Summer used to feel so pure. Picnic dinners, ice cream every night, and campfires by the beach. But in 2023, things look a little different. Sorry to bring (back) up the bad news, but climate change isn’t just the catalyst for our apocalyptic Instagram posts. Thanks to the early summer’s troubling AQI (Air Quality Index), we’re all scrambling for our masks once again. And our skin doesn’t like it either. Apologies to be the bearer of bad news, but as things worsen, many of us are seeking anti-pollution skincare to help combat side effects like premature signs of wrinkles, dark spots, and yes—so much more.

With these distressing details, it’s no wonder anti-pollution skincare is having a moment. As more brands declare themselves “anti-pollutant” and many buzzy beauty products claim to protect the skin from “chemical stressors,” you may wonder: what does any of that mean? Our skin gets exposed to many potentially harmful chemicals, toxins, and irritants every time we step outside. From the sun’s ultraviolet rays to man-made chemicals, our skin is faced with an onslaught of harmful agents all the time. For answers on the best anti-pollution skincare, we went to the experts.

Featured image from by Riley Reed.

Anti-Pollution Skincare: What an Esthetician Wants You to Know

Now that it’s summer, most of us are spending as much time as we can outdoors. Though it comes with benefits (vitamin D! serotonin!), our outside time can bring on hidden side effects as well. Just as we slather on our sunscreen before stepping outside, we need to become more mindful of our anti-pollution skincare rituals.

Anti-pollution skincare addresses oxidative stress with antioxidants and other free-radical fighting ingredients. Ingredients that target pollution can come with a range of abilities. Some actively fight pollutants, some reverse current signs of damage, and some help strengthen your skin barrier to prevent further damage. An ideal anti-pollution skincare routine would accomplish all of these functions.

To determine what to look for in anti-pollution skincare, I spoke to Erica Choi, Superegg founder and Licensed Esthetician. Below, she breaks down how pollution can affect the skin and shares the best anti-pollution skincare tips available. Read on for your ultimate anti-pollution skincare kit.

Erica Choi

Superegg Founder & Licensed Esthetician

Image by Belathée Photography

What is pollution?

Pollution refers to harmful substances entering the environment. While higher pollution levels are often found in big cities due to their population densities and industrial activities, pollution exists in various environments. It is not limited to urban areas and can be influenced by factors such as industrial emissions, vehicle traffic, agricultural practices, and natural phenomena. Therefore, pollution is a concern that can affect different regions and is not just confined to big cities.

How does pollution affect your skin?

Pollution affects the skin in multiple ways. It contains free radicals that harm skin cells and accelerate the breakdown of collagen and elastin, leading to premature aging signs like wrinkles, skin discoloration, and loss of elasticity. Some pollutants stimulate melanin production, causing dark spots and uneven skin tone. Pollution can also clog pores and contribute to the development of skin imperfections.

Additionally, pollution weakens the skin’s protective barrier, making it easier for harmful substances to enter. This penetration causes irritation, redness, and increased sensitivity. Over time, chronic inflammation disrupts the skin barrier, resulting in dryness, eczema, and acne.

How to Protect Your Skin From Pollution

Wear SPF every day. UV rays from the sun can intensify the harmful effects of pollution on the skin. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 daily to shield your skin from UV radiation and pollution. Reapply often.

Cleanse effectively. It’s crucial to cleanse your skin at the end of the day to remove pollutants, dirt, and impurities that accumulate on the skin. Choose a gentle cleanser like our Gentle Elements Cleansing Foam, which effectively removes debris without stripping the skin of its natural oils.

Use antioxidant-rich skincare. Antioxidants play a crucial role in defending the skin against the harmful effects of pollution. Incorporate skincare products with antioxidants into your routine.

Moisturize and strengthen the skin barrier. Keeping the skin hydrated and maintaining a healthy skin barrier is essential for resilience against pollutants. Use a moisturizer to nourish and strengthen your barrier, which will help defend itself against harmful substances.

