Hierarchy of Active Stress Defense

Environmentally-induced oxidative stress is the number one cause of premature skin aging, but it’s not air pollution, blue light, or IR that’s triggering the majority of these unwanted skin changes, despite the current rush to protect against them — it’s UV radiation. The complication then comes when aggressors (like pollution) pile on, and damage comes even more swiftly.  

The Total Protection Trend

Pollutionblue light, and infrared radiation (IR) have recently come under scrutiny as major skin concerns — and brands are seizing the opportunity to showcase environmental defense benefits. Mintel has highlighted consumers’ — and brands’ — heightened focus on environmental defense since its September 2017 Innovation Zone at InCos Latin America, which centered on total protection, and the trend has not shown signs of slowing down. As consumers continue to demand an effective environmental shield, protection is spreading into new product categories including BB creams, primers, moisturizers, and foundations. But this increased awareness of environmental insults is also leaving consumers wondering which stressors they should be, well, stressing about.   

For an easier understanding, here’s a breakdown of the biggest environmental aggressors and how they contribute to early skin aging:  

UV Protection 

Consumers know they need to use daily sun care products to keep skin damage at bay, but most aren’t aware that UV rays are responsible for 80% of premature skin aging — and that number is even higher for people with lighter complexions. This reality highlights the importance of reminding customers about the impact of UV radiation. But sun protection products are not without challenges. 

Less glamorous than anti-pollution and anti-blue light skin care messages that tap into common consumer woes like urban living, smog, and smartphone use, sun protection products are often tied to a less relevant-feeling message, even though they are the top early aging culprit. With a seasonal message, sun protection becomes a summertime need, even though the damage comes year-round. In addition to missing the messaging mark, the scarcity of an aesthetically pleasing product texture, a clean formula, and a fun and creative format has made consumers shy away from it — leaving a wide-open space for brands to see great success with a powerhouse formula and a compelling product story.


A growing number of researchers are pointing to pollution-induced oxidative stress as a cause of wrinkles and sagging, making anti-pollution skin care the trend that keeps on coming. 25% of Gen Z consumers worldwide look for anti-pollution claims in anti-aging products, according to Euromonitor’s 2017 International Beauty Survey. Mintel’s March 2018 Insight ties pollution to acne, recommending that brands help consumers keep skin clear and flare-up-free with robust formulas that neutralize or block pollution-triggered skin inflammation and damage.

The negative effect of pollution is compounded by UV exposure, making the combination of UV protection and anti-pollution technology a real skin saver. An effective anti-pollution and UV protection combo product can quench up to 95% of environmentally-induced free radicals to prevent premature skin aging.  

Blue Light 

Long-term exposure to High Energy Visible Light, also called HEVL or blue light, can result in the same damage as photo-aging: color and texture changes, inflammation, and other unwanted physical effects. Given that blue light emanates from computers, TVs, fluorescent light bulbs, and smartphones — and that US Millennials reportedly check their smartphone 157 times a day — it’s no surprise that consumers are seeking out skin care with an anti-blue light assurance and a pro-health message. 

Still, because UV and pollution can cause more damage than HEVL, anti-blue light skin care will not deliver the flawless skin that consumers are looking for without protection from sun and smog. To deliver on the promise of healthy skin and fulfill consumer demand for blue light protection, Mintel recommends that brands use concerns over blue light’s negative impact as an opportunity to engage younger consumers on the importance of a comprehensive environmental shield.

Infrared Radiation 

Infrared radiation (IR) is another free-radical-generating light that is quickly gaining traction in new skin care formulas. IR has a longer wavelength and can penetrate deeper skin layers than UVA, UVB and even HEVL. Even so, IR is not going to damage the skin to the extent that blue light, pollution, and especially UV radiation will.

Mintel notes that infrared product launches are on the rise, with 25% of global skin care product launches claiming infrared protection in 2016, up from just 10% in 2011. Consumers looking for IR protection might seek out anti-oxidant claims, so beauty brands can meet consumer demand and upgrade their product lineup with anti-oxidant-enhanced formulas that offer protection from other elements as well. 

Discovering the role of your product lineup 

The best way to shield against environmental insult is to guard against all types of external aggressors — and as technologies evolve, that’s not an impossible task even for aesthetically-driven, prestige beauty brands and creative, color-focused cosmetics brands. Some environmental aggressors are easier to message than others, and it is critical that brands listen to their customers and respond to the wants and needs of the current moment. But there is a hierarchy of stress defense, and to deliver the results consumers are after, it’s important to start with a foundation of UV protection.