IT IS MORE THAN our lungs that are at risk from the effects of pollution. Our skin is constantly exposed to external and indoor pollutants which, without help, can lead to premature ageing. The trend towards potions that combat the effects of pollution has led to new products popping up on beauty counters at an increasing rate, and they all have one thing in common: ingredients which have antioxidant qualities which are thought to neutralise free radicals. Ozon, a skin-care brand from France, claims to be the first international beauty brand aimed at 'fighting the effects of pollution on the skin head-on'. Its entire product range, which launched in Hong Kong this summer and is aimed at 'urban lifestyles', contains an anti-pollution active agent called Actitrionis. The brand says the complex has a three-way, multiprotection action against different types of pollutants to help reinforce the skin's natural defence system, protecting cells from toxins. The active action of key ingredients boosts cells resulting in revived and rejuvenated skin. Another French brand, Sampar, also made its Hong Kong debut this summer. Like Ozon, all of its products contain a specific complex - in Sampar's case these are natural extracts from shea butter, mint leaves and plant and lactate sugar - which the brand says strip toxins and pollutants which suffocate skin. Decleor, Dr Murad and philosophy each have their own versions of pollution-fighting products, among others. So are all products just pandering to vanity or does pollution really pose a problem? Dermatologist Ho Lai-yung says that we should be concerned about the effects pollutants have on our skin. 'It is not a matter of vanity. Air pollution is proven to aggravate and cause skin diseases,' she says. Free radicals are weak molecules that attack the nearest stable molecule which sets off a chain reaction that causes disruptions to living cells. These free radicals can be spawned by environmental factors such as pollution, tobacco smoke and gaseous organic compounds such as benzene, formaldehyde and radon from insecticides. When free radical damage accumulates, it can lead to premature ageing. Antioxidants such as vitamins C and E become depleted when skin cells are exposed to pollutants; oxidation and degradation of the skin lipids and the skin barrier triggers inflammatory responses in skin layers which may become itchy, red, inflamed and even scaly, and signs of ageing will become visible. Short-term effects can include allergic reactions such as urticaria (hives), dermatitis and the aggravation of skin diseases such as atopic eczema and psoriasis. Scrutinise the list of pollutants further and you will realise that it is virtually impossible to escape their effects - carbon monoxide from vehicle exhaust fumes and the burning of carbon materials which decrease the oxygen carrying power of red blood cells and indoor pollutants such as paints, household chemicals and dust. The more paranoid among us might begin to think Michael Jackson was ahead of the rest of us when, a decade ago, he spent considerable amounts of time in an oxygen bubble to slow the ageing process. Dr Ho says regular use of antioxidants on the skin such as vitamins C, E, A and green tea extracts will help counteract the effects of pollution. But she warns that we should not rely solely on cosmetics to keep pollutants at bay. She also recommends a balanced diet, especially with an emphasis on antioxidant foods such as soya beans, green tea, fruits and vegetables. GET PROTECTION Sampar a combination of nanotechnology, aromatherapy and high-performance active ingredients. The products contain up to 27 per cent of active ingredients (much higher than the average) which, according to the brand, deliver high performance and high efficacy. Packaging is designed to maintain the integrity of products and decrease risk of contamination. Four product ranges: for everyday skin care; sensitive and combination skins; mature skin; and the City of Light range to eliminate colour spots and make complexion brighter. Celebrity fans include Naomi Campbell, Gwyneth Paltrow and Sophie Marceau. Ozon the collection spans skin specifics from anti-ageing, whitening, face firming and contouring, to slimming, and a hair and scalp range. The brand says healthy skin cells achieved through the protection of its active ingredient, Actitrionis, will be receptive to the star ingredients in its product range. Decleor its Hydra Floral Anti-Pollution range contains the plant active ingredient Moringa Oleifera, said to help prevent pollution particles sticking to the skin's surface. In addition several other plant extracts and essential oils are used. The product range employs the use of Aquaporins technology (2003 Nobel Prize for chemistry) - essentially, the technology tunnels water into cell walls and promotes circulation and the retention of water.