The Most Common Causes of Skin Damage

skin barrier damage causes


Over time a mix of environmental and lifestyle factors can damage our skin, resulting in blemishes, dull skin, wrinkles and sagging. Science has found that molecules called free radicals are the main cause of accelerating ageing on our skin 

The Science Bit

These harmful free radicals are officially described as “unstable oxygen molecules with a single electron”. Put simply, oxidation causes one of our molecules to drop an electron. In an effort to become whole again, the molecule steals an electron from another chemical structure in our body. Great news for the original molecule, but bad news for the chemical structure that has given its electron away and is now damaged. When this happens in the skin the results are older looking damaged skin. 

Oxidation Stations

So how and why do we get these free radicals that accelerate our aging and cause so many other problems? Oxidation is unavoidable and as we breathe oxygen there will be oxidation in our body. In small and controlled quantities oxidation is not a problem, but there are aspects of our environment and lifestyles that can increase the damage it does.

Here are some of the major causes of oxidation that can lead to prematurely old-looking skin. 

Air Pollution

Pollution in the air hurts our skin's barrier function by breaking down collagen and the lipids contained within it. Dirt particles can accumulate on our skin's surface which can clog pores when they mix with our skin cells and oils.

To reduce damage avoid polluted areas if you can; if you can’t, make sure you wash your face as soon as you can. 

air pollution damages the skin barrier



Alcohol is a diuretic and so has a dehydrating effect. This affects our entire body including our body's largest organ, the skin. Drinking too much alcohol is also thought to deprive our skin of vital vitamins and nutrients. 

If you do drink alcohol make sure you also drink plenty of water - especially the day after - to replace the liquid lost by your body. 


Cigarette smoke contains hundreds of chemicals. The most dangerous to our skin is carbon monoxide, which displaces the oxygen in our skin. Nicotine reduces blood flow, leaving our skin dry and discoloured. The damage doesn’t stop there, as smoking also depletes essential skin nutrients like vitamin c. 

Quitting or reducing smoking will help to reduce the harm caused. Avoiding cigarette smoke will shield you from the most damaging effects. 

Sun Damage

UVA rays from the sun penetrate deep into the dermis, our skin's thickest layer. The damage they cause can lead to premature skin aging and wrinkling. UVB rays can also burn the superficial top layers of our skin, causing more havoc and lasting damage. 

Wearing a high SPF (35 plus) sun cream can help protect your skin, as does covering up and avoiding the sun when it is at its most intense. 

sun damages the skin



Sadly, stress is an unavoidable fact of life for most of us. The release of the stress hormone cortisol can make your skin more sensitive and reactive. 

Finding time to relax and unwind reduces cortisol production and lessens its effect on your skin. 


Water Intake

Skin needs to be hydrated to stay healthy, so an important part of this is drinking enough water. Having enough water in your body also helps your digestive system flush out toxins from the body. 

Try and drink plenty of water during the day, especially if it is hot. 

All is Not Lost

Many of us do not realise we have been damaging our skin until we start to see the visible signs of ageing. Although it is always easier to prevent than to heal, all is not lost. 

Skincare products have been developed that target specific skincare problems. Explore our other posts to discover how to classify your skincare issues and learn what you can do to start to repair the damage. 


Refresh Skincare can help you keep your skin healthy. Our range of skincare products has been specially selected for ingredients that get results. Subscribe to our newsletter for the latest offers, new products and a special 10% discount off your first order. 

About the Author

Priscilla Puga


Skincare fanatic and co-founder of Refresh Skincare

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