Skin in the City: Dermal Guardians for City Dwellers


As well as prettier views, ample parking space and less noise, country dwellers now have another reason to gloat: Research says that if you live in a city, you can also look forward to having older skin. A separate survey also showed that even though urban folks tended to drink more water and use skincare like sunscreen more often, rural residents still score higher in terms of skin quality such as radiance and hydration, which tells us there is something else besides UV that may be impacting skin.

If scientists and doctors are to be believed, incorporating urban skin defense into your routine is worth considering. But before you do, know what you’re defending against (and why). Start here:

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“We used to think that UV rays were the only major threat to our skin outdoors,” says Dr Chua Han Boon, from SW1 Clinic. “Increasingly, data suggests that city pollution also plays a direct role in pigment changes and premature skin ageing.” A Chinese study found that women living in the most polluted part of China had 10 percent more skin ageing than their counterparts breathing cleaner air.

City pollution may be composed of a whole lot of nasties that have different impact on skin. But the biggest culprits: Soot and diesel exhaust. These contain highly reactive nano-sized particulate matter (PM) that are coated in polyaromatic hydrocarbons, which are really good at infiltrating skin where they bind to cell receptors, and cause both oxidative stress to skin through free radical formation and activating genes involved in skin ageing. “They have been directly linked to increased wrinkle and nasolabial fold formation, as well as melanocyte proliferation that leads to uneven pigmentation even without UV radiation,” explains Dr Chua.

Ground-level ozone pollution, a major component of pro-oxidant city smog, make things worse by depleting skin of its antioxidants, breaking down proteins and squalene (a lipid that naturally moisturises and strengthens the skin barrier), and induces inflammation and skin sensitivity. And therein lies the double whammy: Dry skin is more permeable and susceptible to air pollution’s ageing effects.

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Short of upping sticks to the skin-friendly greenbelt, this anti-pollution kit that might just save your skin:




1.  Washing up thoroughly every night is the best way to start, so less urban grime penetrate your skin. Cleansing oils are ideal for dissolving away oil-soluble dirt, makeup, and nano smog stuck to it. Shu Uemura Anti/Oxi Skin Refining Anti-Dullness Cleansing Oil  ups the ante with moringa extract, which bonds to and removes negatively-charged pollutants, as well as green tea extracts to help neutralise the ageing oxidative damage. 

2. Hand-held cleansing brushes, such as the Foreo Luna Mini 2, are like ginger-lemon detox tea for urban skin. Amp up the purifying power of your favourite cleanser with the ultrasound-driven brush at least a couple of times a week to flush out stubborn microscopic soot that lives under your skin.

3. We can all learn a few things from Brooke Shields in The Blue Lagoon – covering yourself with mud is the secret to soft, stunning skin. Soft clay masks are a modern option to draw dirt out like a magnet, without over-drying dehydrated or sensitive skin as compared to their charcoal cousins. Charlotte Tilbury’s Goddess Skin version is further enriched with sweet almond and antioxidant-rich rosehip oils to condition and heal the compromised city skin barrier, while its BioNymph Peptide Complex delivers a collagen boost.   

4. Besides fending off harmful UV rays (a must), Dior One Essential City Defense SPF50/ PA++++ further protects you against daily pollution in 3 ways. First, it forms an invisible shield over skin’s surface, preventing particles from adhering to the skin (think: water bouncing off a glass surface). At the same time, it strengthens the skin barrier to minimise penetration of pollutants. And finally, should any free radicals still enter the skin, they are arrested by antioxidants contained within the formula to save you from premature ageing.

Read More: Beyond SPF – The Case for Antioxidants





Exactly how bad are our beloved devices for our health? Let us count the ways: We’ve been told time and again how much physically sitting in front of our laptops for hours is killing us, not to mention the impact the bluish gadget glow have on our sleep patterns as we check the Instagram feeds in bed, or the premature frown lines and saggy double chins from chronically squinting down at screens. Staying mindful and anxiety-free? Not so easy when you’re logging countless hours on the Internet: Your screens could be quietly emitting harmful rays that can take a major toll on your skin, in a way that’s equivalent to the damage caused by both UVB and UVA combined.

