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Urbanism: The Modern Source of Skin Inflammation

Businesswoman calling on smartphone in city
February 9, 2017 Reviewed by Holly Dawsey 0 Comments

Last year researchers determined that airborne toxins — think soot and traffic exhausts — are as bad as the sun when it comes to skin aging. A study that was published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology found that exposure to nitrogen dioxide was significantly associated with more lentigines (dark spots) on the cheeks of German and Chinese women older than 50 years after a five-year period. Now industry insiders are pointing to “urbanism,” which includes additional lifestyle factors like stress, lack of sleep and unbalanced diet, as a driving force behind accelerated aging.

When the body is under assault from such stressors, it responds by setting in motion an inflammatory process that acts as a built-in defense mechanism to protect our cells and tissue. Thing is, this internal inflammation can linger and lead to the breakdown of collagen and elastin, resulting in wrinkles, sag and skin that is generally less radiant. Acne is another inflammatory condition. Keep reading to learn how to get ahead of inflammaging (see what I did there?), plus the products that will protect and calm skin.


More than 80 percent of people living in urban areas that monitor air pollution are exposed to air quality levels that exceed the World Health Organization limits, according to the organization. Oof. Pollution is known to break down collagen and the lipid layer in the skin, impairing the skin barrier functions and leading to trans-epidermal water loss.

Washing your face thoroughly every evening is a must when it comes to reducing the effect of pollution. Use a mild face wash with a cleansing brush to more effectively remove airborne toxins and sticky particles like soot. SimySkin Anti-Aging Gel Cleanser ($45) contains moringa, which has been proven to encourage the elimination of pollution particles by up to 90 percent.

Next, neutralize the destruction. When irritants get in your skin, they create free radicals and increase inflammation. Spin trap is considered one of the most intelligent antioxidants, because instead of destroying free radicals, it ‘traps’ them before they can have a negative effect on other molecules, then converts them into harmless and useful oxygen. You’ll find spin trap in Your Best Face Defend ($130 in the shop).

Lack of sleep

As the saying goes, the city never sleeps. It’s becoming increasingly harder to achieve beauty sleep as modern disruptors from smartphones to emails follow us into the bedroom.  When we skimp on deep sleep, our bodies release the stress hormone cortisol, which has been found to increase inflammation, break down collagen in excess amounts and aggravate skin conditions. The body goes from protection to recovery mode at night, replacing damaged cells with new ones, and it needs a full night's rest to properly do its job.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get seven to nine hours of uninterrupted shut-eye a night.  Create habits that help switch off your brain before bed, like taking an essential oil bath or reading a book. And finally, boost your skin’s natural healing cycle by applying a peptide-packed treatment before bed. We like Lifeline Stem Cell Recovery Night Moisture Serum ($190 in the shop) and E’Shee Cellular Repair Serum ($179 in the shop).  


Scientists have discovered that people who live in cities have higher markers for stress than those who live in rural areas. According to a team of German and Canadian researchers, the association between city living and the increased risk of developing anxiety disorders stems from the unique response to a particular kind of stress that refers to interactions people have in daily life, like the fear of making mistakes in the workplace, and the rapid pace of living.

Stress and anxiety cause inflammation flare-ups by — you guessed it — releasing the aforementioned stress hormone cortisol. Our bodies are constantly creating cortisol, but it spikes following a stressful event and can remain elevated for extended periods of time. Accelerated aging, loss of skin radiance and elasticity, acne and uneven skin texture are all long-term results of stress. Practicing self-care is your best remedy. Squeeze in your favorite workout or treat yourself to an at-home facial. ExPürtise Effective Anti-Aging Selfie Mask ($46 in the shop) uses kaolin clay to draw out impurities and oil (which spikes as a result of cortisol), the neuropeptide Acetyl Hexapeptide-8 to relax expression lines and cucumber and aloe to soothe.

Unbalanced diet

Lunchtime passes and you realize you’re running on fumes from your morning coffee and breakfast bar. Sound familiar? Diet is now known to play a critical role in causing inflammation, which we’ve determined slows wound healing and collagen production. The foods that are the worst offenders are saturated fats, refined sugar and refined carbohydrates. Choose the right foods, however, and you can lower your risk of internal inflammation.

Many studies have shown foods like green leafy vegetables, fatty fish and berries to combat inflammation. Fruits (reach for strawberries, blueberries and cherries) and veggies such as spinach, kale and broccoli are high in natural protective compounds known as antioxidants and polyphenols. And believe it or not, coffee is also chock-full of polyphenols and other anti-inflammatory compounds. Consuming omega-3 and omega-6 fats will help reduce the levels of prostaglandins, which are pro-inflammatory, in the skin. You’ll find omega fats in olive oil, fish like salmon and sardines, and nuts.

Sun exposure

One of the most damaging external causes of skin inflammation is still the sun — sunburn itself is your body’s inflammatory response to UV damage. UV rays suppress the immune system and release free radicals that damage cells. While you may not feel at risk in tower-lined cities, the cumulative effects of sun exposure — say from commuting to work or walking to your favorite lunch spot — add up.

Daily application of sunscreen is your best defense. Choose one with a high SPF and antioxidants like ferulic acid and vitamin C to fight off free radicals, as well as lipds to strengthen the skin barrier against other environmental stressors. Prana Reishi Mushroom Shield with SPF 45 ($42 in the shop) combines organic plant stem cell from mushrooms with micronized zinc to block both UVA and UVB rays while reducing redness and inflammation and reclaiming skin immunity. 

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