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How to protect and soothe skin from smoke exposure

The West Coast wildfires demonstrate that fires will be an increasingly common aspect of a warming world. This means that we will have to learn how to adapt, even as we attempt to reverse and mitigate the effects of climate change.

Although skin health isn’t our primary concern when it comes to the threat of wildfires, the state of our skin is part of our wellbeing and overall health, and many people who have been exposed to air pollution and large quantities of smoke experience changes in skin health. The air quality across the entire country has been affected by the wildfires, too, so this is not just a localized issue.

Smoke has particulate matter, a kind of air pollution that is tiny enough to seep into your pores and cause free radical damage, which leads to dull skin, an uneven tone, and wrinkles. The soot and ash that gets trapped in your pores can cause breakouts as well. According to Howard Sobel, M.D., “if you have sensitive skin, are acne-prone, or have a skin condition such as rosacea, eczema, or psoriasis, the smoke exposure can also cause flare-ups of these conditions.”

If you’ve been exposed to smoke, you can take your skin’s recovery into your own hands and soothe smoke-induced irritation by following these tips:

Always cleanse your face at night

Jeanine Downie, M.D., tells MindBodyGreen that if you don’t want to wash your face more than once a day, then “do it at night so you can take all the pollution off before you go to sleep.”

Even on regular days, bacteria and sweat build up on your skin causing inflammation. Soot and smoke exacerbate the issue, even if your face doesn’t look dirty, so washing every night is essential.

Introduce antioxidants to your routine

Sobel insists that “antioxidants are the number one skincare product to add to your routine if you have been exposed to smoke,” because they stabilize the free radicals that lead to oxidative stress (skin aging and loss of collagen). Adding antioxidants to your routine can boost collagen levels, limit pigmentation, and reduce inflammation. Vitamin C and niacinamide will also help brighten and smooth your skin.

Always wear sunscreen

The quantity of smoke you’re exposed to may be out of your control, however, you can still protect yourself from other sources of oxidative stress like UV exposure.

UV radiation triggers cell damage, which leads to fine lines, sunspots, and sagging skin, so make sure to protect your skin by wearing sunscreen every single day (even if it’s cloudy). Non-nano mineral options are considered the safest for the skin and the environment. Zinc oxide is also recommended for its soothing properties.

Cover up your skin if you can

Add another layer of protection between you and the elements by opting for long-sleeve shirts and pants when you go outside. You can wear a face mask to help protect the skin on your face, too.

Strengthen the skin barrier

Sensitive skin, rosacea, eczema, and psoriasis are all conditions that are triggered by a compromised skin barrier. Ingredients like ceramides, squalene, colloidal oat, and manuka honey will nourish your skin with healthy lipids and quell inflammation. There is also new research coming out on the benefits of pre-, pro-, and postbiotic products that can support your skin’s flora.

Be environmentally conscious

Though not necessarily a skincare tip, taking care of the environment does help your skin long-term, because environmental changes can and have already affected your skin and overall health. Being conscious about making daily choices that will mitigate the negative effects of climate change rather than contribute to the problem isn’t just good for you, but will positively impact everyone’s health and that of our planet.

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