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From the moment you wake up to when you hit the sheets, “we’re always battling the elements,” says Anne Chapas, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at New York University School of Medicine in New York City. “And when we’re exposed to too many environmental assaults on a daily basis, our body’s natural protection process breaks down.”
So, what’s a girl to do to stay pretty (besides live in a cave)? Here are some simple solutions to help your skin and hair weather whatever Mother Nature brings your way.
About 85 percent of American homes have hard water (which basically means super-high levels of minerals), The United States Geological Survey finds. And according to the Environmental Working Group, traces of chlorine, used to disinfect the public water supply, are in your tap and your shower. Plus, copper found in the very pipes that pump water into your tub can make beautiful blonde hair go bad.
Issue: Blonde hair that turns (eek!) green; straw-like strands for any hair color
“Hard water typically contains large amounts of calcium and magnesium,” explains Leslie Baumann, M.D., a dermatologist in Miami Beach, and author of “The Skin Type Solution,” “These minerals sit on hair and strip its natural oils, making it feel rough and look frizzy.” And whether from a quick dip in the pool or repeat rinses under your very own spray, chlorine acts similarly. “Chlorine is hydroscopic so it absorbs moisture,” says Philip Kingsley, a trichologist (hair and scalp expert) in NYC and London. “If it dries on hair, it literally draws out moisture, causing hair to become brittle and dull.”
Since bleached strands are more porous and have little color, the effects of harsh chemicals and oxidizing are more noticeable than on darker shades. Contrary to the common belief, it isn't actually the chlorine that turns blonde hair green. Oxidized metals in the chlorinated water bind to the protein in the hair shaft and deposit their color. The metal that produces the green tint is copper (which turns green when it oxidizes, much like the copper Statue of Liberty).
Remedy: Dr. Baumann suggests switching your regular showerhead to one that contains a filtration system that can remove harmful heavy metals and chemicals. (Think Brita for your hair.) If the damage is already done, reveal softer, shinier strands—and a brighter blonde—with this DIY treatment from Christopher Cilione, senior colorist at Oscar Blandi Salon in New York City: Mix equal parts white vinegar with shampoo in a small bottle; lather into hair, rinse, then shampoo and condition. “The vinegar is acidic and able to break down layers of mineral deposits coating hair,” explains Cilione. Don’t feel like being your own DIY beauty mix master? Use a clarifying shampoo every other week instead.
Culprit: Cold temperatures and harsh winds
“Wind and cold weather, especially when humidity is low from dry indoor heat, as well as wind, causes water to quickly evaporate off skin’s surface,” says Dr. Geyer. “This leads to a breakdown of skin’s outer protective layer.”
Issue: Blotchy, dry, flaky skin
When skin’s barrier to the outside world is compromised, not only does more moisture seep out, but more skin saboteurs (as in pesky pollution) can get in, too.
Remedy: Just as you throw on a cozy sweater to keep warm once the thermostat plummets, your skin needs TLC and an extra layer of protection. Look for products that contain mega hydrators such as ceramides and squalene, both of which are moisture-boosting lipids that mimic those naturally found in skin. Humectants like hyaluronic acid draw water from the air into skin, and keep the water laced in the very cream you’re applying bound to the skin.
Turn on a humidifier, and turn up skin’s moisture: According to the American Academy of Dermatology, once humidity drops below 60 percent, skin is more prone to irritation. Supercharging your diet may help keep skin supple. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids and alpha-linoleic acid allow the body to produce more ceramides from the inside out, explains Dr. Baumann. Your best bet: Munch on walnuts, flaxseed oil and salmon, or take omega-3 supplements.
Culprit: The sun
Consider the sun your skin’s ultimate frenemy. You love the way your skin looks with a touch of sunny glow, but it comes with a hefty dose of damage. “Ultraviolet radiation is one of the harshest environmental aggressors out there,” says Adam Geyer, M.D., founder of Tribeca Park Dermatology in NYC.
Issue: A laundry list of aging skin concerns including fine lines, wrinkles, dullness, loss of elasticity, uneven skin tone and, of course, skin cancer
UV exposure is responsible for up to 90 percent of the visible signs of aging, The Skin Cancer Foundation in NYC reports. Daily sun exposure generates free radicals, electron-hungry molecules that age skin, and over time they can also lead to potentially deadly DNA damage in the form of skin cancer.
