Are car fume to blame for your bad hair day?

Are car fume to blame for your bad hair day? That’s what beauty experts now believe — and they’re reinventing haircare to fight it

  • Air pollution in the UK is mostly made up of tiny dust, oil, metal and gas particles
  • Research suggests dust and diesel particles could contribute to hair loss
  • Caroline Brien rounded up the best new products to pollution-proof your hair 

From super cleansers to protective face mists, ‘anti-pollution’ has become the skincare industry’s big obsession.

We know smoke, smog, fumes and dust in the air around us contribute to a host of issues, from speeding up signs of ageing to increased skin sensitivity (on top of well-documented problems for our health, of course). But now, it’s becoming clear what this daily assault is doing to hair, too.

Research by Pantene hair scientists at Procter & Gamble has found that pollutants reduce how much light hair can reflect, causing it to look duller, weigh it down so it feels dirty and make it split more easily because hair is rougher and loses lipids (fats) that keep it strong and flexible.

More concerning, in October last year, Korea’s Future Science Research Centre presented data to the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology Congress in Madrid that suggested dust and diesel particles could contribute to hair loss because they reduce the amount of a protein in the follicles crucial for hair growth.

Caroline Brien rounded up a selection of the best new products to pollution-proof your hair, including Klorane Anti-Pollution Detox Shampoo With Aquatic Mint (pictured)

‘Air pollution negatively impacts everyone’s hair,’ says Michael Shaun Corby, global director at Living Proof haircare, developed by scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. ‘It doesn’t matter if your hair is damaged or healthy, curly or straight, Asian or Afro. Pollution can harm the proteins in hair, making it more susceptible to breakage, while oil droplets and solid particles adhere to strands so they feel noticeably rougher.’

Anabel Kingsley, consultant trichologist at London’s Philip Kingsley Clinic, believes that although pollution may not damage hair permanently, ‘it won’t be as shiny, will feel coated and might smell’.

In the UK, air pollution is mostly made up of tiny particles of dust, oil and heavy metals, plus gases, which can parachute deep into skin and scalp pores. Until recently, sceptics could have argued that any shampoo should be able to clean away atmospheric impurities, but a better understanding of pollution has prompted a fresh approach.

‘We’re able to take the serious side of skincare and apply it to hair and scalp,’ says Robin Parker, cosmetic scientist and technical director at Acheson & Acheson, who develop prestige beauty products.

‘It’s a similar “cleanse and protect” strategy. Cleansing to get rid of toxins and debris, a protective shield to prevent them adhering and antioxidants to neutralise the damaging effect of free radicals caused by them.’

Here are the best new products to pollution-proof your hair.


Klorane Anti-Pollution Detox Shampoo With Aquatic Mint, £8 for 150ml, and Protective Conditioner, £10 for 200ml (, are packed with a type of mint known for its depolluting properties.

Water mint has been used to purify polluted streams, as its roots absorb metal particles.

It is also rich in antioxidants, with cleansing and protective benefits. As a moisturising alternative for dryer hair, Living Proof’s deep cleansing PhD Triple Detox Shampoo, £24 for 160ml (, has a cream-to-lather formula that removes dulling pollutants without stripping hair, plus it includes its patented Healthy Hair Molecule to repel dirt and oil.


Revlon Professional’s Magnet line includes an Anti-Pollution Restoring Mask (pictured) that has keratin amino acids to strengthen fibres damaged by pollution

Haircare brands are formulating intensive masks to nourish hair affected by pollution. Revlon Professional’s Magnet line — its first designed to fight environmental aggressors — includes an Anti-Pollution Restoring Mask, £25, £21 for 500ml (, that is left for up to ten minutes on towel-dried hair. Keratin amino acids strengthen fibres damaged by pollution, while moringa seed extract, rich in antioxidants, fights free radicals.


Wow Dream Filter Pre-Shampoo Mineral Remover (pictured) is effective for restoring brightness to blonde or grey shades 

Tiny metallic particles from exhaust fumes can accumulate on hair to leave it looking dull. For a targeted approach to counteract these colour-altering particles, Color Wow Dream Filter Pre-Shampoo Mineral Remover, £24 for 200ml (, acts like a magnet to remove them from dry hair, restoring brightness.

This is effective on pale shades of blonde or grey. Spray on, then rinse out before shampooing.


Christophe Robin Anti-Frizz Rescue Milk (pictured) boasts moringa seed extract to act as a shield against environmental damage

Since pollution makes hair more susceptible to breakage, that can translate to a lack of shine and lustre. Christophe Robin Anti-Frizz Rescue Milk, £30 for 150ml (, has shea butter to smooth down raised hair cuticles for a sleek finish. This leave-in spray also boasts moringa seed extract to act as a shield against environmental damage.

As a luxe alternative, Oribe Power Drops Hydration & Anti- Pollution Booster, £55 for 30ml ( uses hyaluronic acid to create a protective moisture barrier around hair strands, while plant extracts work to combat any loss of keratin, the ‘building block’ of hair.


Ameliorate Clarifying Scalp Exfoliant (pictured) lifts debris and has lactic acid to loosen dead skin cells

It’s not only hair suffering: exposure to pollution can put oxidative stress (the harmful effect that unstable molecules have on the body) on the scalp as well, making it dry and sensitive.

‘How healthy your hair is starts in the follicles of the scalp, so the damage done by pollution to the scalp has a fundamental effect,’ says Robin Parker.

Ameliorate Clarifying Scalp Exfoliant, £20 for 125ml (, combines chemical and physical exfoliators — lactic acid to loosen dead skin cells, plus cellulose scrub to lift debris, respectively — to tackle dryness and irritation without disturbing the delicate balance of the scalp’s pH level.


Aveda’s Pramasana scalp-care range (pictured) repels pollution using salicylic acid

If that all sounds too much, head to the professionals. ‘Scalp facials’ are starting to create a buzz, taking a cue from stateside services such as Head Spa at Masa.Kanai in New York, which offers a customised package, including massage, detoxing steam therapy and an application of treatment lotion chosen after analysis of scalp and hair, to get them into condition.

West London’s Stil salon offers a detoxing anti-pollution service, from £80 (, to remove the impurities that dull and distort hair colour, so new colour applied afterwards looks perfectly fresh.

Aveda salons have introduced their own Scalp Facial, from £50 including blow-dry, using their Pramasana scalp-care range.

After analysis, dry brushing to loosen debris and boost microcirculation is followed by a cleanser with plant-derived exfoliator salicylic acid, a nourishing scalp mask, and finally a protective concentrate, massaged into the scalp to help repel pollution.

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