The stats, figures and research on the current state of air pollution worldwide are sobering. According to the World Health Organization, 92 per cent of people worldwide breathe in sub-standard air; researchers at Harvard and environmental organisation Greenpeace foresee that coal emissions in South-east Asia will triple by 2030; and a study in scientific journal Nature estimates that 6.6 million people would die prematurely of air pollution by 2050.
To say that our cities are emitting dangerous amounts of toxic gases (carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, ozone) and particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter (that’s about 30 times smaller than the width of a human hair) and that we are “choking” is an understatement.
Staying indoors isn’t safer either. The average Singaporean spends 8.8 hours in the office every day and another 90 minutes on the road. According to Nicolas Chesnier, regional managing director of Sisley Asia Pacific, this makes us vulnerable to indoor pollution, whether in offices with lousy air-conditioner filters or poorly ventilated cars and buses circulating emission from surrounding vehicles.
If you live in a polluted area or are travelling to a country with less-than-pristine air, consider using a purifying scrub and a detoxifying mask weekly.
Despite such damaging exposure, many of us don’t pay enough attention to air pollution (note how many drivers here leave their car engines on while they wait) – unless it’s the haze.
Given that pollution isn’t going away any time soon, some beauty houses such as Sisley have started focusing on air pollution as a big-time skin hazard. Why? Because polluted air is loaded with damaging free radicals that cause problems such as sensitivity and dark spots.
Asian women are genetically predisposed to hyperpigmentation and Sisley researchers discovered that pollution exacerbates it – a study conducted by the brand found that women living in polluted areas of Seoul have 20 per cent more dark spots than those living in rural areas.
Nicolas says: “When skin functions normally, UV rays trigger regulated melanocyte activity and you get an even tan. However, pollution and fine particles cause oxidative stress and inflammation that deregulate melanin activity. There is an overproduction of localized melanin, and hence, the appearance of dark spots.”
According to the French brand, our best bet against pollution and its knock-on problems is a healthy and resilient barrier – the skin’s outermost layer, which locks in moisture while keeping out toxic particles and irritants.
For city dwellers, though, the constant exposure to air pollution, sun damage and stress weakens this protective barrier. Tiffany Chen, regional training manager at Sisley, further points out that in hot and humid South-east Asia, people often move between outrageously cold, air-conditioned buildings and the blistering hot outdoors. “These frequent microclimatic changes can contribute to dehydration and a weakened skin-barrier function,” she says.
The need to address the effects of daily pollution and climate change on skin is what prompted Sisley to take action. Its latest Phyto-blanc Brightening Daily Defense Fluid SPF50/PA++++ ($370) is a different take on a brightening product.
It’s a “cityscreen” that not only tackles UV-induced dark spots, but also strengthens the skin so it is less reactive to constant temperature change and less susceptible to dark spots caused by pollutants. Think of it as an N95 mask for the skin, if you will.
Sisley’s Phyto-blanc Brightening Daily Defense Fluid SPF50/PA++++ ($370) contains stabilised vitamin C and hexylresorcinol – an antiseptic and a soothing ingredient used in throat lozenges – help to curb the formation of dark spots.
In addition, it’s a moisturiser with pro-vitamin B5 and phytosqualane (a plant-derived emollient with a molecular structure similar to that of the skin’s own oils) that those with sensitive skin, which has an already weakened barrier that often translates to dry, itchy skin prone to redness, can use. We also tested the product on three other skin types: normal-combination, sun-sensitised, and ultra-sensitive premenopausal. One pump is enough for the first two, while the last requires up to three pumps on top of a regular moisturiser, as the skin tends to be much drier.
Despite its high SPF, it has a light, fluid texture with a slightly powdery feel and spreads easily over skin, leaving no sticky film – just a clear, semi-matte finish and comfortable, breathable wear. More importantly, its 100 per cent mineral formula stays on the skin instead of being absorbed into it, so it doesn’t trigger any negative reaction even when used on unpredictable sensitive skin.
This story was originally published in the March 2017 issue of Her World magazine.