Remedy: Protect skin from both UVA rays (the aging rays that damage skin cells in the deep layers, leading to skin wrinkling) and UVB (which cause skin reddening and sunburn in the skin’s outer layers), rain or shine. Just because you aren’t a beach bum, doesn’t mean you’re safe, since at least 50 percent of UVA rays penetrate glass.Office workers who sat in front of the same window for 20 years looked a whopping seven years older on the side of their face directly exposed to UV rays, a recent study in Clinical Interventions in Aging, finds.
Slather on a broad-spectrum sunscreen that has a minimum of SPF 30 and a mix of chemical sunscreens such as avobenzone and oxybenzone, which absorb and break down rays, or physical blocks like titanium and zinc oxide that deflect light off of skin, suggests Dr. Chapas.
Culprit: Pollution (thanks to car fumes, industrial air pollution and secondhand smoke)
“Pollution affects skin in a variety of ways and it should come as no surprise that none of them are good,” says Dr. Geyer. The very air we breathe commonly contains harmful particles that latch onto skin the moment you step outside.
Issue: Hyperpigmentation (aka sun spots) and blackheads
UV radiation has always taken the blame for dark spots. But recent research says that pollution may play a role, too. A study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology shows that those who live in urban cities with high levels of pollution had 20 percent more sunspots than those in less polluted areas. Docs aren’t exactly sure of why; however, they agree it makes sense that getting sunburned while lying outside in smog-choked Los Angeles verses say, the lovely beaches of Maui, could cause more damage.
“We know that the sun creates inflammation and free radicals and we know that pollution does the same, so it makes sense that a combo of the two has an additive effect,” explains Dr. Geyer. While it might not seem like you’re walking through a cloud of filth on your way to the grocery store, microscopic debris creates a thin film over skin, trapping sebum below the surface. As a result, bacteria feasts and multiplies in pores, and boom—you’ve got more blackheads than you can count. Another reason skin appears dirtier when you’re in an area that’s dirty: Research shows that keratinocytes (cells that line pores) contain some hydrogen peroxide; when this chemical oxidizes, your pores literally turn black.
Remedy: Stop free radicals in their tracks. Shield skin with an antioxidant-rich moisturizer or serum that has a cocktail of proven skin defenders such as vitamins E and C, kinetin, green tea or coffeeberry extract (followed by a broad-spectrum sunscreen, of course). Think of antioxidants as the Pac Mans of the skincare world, gobbling up free radicals before they can attack healthy skin cells. And definitely think twice about going to bed in the same makeup you faced the day with. “Wash your face as soon as you walk in the door so grime doesn’t linger on skin,” suggests Dr. Geyer. Suds up with a formula that has gentle exfoliators (such as lactic, salicylic or glycolic acid) to break down potential pore-clogging debris and dead skin cells in one fell swoop.
Culprit: Extreme heat and humidity
Having just the right balance of moisture in the air does your complexion a solid (humidity=natural; hydration=smooth, supple, dewy, youthful skin). But once steamy, sweltering air skyrockets? Um, not so much.
“When it is really hot and humid out, there’s an increase in sweat and oil lying on the skin’s surface because less evaporates into the air,” explains Dr. Geyer. “And this can lead to congested pores and eventually, blemishes.” Plus, the hotter you are (as in temperature!), the more your body feels stressed, which stimulates adrenal glands to churn out even more oil.
Remedy: Chill out. Instead of doing that 7-miler outside, hit the air-conditioned gym. “Staying out of excessive heat and humidity for extended periods of time can help decrease your body’s overall stress level, which lowers levels of potential acne-causing hormones such as cortisol,” explains Dr. Geyer.
Also, tailor your skincare routine. Switch to an oil-free gel cleanser to wash away excess surface oils without leaving residue behind. Ditch heavy moisturizer (your skin’s clearly got that covered) for a hydrating gel or serum. Skin still resembling an oil slick? It might be worth seeing a pro. Dr. Amy Wechler, an NYC dermatologist, sees great anti-acne results with Isolaz—an in-office treatment that combines a gentle vacuum with broadband light. “It sucks all the oil to the top of the pores,” explains Wechsler. “The blue light then sterilizes pores and acts as an anti-inflammatory.”
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