From regulating the temperature of our planet to filtering out most of the sun’s harmful rays, the atmosphere plays an important role in sustaining all life on Earth. It essentially keeps us alive by providing a breathable and conducive home for humans and millions of creatures inhabiting the planet. However, in the past century, greenhouse gases and pollution has done irreversible damage to our atmosphere. This in turn has rendered the atmosphere’s defenses weak against the harmful rays that reach Earth. The combination of harmful UV rays and pollution in the atmosphere not only has adverse effects on the environment, but also poses a number of threats to healthy skin.
5 Layers of the Earth’s Atmosphere
There are 5 layers to the Earth’s atmosphere, these are namely troposphere, the lowest layer of the atmosphere where we reside. This layer of atmosphere is also where most clouds are created and weather conditions are experienced. The next level of the atmosphere is the stratosphere, which contains the ozone layer and where some jet aircrafts fly. Beyond these are the mesosphere, thermosphere and the exosphere.
Although the atmosphere makes life on Earth hospitable, the combination of sun and pollution has lead to an increase in health problems over the years. These factors also inadvertently leads to dull and lackluster skin. So what exactly is atmospheric ageing? Atmospheric ageing is an umbrella term for environmental factors that cause premature ageing and visible signs of skin ageing. To be more specific, these environmental factors include UVA/UVB rays, Infrared-A and Ozone (O3) pollution.
Ultraviolet (UV) Rays
Discolouration and the breakdown of the skin’s structure is usually caused by UVA rays. These rays influence free radicals in the skin. While UVA alters the composition of the skin, UVB contributes to skin damage caused by sunburn. UVB rays are also the main cause of skin cancers. UVA rays, which consist of 95 percent of sunlight, are said to penetrate the skin deeper that UVB.
Infrared Radiation (IR)
With a wavelength that is longer than ultraviolet rays and visible light, infrared radiation is noted to not only penetrate the skin deeper than UV, but also breaks down collagen in the skin and kick starts the production of free radicals that can cause major damage to the cells in your body.
Ozone Pollution (O3)
The main role of the ozone, the colourless gas occupying the upper atmosphere of the Earth, is to protect us from most of the sun’s harmful UV rays. However, over the years, ozone pollution, occuring in the ground level has caused the tropospheric atmosphere to be carcinogenic. The production of ozone pollution can be traced back to man-made chemicals from household products, pesticides and cigarette smoke. Ozone pollution also has the ability to damage the skin in more than one way, presenting itself in more than just fine lines and wrinkles. Similar to UV and IR light, the ozone induces oxidative stress in our cells. In simple terms, oxidative stress creates an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the production of antioxidants created by the body to counteract the harmful effects of free radicals. The depletion of naturally occurring antioxidants in the skin like vitamin C and E are also attributed to ozone pollution, leading to loss of collagen and other protein damage to the skin’s overall structure. Besides visible signs of ageing, the skin also loses its supple and smooth texture, becomes oily and more sensitive to the environment.
So what are the possible solutions to tackle skin affected by atmospheric ageing? For one, sunscreen will not be enough to protect and prevent damage from pollution in the atmosphere. The reason being that atmospheric pollution is all around us, and we can’t really escape from it even if we tried.
A few things you can do to stall the effects of premature ageing would be to support or increase the skin’s antioxidant levels through a proper and balanced diet. Increase your intake of antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, plums, oranges and kale. Antioxidants will help to combat and neutralise the harmful effects of free radicals on the skin, preventing premature ageing and counteracting the damage caused by ozone pollution to the skin. In addition to adopting a highly-antioxidant diet, you can also treat your skin products high in antioxidants such as aloe vera gel.
Exfoliation is another way you can salvage the health of your skin. Steer clear of harsh cleansers and soaps as these agents are more than likely to dry out your skin. Use a mild cleanser to remove dirt and impurities that might latch on to your skin when you are outside.
Fighting free radicals and premature ageing does not need to be an uphill battle. Limit prolonged exposure to the sun, wear sunscreen and keep yourself hydrated to lessen the effects of free radicals and sun damage to the skin. Combine these with some lifestyle changes by maintaining a healthy and antioxidant-rich diet and you can reduce visible signs of damage and retain a smooth and youthful looking skin.