When we decided to launch Truth in Aging's Anti-Aging Olympics, the first thing that came to my mind was pollution. Beijing's smoggy skyline regularly exceeds the WHO's air quality guideline level by as much as three times. Beijing isn't even the worst offender; it is the 13th most polluted city, with Cairo topping the list. Although New York may not have made it into the top thirteen, I know that my skin is being assaulted by polluted air every day, and so I decided to look for a product that could offer real protection.

When airborne pollutants come into contact with skin they can cause a number of adverse conditions including blemishes, irritation, and possibly rosacea. Cosmetics manufacturers typically address these effects with skin-soothing ingredients. But I wanted to know if there is something that could actually get to the root of the problem. The result of my research is a really exciting find: moringa seed extract.

The moringa tree is native to northern India. Packed with an abundance of potassium, iron, vitamin A and other nutrients, it is quite remarkable. Its leaves (which, unusually for a tree, are pure protein), pods and flowers have seven times the vitamin C found in oranges, four times the vitamin A of carrots and three times the potassium of bananas. Some people believe that if you planted enough of them, moringas could be the solution for world hunger. In addition to all of this, moringa seeds (pictured above) have been used for centuries to purify water.

Moringa works as a coagulant, gathering pollutants into lumps (floc is the technical term) that can be easily filtered. It is also an antimicrobial agent. Studies since the 1970s have shown that it can rid a well of 90% of impurities. This was beginning to look like something that could stand between me and New York cab fumes. And it gets better. Moringa is jammed with a cytokinin called zeatin.

Cytokinins are plant hormones that help cells divide and protect against oxidation. Zeatin is the most powerful of all cytokinins. According to a 2004 Danish study, zeatin helps promote small cell size, a key component to more youthful skin. It also influences the structural and functional integrity of the cell, and prevents accumulation of macromolecular damage in the cell. The study found that zeatin increases the activity of some antioxidant enzymes, counteracting the free radical-induced oxidative damage incurred during cell aging.

So which plant has more zeatin than any other? Moringa not only contains thousands of times more zeatin than any other known plant, it is also the most nutritious plant discovered to date, with over 90 nutritional compounds including 46 antioxidants and 36 anti-inflammatories.

Unfortunately, moringa hasn't made it onto the radar of many cosmetic companies. Nevertheless, I did find a few promising-looking products. Fresh has an In-flight Kit, which includes a face mask to be applied as soon as possible after take-off. The key ingredient is moringa. Elemis makes something called Cellular Recovery, which comes in little moringa-filled capsules. I even found a moringa-based shampoo from REN.