Why Flying Is Making You Look Older, According to an Expert

Courtesy Anthony Deeying

And how to fight its effects both from the inside and out.

To say that Dr. Barbara Sturm is influential in the field of skincare aesthetics would be a gross understatement. Ever since she created her eponymous brand in 2003, the buzz surrounding her practice (she also opened a clinic in Dusseldorf in 2006), skincare line, and signature facial—the Vampire Facial which uses the patient’s own blood cells to produce proteins that reduce inflammation—has turned her into the world’s and, certainly Hollywood’s, go-to aesthetics doctor. When we caught up with her, she was in Los Angeles treating patients prior to the Oscars ceremony.

In fact, fighting inflammation has been the focus of her medical career and she talks passionately about its causes and effects quoting scientific studies that have proven the connection between pollution—which causes inflammation—and skin aging.

 “Considering that most of the world’s population lives in areas with highly polluted air, it is essential to treat pollution protection as seriously as sunscreen […] Pollution isn’t a trend, it’s a mushrooming reality that we all must defend ourselves against,” she says.

That’s why we reached out to her and talked about the negative consequences of environmental and digital pollution on your skin and what measures to take to minimize them (spoiler alert: your jet-set lifestyle is damaging your skin).

Why should people be concerned with pollution, both air and digital?

Fifty-four percent of human beings live in urban areas, and our skin is inundated daily with environmental poisons like industrial pollution, tobacco smoke, particulate matter from auto tailpipes, heavy metals and ozone. And according to the World Health Organization, 90% of European Union citizens are exposed to pollution at levels deemed dangerous. These pollutants have a tremendous effect not only on our skin in terms of premature aging and skin conditions and disease, but they are also absorbed through our skin into our bodies and organs.  

Anti-pollution is an important step in any skincare routine, but it is especially recommended for those living in a city or working at a computer all day, constantly looking at mobile phones and other electronic devices. This is because these electronic screens produce HEV (High Energy Visible) Light—blue light pollution, which is able to penetrate skin depths comparable to UVA and UVB combined, and HEV also breaks down the skin’s natural barrier function, causing premature aging and other skin dysfunction. 

Pollution protection starts with support for the skin barrier function. The Anti-Pollution Drops create a shield on the skin to block out environmental pollutants as well as HEV light. I also created Anti-Pollution Food, a supplement that I recommend you take daily in the morning. It has five different adaptogens, which help the skin and our body to adapt to stressful physiological, and chemical reactions. They also contain Ginseng, Vitamin E and Purslane to strengthen the skin’s natural barrier function, give anti-irritant protection and provide the building blocks for collagen formation.

What are the biggest pollutants that affect our skin the most?

Airborne pollution—smoke, fumes, and UV rays—and digital pollution produce highly unstable molecules, called “free radicals,” that damage the skin’s natural protective barrier and accelerate the wear and tear elements of aging.

Once this barrier is compromised, the lipids and collagen responsible for our skin’s plumpness and moisture start to break down. Pollution caused by coal burning, which is one of the major pollutants affecting Asia and the West Coast of the United States, includes heavy metals that are destructive to skin and body. It is why in one large study, a third of Californians tested excessively high mercury levels. Mercury causes inflammation and dermatitis, among other damage. 

What makes the combination of both your anti-pollution food and drops so effective?

You are what you eat. Everything you put into your system shows eventually on our organs and the skin is our biggest organ. Nowadays the public is increasingly educated and careful about their lifestyle and especially their diet, but often still fails to get what they need from their food. My skincare philosophy addresses this by healing skin both internally and externally.

What are some other ways to minimize the effects of environmental pollution on our skin and body?

In terms of lifestyle, adequate sleep is essential, as sleep is the time the body engages in cellular and other repairs. Try to reduce stress, which is inflammatory and compromises the immune system, and load up on anti-inflammatory foods like nuts, blueberries, tomatoes, oily fish, and leafy green vegetables. Use the sauna whenever possible, as saunas have been shown in studies to remove heavy metals and other toxins, stimulate the circulatory system, and help promote stratum corneum [the epidermis] health.

What does your personal skincare routine look like and does it change when you travel?

Like everyone else, I live life on the go. So my skincare routine needs to be something I can do in under two minutes. I put on my Hyaluronic Serum immediately after patting my skin dry—to avoid osmosis and transepidermal water loss—after about 15 seconds I apply my Face Cream, and I finish with my Lifting Serum. I rarely wear makeup and generally use my Glow Drops instead. I use Eye Cream as needed, and of course my Lip Balm before heading out the door. If I’m in a sunny place, I would put on Sun Drops SPF50, and in an urban area, I would apply my Anti-Pollution Drops alongside my Hyaluronic Serum.

Travel presents unique skin inflammation triggers, with sleep deprivation, stress, changing climates, bacteria and dry, cold air on the plane, so maintaining a good skincare routine when you’re on a flight is really important. If it’s a day flight, I’ll re-apply my Hyaluronic Serum and my Face Cream multiple times throughout the flight and I also keep my Hydrating Face Mist on hand for regular skin refreshes. If the shades are open, then I use the Sun Drops SPF50. I always have my Anti-Pollution Drops and take my Anti-Pollution Food as soon as possible once I’ve landed.