Image by Michelle Nash

The Best Anti-Pollution Ingredients

I wholeheartedly embrace the potency of antioxidants! These ingredients are essential for counteracting free radicals and diminishing oxidative stress, resulting in a radiant and resilient complexion. I particularly adore the benefits of vitamins C, B, and E, as well as green tea extract (with a special mention to EGCG), astaxanthin, snow mushroom, and various ferments. These ingredients work together to defend against environmental damage, ensuring skin remains nourished and protected.

Potent antioxidants to look for in anti-pollution skin care include:

  • Vitamin C
  • Retinol (vitamin A)
  • Vitamin E
  • Niacinamide
  • Resveratrol
  • CoenzymeQ10 (CoQ10)
  • Polyphenols
  • Flavonoids
  • Ferulic Acid
  • Astaxanthin
  • Glutathione

Every product is curated with care by our editors and we’ll always give an honest opinion, whether gifted or purchased ourselves. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a small commission at no cost to you.

Image by Michelle Nash

Best Daily Anti-Pollution Cleanser: The Nue Co Barrier Culture Cleanser

At a glance: A pre-, pro-, and post-biotic cleanser that gently lifts away impurities and pollution to protect and repair your skin barrier.

Key Ingredients: Apple Amino Acids, Hyaluronic Acid, Lactic Acid, Prebiotics, Probiotics, Postbiotics

The Nue Co Barrier Culture Cleanser

This cleanser has it all. It’s gentle enough to use every day, while clearing your skin of pollutants, irritants, makeup, and more. Pre-, pro-, and post-biotics build up your barrier and hyaluronic acid gives it a boost of hydration to keep from stripping your skin.


Best Balancing Anti-Pollution Cleanser: BeautyStat Universal Microbiome Barrier Repair Purifying Cleanser

At a glance: A barrier-protecting cleanser to balance skin and soothe irritation or breakouts.

Key Ingredients: Lecithin, MicroSilver BG™

BeautyStat Universal Microbiome Barrier Repair Purifying Cleanser

When your skin feels especially irritated, or you’re trying to soothe a breakout, this reparative cleanser is anti-bacterial and anti-viral while boosting your skin barrier. You can also use it as a mask for a targeted treatment.


Best Anti-Pollution Toner: Tower 28 SOS Daily Rescue Facial Spray

At a glance: A do-it-all facial spray that soothes irritated skin and has the National Eczema Association’s Seal of Acceptance.

Key Ingredients: Hypochlorous Acid

Tower 28 SOS Daily Rescue Facial Spray

Hypochlorous acid is a hero ingredient for soothing, purifying, and repairing your skin. It fights pollutants and helps heal irritated skin.


Best Anti-Pollution Exfoliant: Dermalogica Daily Superfoliant

At a glance: A daily powder exfoliant that fights pollutants and detoxifies skin.

Key Ingredients: Fruit Enzymes, AHAs, Activated Charcoal, Niacinamide, Red Algae, Tara Fruit Extract

Dermalogica Daily Superfoliant

This powder-to-paste formula uses a combination of charcoal, exfoliants, niacinamide, and antioxidant-rich algae to detoxify your skin and fight pollution. This gentle formula can be used after cleansing every day without further stripping your skin.


Best Overall Anti-Pollution Serum: Superegg Vitamin Collective Vitality Elixir Serum

At a glance: A revitalizing and protective serum that harnesses the power of antioxidants and other nourishing ingredients to shield your skin and brighten your complexion.

Key Ingredients: Vitamins B, C, E, F, K, Niacinamide, Licorice Root, Sea Moss, Hyaluronic Acid, Tremella Mushroom

Superegg Vitamin Collective Vitality Elixir Serum

“Our Vitamin Collective Vitality Elixir treatment serum is formulated with a balanced blend of vitamins (B, C, E, F, K) and potent botanical extracts to provide powerful protection against environmental factors.” — Erica Choi


Image by Belathée Photography

Best Anti-Pollution Serum for Hyperpigmentation: EADEM Milk Marvel Dark Spot Serum

At a glance: A reparative serum that fades dark spots and soothes irritation.