The enemy here is high-energy visible (or HEV) light or near-UV (NUV) light, which is essentially high frequency blue-violet light radiating from your flat-screen TV, computer monitors, and smartphone (or even efficient cool white daylight or full spectrum lights *gasp*). Because these devices became indispensible to our lifestyles so quickly, research on the specific effects of HEV light is still developing. But scientists believe this silent saboteur (it doesn’t cause redness or sunburn reaction like UV rays) can penetrate deeper than UV, generate an immense amount of free radicals like UVA and UVB combined, hence triggering inflammation, weakening barrier function, impairing skin repair and leading to premature wrinkles, sagging and uneven pigmentation. Pretty frightful stuff…

Read More: Why Do Korean Girls Look so Young?


Since your trusty sunscreen can’t provide proper photo-protection against screen radiation and you can’t give up bedtime surfing, consider fortifying your dermis with these day and night:


1. Enhance your daily skin defence by slathering on Dr Sebagh Supreme Day Cream under your sunscreen. The luxuriously whipped age-defence day moisturiser has a fractionated melanin compound that’s specially formulated to shield skin from HEV light, as well as resveratrol, date palm kernel extract and diglucoside gallic acid for triple antioxidant benefits.

2. Unlike you, age-damaging ROS damage does not sleep. Complete your 24-hour age defence with Astaxanthin, the world’s most powerful antioxidant (it’s said to be 6,000 times stronger than Vitamin C). Chai Gold Mulberry absorbs magically into skin, where it’s innovative controlled-release formulation delivers potent bursts of reparative ceramides and astaxanthin antioxidant goodness throughout the night, working overtime to boost skin’s health, youthful radiance, restore dermal elasticity and prevent the formation of wrinkles and lines. 

Read More: This is How the Sun Sees You





A fast-paced lifestyle and chronic psychological stress is another contributor to accelerated cellular ageing in city dwellers. Surprise, surprise… But researchers are elucidating the mechanisms behind this intuitive link between the brain and the skin.

In a recent study, individuals who have premature ageing possibly due to chronic psychological stress are found to have decreased leukocyte telomere length. “The shortening of DNA-capping telomeres basically reflects the clock that is ticking, and indicates how many more cell replications are possible,” explains Dr Chua.

Stubby leukocyte telomere length is important because the leukocytes play a crucial role in immune function of the skin, so when the lifespan of leucocytes are prematurely shortened, there’s reduced effectiveness of the skin immune system to other physical stressors such as UV radiation or pollution. “Think of these cells going rusty in a vicious, caustic soup of ­negative hormones. Prolonged activation of stress hormones also causes increased production of reactive oxygen species, inflammation and ultimately duller, thinner, less supple skin with the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and age spots before their time.”

Getting sufficient sleep, eating the right foods, meditating, and maintaining a positive outlook of life have all been shown to protect your DNA and rejuvenate your mind and skin. Studies found that a three-month long yoga retreat increased the telomerase levels in the bloodstream, omega fatty acids rich foods encouraged longer telomeres, and pessimists had shorter telomeres than optimists.

For those seeking to recharge their age-worn DNA reserves, try Rejuran DNA Resurgence, an anti-ageing DNA therapy to reactivate your skin to a younger, healthier state. Studies have shown that DNA extracts and PDRN (Polydeoxyribomucleotide) stimulate dermal fibroblasts, kickstarting collagen production and skin regeneration in skin graft patients, thereby holding the promise of more youthful skin for mere mortals like us who have succumbed to the toils of life. There just might be hope for us yet!

Read more: We Put Salmon DNA to the Test


Despite all the resolutions that one might make, it is difficult to rid oneself completely of stress (or embark on a 3-month yoga retreat). Take special care of tired, stressed skin with these youth fresheners: 



1. Shiseido Ultimune Power Infusing Concentrate defends skin’s youthful glow with a botanical complex that’s said to support skin’s Langerhans immune cells, and a cocktail of antioxidants to counteract free radical damage.

2. SW1 Age Defy is a pro-collagen night moisturiser with clinical-strength vitamin A to improve skin’s cellular metabolism, repair wrinkles, enhance suppleness and restore youthful tone.

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