Woman wearing gas mask to protect herself from pollution

So you think you know what causes dark spots? Sun damage, you all say in unison. Nope. The right answer is smog.

Two new studies, from Germany and China, show an increase in dark spots due to particulate matter from soot and traffic exhausts. Traffic-related pollution, specifically nitrogen dioxide (NO2), has been associated with lung cancer and infection. This is the first time that a correlation has been determined with its effect on human skin.

Over a five-year period, more than 800 women in Germany (between the ages of 67 to 80) and 743 women in China (from 28 to 70) were studied. Things like smoking and sun exposure were taken into consideration. Exposure to NO2 was significantly associated with more lentigines (dark spots) on the cheeks for the German and Chinese women older than 50 years.

I also came across a 2010 study that found dark spots are caused by other pollutants, specifically PACs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), which come from oil, coal and tar deposits. It seems that PACs are responsible for hyperpigmentation as they bind to receptors found in keraticocytes and melanocytes, thereby increasing melanin.

I am now going to blame my childhood exposure to pollution for the leopard spot on my right cheek that I have had forever. As a quick parenthesis, I grew up in Manchester in the north of England, where there was so much soot and smog in the air that the buildings were completely black. For the longest time, I thought that leaves of privet hedges were actually black.

Despite clean air legislation around the world (even Manchester now has buildings of sand-colored stone and leaves of green), most cities remain polluted. Since we can’t just decamp to Yellowstone Park, we need to look to our skincare for preventative and protecting ingredients.

According to an article in Skin Inc, Procter & Gamble teamed up with the British Royal Botanic Gardens and identified potential natural ingredient solutions for anti-pollution in artichoke and snow fungus (that’s tremella fuciformis). I haven’t much come across artichoke, but tremella fuciformis can be found in Deciem NIOD Multi-Molecular Hyaluronic Complex ($35 in the shop) and Deciem Hand Chemistry Intense Youth Complex ($20 in the shop).

By now it should be clear that anti-pollution ingredients are as important as your SPF. So make moringa your mate. Studies since the 1970s have shown that it can rid a well of 90% of impurities. It is also full of component called zeatin that helps promote small cell size, a key to more youthful skin. You’ll find it in SimySkin Anti Aging Gel Cleanser ($45 in the shop) and Sweetsation Orchidee Vitae Age Defying Facial Oil ($35 in the shop).

White Teais rich in antioxidant flavonoids and neutralizes up to 80% of free radicals, protecting cell membranes and helping the skin to defend itself from pollution and other environmental aggressions. White tea is in Benir Beauty BV-9 Platinum Provectus Super Serum ($195 in the shop), La Vie Celeste Restorative Exfoliating Gel Mask ($60 in the shop), Your Best Face Boost ($65 in the shop), where it is the most dominant ingredient, and Sciote's Firming Body Lotion ($40 in the shop).

When the damage has already been done, treat existing dark spots with one of our Five Best: Medik8 White Balance Click ($80 in the shop), Sciote Illume Brightening Serum ($95 in the shop), Dr. Dennis Gross Dark Spot Sun Defense SPF 50 ($42 in the shop), Trophy Skin Microderm MD ($299 in the shop), Jenetiqa Premiere Essence Day & Night Anti-Aging Serum and Dark Spot Corrector ($65).