Key Ingredients: Niacinamide, Vitamin C, Amber Algae, Papaya and Pineapple Enzymes

EADEM Milk Marvel Dark Spot Serum

One of the effects of pollution exposure is excess melanin stimulation, which can lead to hyperpigmentation. This serum fades dark spots and soothes inflammation with a combination of niacinamide, vitamin C, and algae.


Best Splurge Anti-Pollution Serum: Dr. Barbara Sturm Anti-Pollution Drops

At a glance: A lightweight serum packed with antioxidants to shield against outdoor pollution and blue light.

Key Ingredients: Hyaluronic Acid, Vitamins A, C, E, Cocoa Seeds, Exopolysaccharide

Dr. Barbara Sturm Anti-Pollution Drops

Made with marine antioxidants and skin-strengthening exopolysaccharide, this serum increases your skin’s vitality with nourishing ingredients and a hydrating boost of hyaluronic acid. This combination fortifies your skin against pollution and reverses signs of damage.


Best Anti-Pollution Nighttime Treatment: OSEA Seaglow Overnight Serum

At a glance: An exfoliating and nourishing overnight serum to build your barrier and detox your skin.

Key Ingredients: AHAs, Phytic acid, Fruit enzymes, Spirulina, Seaweed

OSEA Seaglow Overnight Serum

This overnight resurfacing treatment undoes all the damage from the day before. With gentle exfoliants, it resurfaces your skin to detox and reinforce your moisture barrier. Meanwhile, marine actives nourish and hydrate with vitamins and antioxidants.


Best Anti-Pollution Moisturizer: Charlotte Tilbury Magic Cream Moisturizer

At a glance: A makeup-artist-approved moisturizer nicknamed the “a push-up bra in a jar” for instantly revitalizing your skin.

Key Ingredients: Peptides, Rosehip Oil, Rose Water, Aloe Vera, Vitamins A, C, and E

Charlotte Tilbury Magic Cream Moisturizer

This moisturizer has instant effects. It features plumping and hydrating ingredients to make your skin instantly dewier while also deeply repairing your skin. Peptides stimulate collagen and natural oils provide antioxidants to regenerate your skin.


Best Anti-Pollution Face Mask: Blue Lagoon Iceland Algae Mask

At a glance: Formulated with ingredients from the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, this detoxing mask provides a natural glow.

Key Ingredients: Blue Lagoon Microalgae, Blue Lagoon Silica

Blue Lagoon Iceland Algae Mask

Sourced from Iceland, the ingredients in this face mask are packed with antioxidants and strengthening nutrients. The microalgae preserves and stimulates collagen while the silica deeply cleanses and improves barrier function.


Best Anti-Pollution SPF: Sonya Dakar Face Shield SPF 30 Sunscreen

At a glance: This SPF creates a shield for your skin to protect against the sun and pollution.

Key Ingredients: Vitamin A, E and Aloe

Sonya Dakar Face Shield SPF 30 Sunscreen

This SPF 30 shields you from the sun while also protecting from environmental damage like pollution with nourishing vitamins and soothing aloe.


Best Anti-Pollution Mist: ILIA Blue Light Protect + Set Mist

At a glance: A setting spray-meets-mist that protects skin from every angle.

Key Ingredients: Marine Actives, Tara Extract

ILIA Blue Light Protect + Set Mist

This 3-in-1 priming and setting mist hydrates your skin, sets makeup, and protects from environmental stress and blue light. Marine actives are filled with antioxidants while tara extract neutralizes pollutants and blocks blue light.


Best Anti-Pollution Makeup: Drunk Elephant D-Bronzi Anti-Pollution Sunshine Drops

At a glance: Lightweight bronzing drops that double as an anti-pollution serum.

Key Ingredients: Cocoa Extract, Peptides

Drunk Elephant D-Bronzi Anti-Pollution Sunshine Drops

A combination of a serum and a makeup-must have, these cult-favorite bronzing drops are a summer essential. With lightweight coverage and antioxidant ingredients to protect from pollution, they support a healthy skin barrier and shield skin while providing a bronze glow.


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