about environmental stressors and skincare. Read the rest of the posts in this series:
- How does stress affect our skin?
- How does UV radiation harm our skin?
- How does pollution harm our skin?
- How does sleep help skin?
- What is a healthy skincare diet?
You’re going to hear us talk quite a bit about free radical damage and environmental stressors.
That’s because the cellular damage caused by these elements is a pretty big deal. From down-the-line damage like wrinkles and sun spots to acute annoyances like dry skin and irritation, we can blame environmental stressors for all our skin woes.
What’s more, these factors are an unavoidable part of modern life. As we explored in our post How do antioxidants for skincare work, anyway?, environmental stress creates free radicals, which attack and damage our skin at the cellular level. If we want to take steps to protect and improve our skin, we first have to understand what we ask our skin cells to deal with daily.
In this post, we’ll reveal the six sources of environmental stress you need to address for healthier skin.
Our biggest environmental stressor is pretty tough to avoid: oxidative (free radical) stress from UV exposure. Environmental stress, including what comes from UV light, is responsible for 90% of the visible signs of aging like wrinkles, dark spots, and uneven skin tone.
Sun exposure is incredibly stressful for skin 1. because it generates a ton of free radical damage and 2. Because it depletes our natural antioxidant reserves (read more in our post How do antioxidants for skincare work, anyway?).
As we’ve explained in previous posts, antioxidants are our first line of defense against free radical damage.
UV light is especially troublesome because studies show we’re generally not protecting ourselves against it. We’re bad at applying, or reapplying sunscreen. And unless you’re wearing SPF-rated sunscreen every single day, year round, you’re likely getting too much exposure to this environmental stressor.
In other news that’ll truly bum you out, some evidence suggests that other parts of light, like blue light, may also be bad news our skin. That’s unfortunate news for those of us who spend time outside or in front of blue-light-emitting screens and all the more reason to protect from and prevent the effects of environmental stressors.
We’ll tell it to you straight: we don’t know exactly why chronic stress is so bad for our skin. But it is known to exacerbate many skin diseases and contribute to skin aging.
Studies have linked stress to impaired barrier function. When it’s left alone to do its job, skin is good at staying hydrated by keeping water in. It’s also a protective layer; it keeps out pathogens and chemicals so we can stay healthy.
But when our bodies are placed under stress (and these days, when aren’t they?), we’re simply asking too much of our skin cells. The result is the same as exposure to other environmental stressors: skin that looks older, drier, flakier, or just plain unhealthy.
One theory that makes a lot of sense: prolonged stress taxes our immune systems and increases free radical damage, which in turn leads to premature skin aging.
Smog and Pollution
If you live anywhere near a city (or one of the many places in the world increasingly ravaged by wildfires) you’re familiar with the skin-dulling effects of pollution.
Air pollution, in the form of gasses and of particulate matter, is a source of free radical damage and premature aging for many of us. For example, according to this article from Dermatology Focus, 90% of the world’s population is exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution thanks to vehicle exhaust.
Several studies have linked pollution to premature skin aging. Particulate matter, like car exhaust, smoke, and other minute sources of debris, is strongly correlated with irregular skin tone and wrinkles.
Gas pollution provides a double whammy of premature aging. Ozone, for instance, is linked to wrinkles. As if that wasn’t enough, studies also indicate it makes us more vulnerable by reducing the levels of beneficial antioxidants in our skin.
We blame lack of sleep for some of our more visible signs of ill health. Dark circles under your eyes? Didn’t sleep enough! Puffy skin? Didn’t sleep enough!
In fact, our symptoms are probably the result of a combination of environmental stressors. Sleep is only one of these factors, but it’s a big one. Short sleep is linked to lowered immunity, impaired memory, increased risk of chronic illness, and obesity.
With all those factors at play, it’s no wonder that the downstream effect of too little sleep is unhealthy skin.
Focusing on improved sleep is a relatively inexpensive solution to a myriad of problems, so take our word for it and try sleeping more before you invest in that expensive serum.
The fact that smoking ruins our health is old news. Whether we’re talking about cigarettes or marijuana, inhaling smoke specifically damages our skin in the same way as other environmental stressors: it creates free radical damage.
But the same is true of e-cigarettes. Though they rely on vapor instead of smoke, the nicotine still present when you vape decreases blood flow, which slows wound healing and worsens existing skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. And early data shows that’s true of cigarettes and e-cigarettes.
The toxins in e-cigarettes also make us look older sooner by accelerating the breakdown of collagen, a protein responsible for plumping skin and holding wrinkles at bay (see How does collagen work, anyway?).
The jury may still be out on whether e-cigarettes are as dangerous as traditional cigarettes, but it’s likely that at a minimum they contribute to premature skin aging and make our existing skin conditions worse. For that reason, it’s pretty clear that they’re terrible for our skin.
We know we should be eating a healthy diet, right? But if you’re committed to healthy skin, it’s even more important to pay attention to nutrition.
First, because our diet is our main source of the vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants our skin craves. Slathering on a Vitamin C serum while pounding daily cheeseburgers simply won’t yield healthy skin in the same way that a balanced diet and targeted skincare will (see How does Vitamin C work, anyway? for more).
Second, because when we don’t eat well, we create deficiencies that place further stress on our bodies. And as we’ve already established, these stressors lead to free radical damage. Antioxidants have the power to fight back, but only if we have enough of them around in the first place—something that’s unlikely in a diet that’s devoid of vegetables and fruits.
So, like sleep, stress management, and sun protection, start with the basics to make sure your skin has everything it needs to thrive.
What can we do?
No matter how much we want perfect skin, it’s unrealistic to eliminate environmental stress from our lives. Instead, we have to strive for balance.
Mitigating these stressors wherever possible is a great first step. The next is to make sure we’re feeding our skin plenty of antioxidants with a healthy diet, topical products, and the addition of Sundaily gummies.
The active ingredient in The Base Layer, Polypodium leucotomos, is a powerful antioxidant that fights free radical damage from the inside out. The Back Up helps rewind the visible signs of environmental stress with the power of astaxanthin. Your Sundaily subscription is a powerful part of your skincare routine. Subscribe today!