If you live in a major metropolitan area, escaping pollution can feel like mission impossible. Air pollution is especially difficult to avoid, as it occurs when unnatural contaminants are introduced into the atmosphere and then breathed in and/or absorbed through the skin (which is how it affects the hair). Unfortunately, the problem of pollution is only worsening. A 2014 report by the World Health Organization attributed 7 million deaths in 2012 to air pollution related issues. Here’s what you need to know about pollution, and how to prevent it from edging its way into your mane.
The first step in keeping pollution out of your locks is to be aware that this is something that’s happening—this is not a drill, people. The ugly effects of pollution on hair can’t be ignored, especially because it could be responsible for a host of underlying issues, even when you’re doing everything else right! While chances are that your skin is already moisturized enough that a barrier exists to keep pollution out (and from speeding-up pre-mature aging) your hair and scalp are often exposed to the elements.
“Pollution, such as dust, dirt and daily grime, affects the hair and scalp in a similar way to the skin on our face. They can also increase the likelihood of scalp problems, such as flaking and itching, as well as blocked follicles and the formation of pimples. Also, porous hair is more likely to become stained by environmental pollution, such as smoke fumes, especially if it is blonde or grey,” explains Anabel Kingsley Consultant Trichologist and Director of Communications at Philip Kingsley Trichological Clinic.
“Pollution can harm your harm both internally and externally,” adds Andrew Fitzsimons, Celebrity Hair Stylist. “For instance, if you live in an area with heavily polluted air, you may be breathing in a lot of harmful toxins that affect your overall health—and your hair is no exception. Externally, pollutants can gather on your strands and scalp, leading to greasiness, flakiness, itchy scalp, dandruff, breakage and hair loss!” Since the thought of pollution accumulating in our strands makes our skin crawl, we asked the experts for their steps on stopping pollution from creeping into our strands and scalps.
View this post on Instagram
Up Your Antioxidants
“Antioxidants neutralize free radicals created by exposure to pollution, heat and sunlight. You can look for products that contain ingredients like vitamins A, E and C, beta-carotene, green tea and other known sources of antioxidants,” says Andrew, on blocking pollution naturally. “Additionally, ingesting antioxidant-rich foods will have an effect.” Antioxidants are super good for you, so whether you’re taking them via a product, food or supplement, too much is not enough.
This one may seem obvious, but since the hair jury is often hung on how often you should be washing your hair, it’s not as straightforward as it seems. Though you should use your own discretion on how often to lather, Andrew recommends no less than twice a week for a deep hair clean (and condition). “You’ll want to thoroughly cleanse your hair on a regular basis if you’re concerned about pollution,” he explains.
Seal the Cuticle
If your cuticle is broken, hair damage will occur, your strands will appear dull and there’s more of a chance for pollution to penetrate. In order to prevent this, make sure your cuticle is sealed. “To help reduce porosity, seal the outer hair cuticle and increase shine, use a weekly pre-shampoo conditioning treatment,” notes Anabel, who recommends the Philip Kingsley Elasticizer: $51.
Sunblock Your Strands
UV can infiltrate the scalp the same way it affects your skin, and this actually worsens the harmful effects of pollution. “Since one can’t completely shield your hair and scalp from general pollution, a way to limit its effects is by using styling products that contain UV filters, free radical scavengers and conditioning ingredients,” Anabel explains.
Use a Scalp Toner + Mask
The cleaner the scalp, the slimmer your odds of pollution build-up. Anabel recommends a toner and mask combo to strip away all unwanted residue. She swears by the Philip Kingsley Scalp Toner: $34 to “soothe irritation and reduce bacteria,” as well as an exfoliating scalp mask once a week. “We make one at Philip Kingsley called Exfoliating Scalp Mask: $30 to help clear dandruff and remove dead skin cells—you don’t want them building up or they can contribute to hair loss,” she warns.
Try a Protective Serum
A protective serum can create an extra layer on the scalp that pollution won’t be able to penetrate, much like with moisturizer on our skin. “Our skin has the benefit of being layered in creams, makeup, sunscreen, and so on, to help provide a little extra barrier. Use an antioxidant-rich leave-in serum to not only help stimulate healthy hair growth, but also to provide a protective layer for your strands. Just be careful not to use too much and weigh the hair down,” advises Samantha Sheppard, Lead Stylist at Glam+Go.
Though not for everyday, sometimes the most sure-fire solution is also the easiest. “If you’re traveling through a heavily polluted area, you may want to consider wearing a hat or wrapping your hair in a scarf to keep it extra protected from the polluted air,” adds Samantha. Though we don’t want to cover up our manes everyday, it’s as good a reason as any to bust out that dad hat.
Pollution Fighting Products
You want to be sure to armor-up against pollution with the right products. Our experts recommend trying these.
Alterna Caviar Anti-Aging Restructuring Bond Repair 3-in-1 Sealing Serum: $38
An ideal product for ““pollution-plagued hair,” this serum will repair current damage and prevent any from occurring in the future. “You can use this as a leave in serum before styling your hair as normal, and it’s loaded with antioxidants and reparative ingredients to help with free radical damage and seal damaged stands,” says Andrew.
Image via Dermstore
Paul Mitchell Systems Shampoo Three: $11.50
“You’ll want to use a really good clarifying shampoo to rid your hair and scalp of pollutants, which is why I love this one,” he shares. “It deep cleanses your hair while keeping the strands strong!”
Image via Paul Mitchell
NatureLab. TOKYO Shine Shampoo and Conditioner: $28
If pollution is a concern, sometimes your best bet is to detox with an antioxidant. This combo is detoxifying and is packed with grape stem cells, which “are a source of antioxidants that reduces the oxidative damage to scalp papilla cells that revitalize and add shine to dull hair,” explains Samantha.
Image via Amazon
R+Co Crown Scalp Scrub: $38
Make sure to give your scalp the TLC it deserves post-pollution exposure. “I love this product because it’s formulated with Kaolin, which is a mineral-rich clay that absorbs impurities and oil on hair and scalp, plus it promotes scalp health by removing loose dandruff flakes,” she adds.