Breathe easy: the air pollution solutions you need

These clever hacks mean you can have a clean air day every day
Illustration by: Michelle Thompson

Air pollution. It’s not new. It’s not sexy. But, sadly, it’s everywhere. Not least in newspaper headlines, both in print and online, almost daily. Symptoms associated with outdoor and indoor air pollution can include asthma, hayfever, allergies and skin conditions. And – sorry to break it to you – living in a highly polluted area is a known risk factor for heart disease, lung cancer and respiratory disease.

Sounds scary – but you can fight back! ‘Over the past 10 years, evidence of the effects of air pollution on our health has become so overwhelming, everyone is being forced to take the issue seriously,’ says James Chalmers, professor of respiratory research at the University of Dundee. ‘But small changes made by everyone really can make a difference.’ So we’ve identified easy ways to lower your exposure and help protect yourself.

The pollution: toxins vs your skin

Unfortunately, all sorts of everyday environmental pollutants are in the air around us (e.g. from traffic and central heating), which means they can be absorbed by our skin. Yuck.

The solution

Help support your complexion in the daily battle against invaders by arming yourself with a new generation of specially formulated anti-pollution products. Avène A-Oxitive Defense Serum* (30ml) and Avène A-Oxitive Water-Cream* (30ml) both contain powerful shielding ingredients. You can create a barrier against pollution and harmful UVA/ UVB rays with Garnier Ambre Solaire Sensitive Advanced Face Protection Mist SPF50 (75ml). And always cleanse thoroughly at the end of the day, to help remove any nasties that have settled on your skin.

The pollution: getting dressed

‘Many new fabrics are made of plastic, such as polyester and acrylic,’ says Julian Kirby, lead plastics campaigner for Friends Of The Earth. ‘Every time we wear these fabrics, millions of microfibres are shed into the air, and they also come off in the washing machine.’ This means they go down the drain and, as they’re so small, make their way into tap water. There’s also evidence that they contribute to plastic pollution in the sea, and may end up in the food chain.

The solution

‘Wash clothes at lower temperatures and spin speeds, and fewer fibres should come out,’ says Julian. ‘A Cora Ball – a laundry ball that collects microfibres – can help to catch any that do.’ And longer term? ‘We need to phase out plastic in clothing, without causing extra social and environmental pressures, by switching to cotton.’ So check labels when you shop.

The pollution: travelling to work

We were shocked to learn that pollutant levels in your car can be twice as high as outside, especially in cold weather. Why? Essentially, your fan heater sucks in fumes from the vehicle in front. If you’re outside, meanwhile, you’re battling the exhaust fumes and the microscopic particles that rub off brake pads, tyres and road materials.

The solution

Support initiatives that reduce car usage, such as Clean Air Day. Or check liftshare, to see if you could join a car pool. And if you’re walking, running or cycling, dodge high-pollution routes with the aid of an app such as City Air App† or CleanSpace.

The pollution: making dinner

Who knew this was something we had to be careful with? ‘As you heat cooking oils, they release gases and particles,’ explains Professor Stephen Holgate, special advisor on air quality for the Royal College of Physicians. ‘Although extractor hoods suck up some pollution, some of it escapes and accumulates in other areas.’

The solution

Olive and rapeseed oils have been found to generate lower amounts of potentially toxic chemicals. And keeping the cooking temperature below an oil’s smoke point can limit harmful emissions. Plus, ensure your house is well ventilated. If it’s too cold to open windows, certain plants may act as natural air filters. And try spritzing Puressentiel Purifying Air Spray* (75ml) to help get rid of unpleasant odours.


"If it’s too cold to open the windows, certain plants may act as natural air filters"

The pollution: heating your home

If you’re lucky enough to have an open fire, be aware that it could affect your skin. ‘A study in China found that women regularly exposed to solid fuels – such as in open fires – had at least 5% more wrinkles on their face and 74% more wrinkles on their hands,’ says Dr Daniel Glass from The Dermatology Clinic London††. Luckily, central heating systems that have fuel burned in a contained boiler usually provide a clean indoors environment.

The solution

On a fire, ensure fuel is clean and dry; wet fuel, such as unseasoned wood, will burn at a lower temperature and result in higher emissions. Keep gas boilers well-maintained to avoid danger from carbon monoxide – or try electric heating from a renewable source, such as Bulb. Find ideas for eco-friendly ways to heat your home at Energy Saving Trust. And consider an air purifier, such as the Dyson Pure Cool Purifying Desk Fan.

The pollution: cleaning & gardening

You know when you’re bleaching the bath and the smell can make you want to hold your breath or wear a mask – or both?! Well, according to Professor Holgate, many of the surface sprays, liquids and polishes that we use during our weekly tidy-up sessions can contain long-lasting chlorinated chemicals that can affect our lungs. He also advises watching out for ammonia, formaldehyde and nitrogen dioxide on the labels. The same goes for any chemical-based pesticides you might use in your garden to kill off slugs or aphids, for example. According to the Department For Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, these can enter your body through the skin and eyes, and by breathing them in.

The solution

Go as natural as possible. Ecover Zero, is a plant- and mineral-based range of products that includes washing-up liquid, laundry liquid, washing powder and fabric conditioner. And in the garden? Try going organic, swapping chemical pesticides for natural, insect-preventing methods, such as companion planting (growing certain plants together to promote balance and pest control), and composting your food and garden waste into homemade fertiliser. Savvy!

Five quick eco-warrior wins

Save more than the air with these simple fixes

1. Write to your MP

Let the government know you care about environmental issues by writing to your local MP or ministers. Chem Trust has a handy guide to getting started.

2. If you drive, slow down

Higher speeds significantly increase fuel consumption (driving at 70mph can use 25% more than 50mph), so cause more pollution.

3. Conserve energy, both at home and at work

Remember to turn off lights, computers and appliances when not in use.

4. Cut down on food packaging

Try to buy loose fruit and veg from a farmers’ market or farm shop (for info, go to Farma). You’ll also be supporting locally grown produce.

5. Choose energy-efficient bulbs

They use less electricity, which reduces power-plant emissions. While LED bulbs might be pricier, they also last longer.

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