How To Fight Environmental Skin Stressors

The effects of environmental stressors on skin health—and what spa pros can do about it.


environment-and-skin-care[Image: kieferpix/istock]

Spa professionals are certainly experts at helping clients achieve glowing skin. But complexion perfection is more than a combination of good treatments and products. In fact, skin is often affected by the environment in which one lives.

Research has shown that things like pollution, smoke, dirt, pollen and, of course, sun exposure can markedly change the skin’s appearance, as well as create underlying and even more serious issues. Fortunately, you can help clients protect themselves from the elements by discussing the following factors.


Sun Exposure

Numerous studies have long proven the detrimental and dangerous effects of sun and ultraviolet (UV) exposure on the skin; unfortunately, many people are still skipping the sunblock. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 15 percent of American men and 30 percent of American women report wearing sunscreen regularly. “Sun exposure is exposure to radiation,” says Alexandra Accardo, esthetician at DAPHNE Studio in New York City. “Over time, it leads to wrinkles, dark spots and other problems. Sun damage can add years to your complexion.” She explains that UVA rays have a longer wave that penetrates deeper into the skin and causes cell death, resulting in wrinkling and sagging; shorter UVB rays cause skin burns. Although the UVBs don’t penetrate the skin, they’re stronger and more likely to contribute to skin cancers, as well as destroy vitamin A.

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Elizabeth Mullans, MD, owner of Uptown Dermatology in Houston, echoes these warnings. “UV radiation causes both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers (i.e., basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma),” she says. “Basal cell carcinoma is the most common cancer in the U.S.: One in five Americans will develop a basal cell skin cancer over a lifetime. Melanomas can metastasize rapidly and result in death.”

To combat both superficial and more hazardous exposure, experts recommend preventive measures. “A good SPF must be the foundation of a client’s skincare routine,” says Accardo. “Reapplication every two to three hours is ideal, especially in the summer when they’re swimming or sweating.” In addition, Dr. Mullans suggests wide-brimmed hats, sun protective clothing and sunglasses that block UV rays, as well as corrective topicals like vitamin C and retinol. Advise clients to avoid sun exposure between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., when its rays are strongest.



It has long been reported that pollution affects internal organs, and as of late, experts are taking a closer look at how unhealthy air quality takes its toll on skin as well. In fact, in 2014 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) noted that over 142 million Americans—about 40 percent of the population—live in areas where the air quality falls short of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. These pollutants include particulate matter (PM), carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide, plus indoor matter such as dirt and dust.

All are major concerns for skin experts, according to Karen Asquith, national director of education for G.M. Collin. “The skin can absorb up to 1,400 different pollutants per week—none of which are beneficial,” she says. “Pollution particles are smaller than the pores and are therefore capable of penetrating the skin barrier. A study on the impact of chronic pollution on the skin demonstrated an increase in signs of premature aging, particularly in younger people. The severity of wrinkles on the forehead and crow’s feet increased faster for women and men exposed to pollution, and was even worse for individuals with a predisposition to sensitive skin.”

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Given that leaving a polluted environment is not often an option, Asquith recommends using topical skin care that helps combat the potential effects. “One ingredient to look for is Citystem, which is specially formulated to counteract pollution and fight against damage,” she says. “It prevents PM cellular intake, as well as the generation of intracellular radicals by PM and ozone. Citystem also helps activate natural antioxidant enzymes, recreate a healthy stratum corneum and block skin reactivity.” In addition, Asquith suggests Filmexel, which prevents the penetration and adhesion of exogenous substances—namely pollutants, irritants and allergens. “It can provide an instant lifting effect, smooth wrinkles and improve the skin’s biomechanical properties,” she adds.


Smoking and Vaping

Medical research has, of course, already proven that smoking is detrimental for your health, and that extends to the skin as well. “Smoking increases collagen breakdown, which causes wrinkles,” says Dr. Mullans. “It also slows wound healing and worsens conditions like eczema and psoriasis—not to mention that pursing your lips to smoke results in vertical lip lines.” Additionally, the Mayo Clinic reports that nicotine in cigarettes and vape pens narrows the blood vessels on the outermost layer of the skin, which limits blood flow and decreases a healthy supply of oxygen and nutrients.

Naturally, the best option for lessening skin damage caused by smoking and vaping is to quit or remove oneself from a smoky environment, but Dr. Mullans notes that there are a number of remedies that can reduce damage that has already occurred. “Taking a supplement with extra biotin in it can help keep the skin from losing elasticity; I like Vitafusion Gorgeous Hair, Skin & Nails. It won’t take the lines away completely, but it can help,” she says. “Additionally, laser resurfacing will improve skin tone, and Botox can be injected into the upper lip area to relax those vertical lines.” Dr. Mullans also recommends fillers like Juvéderm to regain lost volume, and skin care containing hyaluronic acid to increase hydration.

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More than 30 percent of American adults suffer from allergies, which do more than cause watery eyes and sneezing fits. In fact, says Alexandra Wagner, owner of Alexandra Wagner Skincare in Venice, California, “allergies can cause skin stress and sensitivities, as well as internal inflammation. When there are too many external substances affecting the body, it can act up with side effects such as rashes, gut irritability and weight gain,” she warns. The first step is a proper diagnosis from the client’s doctor; without knowing what’s triggering the reaction, treating the symptoms becomes a guessing game. “Suggest they get an allergy test to identify the issue, whether it’s dietary or environmental, so you can address their needs specifically,” says Wagner.

In the meantime, spa pros have options for calming reactive skin. “We address redness, for example, by using cryo sticks, and we suggest soothing home care to help reduce sensitivity, ease tightness and minimize visible inflammation,” says Accardo. “We also recommend that clients always wash their faces with cold water—never in the shower.” Interestingly, recent research from the Mayo Clinic and National Institutes of Health has demonstrated that massage can improve pulmonary function in children with asthma, which is often linked with allergies. So in that vein, facial or full body massage may help alleviate some allergy symptoms; it will certainly lower stress, which has also been shown to weaken the immune system. At any rate, you’ll be prepared for almost any client issue when you keep these tips top of mind.

—Allison Winn Scotch

This story first appeared in the November issue of DAYSPA Magazine. To receive the magazine, subscribe here.

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