Much to our horror, a study has revealed the UAE to have the worst, most polluted air on the planet. There’s never been a better time to start protecting your skin

Hands up who’d happily puff away on a cigarette, knowing full well the harm it was doing to your skin? Or build a house facing the billowing extraction pipe of a factory? It seems like an absurd question and yet, shockingly, every time we step out onto the mean streets of the UAE (Sheikh Zayed Road, we’re looking at you), airborne toxins are having an identical effect on our skin. The streets are even meaner than we thought.

One report that would agree is the latest study by the World Bank, which has shown the UAE to be the most polluted region in the world. That’s right – above China, India and all the usual suspects, it’s our own small corner of the desert that’s faring the worst. It’s time to take a deep breath (not too deep, though. It’s smoggy out here), and wise up.

According to Dr Robert Davis, Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Virginia, this dubious accolade is down to the UAE’s atmospheric conditions, combined with pollutants being emitted into the air. “High temperatures enhance chemical reaction rates,” he says. “Add to this a lack of wind so that the air is stagnant for days, and air quality will deteriorate.”

Related Story: Dubai Named As Most Polluted City In The World 

While we’ve long since realised that this kind of pollution is detrimental to health, we’re only now starting to consider its full implications for our skin. “As well as problems like asthma, heart disease and diabetes, we now also understand that exposing the skin to air pollutants can speed up the ageing process,” explains Dr Christopher Crosby, Civil Engineering Research Associate at the UK’s Loughborough University. But how precisely is pollution ageing us? And what can we do about it?


In simple terms, pollutants exist in two forms. The first is ground-level ozone gas, which occurs when toxic emissions combine with sunlight. “The toxins destroy the skin’s natural oils that make up its protective barrier,” says consultant cosmetic dermatologist Dr Rachael Eckel. “Once this is broken down, tissue is exposed to free radicals.” In turn, these damage the proteins and lipids of the skin, which can lead to collagen degradation, loss of moisture, cell damage, and irritation – none of which make for good news.

The second source of nasties is particulate matter (PM), which is a mixture of solid and liquid dirt particles. These range in size – many 20 times smaller than a pore – and the tinier they are, the more dangerous they become. “Particles less than 10 microns in diameter (finer than that of a human hair) are considered among the most harmful,” Dr Crosby says. “This is because they are highly reactive to human skin, causing inflammation and breaking down proteins that can lead to oxidative stress. This, in turn, can result in pigmentation, as well as wrinkles.”


Related Story: Top Five Red Carpet-Worthy Facials

It’s been a worry for Chinese women for years, knowing their country is among the worst affected. It’s little wonder, then, that Procter & Gamble chose Beijing to conduct a clinical study of 200 women last year. It found that the ones living in the most highly-polluted district had significantly worse skin hydration and barrier function than those in the least. Meanwhile, in Düsseldorf, Heinrich Heine University conducted a study of 400 women which showed that high exposure to PM increased pigmentation between 20 and 22 per cent, while also causing more pronounced deep wrinkles from the nose to mouth; an indicator of age that we could all do without.

Fear not, though, the experts are busy working on a cocktail of solutions. The most important advice they have? Cleanse, cleanse, and cleanse again. By removing the toxins, we minimise the harm they can do. Clarisonic’s travel-size Mia Sonic Cleansing Brush is an excellent place to start because – thanks to its oscillating head that works like an electric toothbrush – it removes 30 times more pollution than manual washing. Follow with a tailored cleanser like Clarins’ Extra Comfort Anti-Pollution Cleansing Cream; reformulated to specifically target pollutant residue and remove up to 94 per cent of dirt particles.


To combat any damage that has been done, invest in products that can repair and replenish the skin’s barrier function. “Antioxidants, vitamins and Coenzyme-Q10 will help suppress inflammation and quell pollution-generated stress,” explains Dr Eckel. Estée Lauder’s been banging this drum since 1997 with its DayWear line. Its latest formulation, DayWear Advanced Multi-Protection Anti-Oxidant Crème, sees five potent antioxidants combined for eight hours of enhanced barrier protection, while fighting free radical damage. Impressive.

After night-time cleansing, we need products that optimise the all-important skin cell repair cycle. Lavera’s Basis Sensitiv Anti-Ageing Night Cream Q10 is rich in restorative antioxidants and deeply-hydrating organic shea butter. Kiehl’s new Iris Extract Activating Treatment Essence is similarly high-achieving, with Lipo Hydroxy Acids activating the skin’s natural exfoliation process, then smoothing fine lines and combating ageing.


Related Story: 15 Secrets For Great Nutrition

Next to knock out? Pigmentation. One of the best products available is Shiseido’s Intensive Anti-Spot Serum. The Asian beauty market is way ahead of us with anti-pollutant skincare, and this serum was launched by the Japanese brand in 2012, offering pigment-reducing results similar to laser treatment. It does this by stimulating and replacing lost proteins that can trigger cell renewal. The clever folk at Lancôme have also been commandeering knowledge from that part of the world, introducing a new HydraZen range aimed at sensitive urban skins and combating environmental stress on the face.

However, because prevention is always better than cure, investing in smart protection products is key. This March, Clarins launched UV Plus Anti-Pollution Day Screen SPF50. Formulated with natural mineral titanium dioxide filters, this cream remains on the skin’s surface rather than being absorbed, which means serious barrier protection against ozone toxins and particle matter. And don’t forget to put a vitamin-enriched primer like Prestige Cosmetics’ Primed & Ready under your foundation too.


Related Story: Ultimate Beauty Breakthroughs


For all these technological advancements in skincare, one of the best pieces of advice is also the simplest: eat your greens. A recent clinical trial conducted in Jiangsu (one of China’s most polluted regions), showed that eating a daily portion of broccoli made people 61 per cent more effective at expelling toxins associated with particle and ozone pollution. We’ve got a great recipe if you want it…

Weapons Of Choice

Pollution, beauty, Multi-protection oxidant creme Estee Lauder, Clarins anti pollution cleansing cream, Clarisonic, Lavera night cream,

1 Mia Sonic Cleansing Brush Dhs700 Clarisonic available at Sephora 2 Extra Comfort Anti-Pollution Cleansing Cream Dhs150 Clarins 3 DayWear Advanced Multi-Protection Anti-Oxidant Creme Dhs267 Estée Lauder available at Harvey Nichols-Dubai 4 Iris Extract Activating Treatment Essence Dhs160 Kiehl’s 5 Basis Sensitiv Anti-Ageing Night Cream Q10 Dhs89.50 Lavera available at


Pollution, Hydra Zen Beauty essence Lancome,3UV Plus from Shiseido, Anti Pollution day cream from Clarins, Face Primer Prestige Cosmetics,

6 Anti-Stress Moisturising Hydra Zen Beauty Essence Dhs294 Lancôme 7 Intensive Anti-Spot Serum Dhs160 Shiseido 8 UV Plus Anti-Pollution Day Screen SPF50 Dhs220 Clarins 9 Primed & Ready Face Primer Dhs92 Prestige Cosmetics


 Words: Fleur Fruzza

 Images: Getty and supplied