Dermatologist Dr. Julia Carroll of Toronto’s Compass Dermatology explains, “smoke has lots of harmful particles in it and chemicals that can irritate the skin.”Dermatologist Dr. Julia Carroll of Toronto’s Compass Dermatology explains, “smoke has lots of harmful particles in it and chemicals that can irritate the skin.”

Poor air quality is bad for your skin, too. Here’s how to protect yourself

A dermatologist shares simple tips for fending off irritation and even premature aging while wildfire smoke continues

Anyone else feel like they’re in a postapocalyptic movie right now? An eerie haze has draped over swaths of Ontario and Quebec as wildfires in the provinces continue to rage out of control. The smoke plumes have led to dramatic drops in air quality, which, according to Environment Canada, will likely persist through the weekend.

The agency warned that those with respiratory issues like asthma, people with heart disease, older folks, children, pregnant people and those working outside are at higher risk of experiencing health effects. However, as stated in the release, wildfire smoke can be harmful to the health of all individuals, even at low concentrations.

That applies to the health of our skin, too. As dermatologist Dr. Julia Carroll of Toronto’s Compass Dermatology explains, “smoke has lots of harmful particles in it and chemicals that can irritate the skin.”

Because of this, some people, especially those with sensitive skin or skin allergies, might experience redness, itching or dryness. The particles in the air could also trigger existing conditions like eczema or rosacea. Furthermore, people prone to acne might notice breakout flare-ups as the pollutants can clog the pores and cause inflammation.

Those are the short-term effects, but over time, air pollution can also accelerate skin aging because of prolonged exposure to toxins and free radicals. “This would lead to the development of fine lines and wrinkles as well as uneven skin tone because pigmentation changes can occur, too,” says Carroll. “So you might see dark spots or patches on the skin.” Most alarmingly, some components of smoke called polycyclic air aromatic hydrocarbons (or PAHs) have been associated with an increased risk of skin cancer with long-term exposure.

So what can we do to protect ourselves? “First of all, limit exposure,” says Carroll. “I think we’re getting a lot of that on the news lately.” She adds that cleansing your face in the evening is another super easy step people can take. “That will at least reduce some of the smoke particles and pollutants that have settled on the skin over the day.” She advises looking for a mild, non-comedogenic formula.

You also want to make sure to use a good moisturizer and keep your skin well hydrated. “It just helps to keep your skin barrier intact and gives you another layer of protection.” Speaking of protection, sunscreen is another a must, says the expert. She also suggests incorporating a product containing antioxidants such as vitamin C and/or E to help neutralize free radicals and minimize the oxidative stress on the skin brought on by smoke exposure. You might have noticed products in the beauty aisle claiming to be anti-pollution. Most of them safeguard the skin with the help of such antioxidants.

As eczema, sensitivity or allergies can occur anywhere on the body, it’s important to also think about the skin south of your neck. If you tend to shower in the morning, you might want to start doing so at night for the time being, especially if you’ve been outside a lot. Afterwards, apply a moisturizer all over to maintain hydration. “Cleaning and keeping the barrier strong are just a really good basis,” says Carroll, who adds that you can also protect your body from particles in the air through your clothing choices.

Although the current smog warnings are (hopefully) a short-term issue, consider applying Carroll’s advice even when the air quality isn’t so bad. “I generally recommend an antioxidant as part of a daily skin care routine, and my advice to most people is to always wash their face at night,” says the dermatologist. “Whether it’s pollution, bacteria or just general dirt and oil, it’s a good idea to wash off the day.” Just like you wouldn’t sleep in your makeup, you don’t want to be sleeping in all the things you came into contact with while you were out and about. “These are just generally good skin care tips for the world that we live in,” says Carroll. “Especially if we live in a city.”

Shop the advice: Three products to keep your skin healthy and protected from pollution

Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser, $13,

The gentle cleanser: Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser, $13, SHOP HERE

Suited to all skin types, even the most sensitive, this extra-mild, soap-free face wash gets rid of dirt and debris while maintaining moisture thanks to glycerin and niacinamide.

SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Serum, $208,

The antioxidant serum: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Serum, $208, SHOP HERE

Powered by an antioxidant trifecta of vitamin C, vitamin E and ferulic acid, this cult-classic serum defends against damaging environmental aggressors. It also firms and brightens the skin, and helps lessen the look of fine lines and wrinkles.

Cerave Moisturizing Cream, $33,

The good-for-everything moisturizer: Cerave Moisturizing Cream, $33, SHOP HERE

Dermatologists love this cream because it replenishes moisture with hyaluronic acid, strengthens the skin barrier with ceramides and is fragrance-free, allergy-tested and non-comedogenic. Plus, it’s formulated to be used all over so you can apply it to your face, body and hands.

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Katherine Lalancette is the beauty and lifestyle director of The Kit. She writes about beauty and trends. Reach her on email at or follow her on Twitter: @kik_tweets

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