How to Have Healthy Skin and Still Ride an Ojek to Work

Do your cotton pads look like this at the end of the day? Here are some skin care tips for life in one of the most-polluted cities on Earth.
April 17, 2018, 7:30am

Face it, you can't really call yourself a true Jakartan if your cotton pads aren't covered with a dusting of black and gray by the end of the day. And this is before you even get a chance to remove your eye makeup.

Jakarta is a pretty polluted city. It's also a city that, try as hard as you can, forces you to deal with all the pollution face-to-face. Here's why: the sheer number of cars on our streets means that the only way to get anywhere in time is to ride on an ojek (a motorcycle taxi) and weave through the gridlock. But this trick also puts us out there in the middle of all that exhaust and smog.


It always has me thinking, damn, skincare in normal conditions is already pretty hard, but now I need to maintain a routine that can deal with life in the third most-polluted city in the world? That's probably why, in 2016, one-third of all new beauty products launched in the Asia-Pacific region were designed to combat the ill-effects of all this pollution.

That's a lot of products to address the same issue. If you're thinking what did we do to deserve this, let me tell you, we have no one to blame but ourselves for all this pollution. But when it comes to your skin, don't worry, there is help! (But the planet, maybe you should worry.) I spoke to Dr. Riska Melani, a dermatologist, to find the answers to all your burning questions about skincare.

I decided to call up Dr. Riska after hearing so many complaints from my ojek riding friends about their skin. They told me that their skin kept breaking out, or that it looked really dull. But I mean what else do you expect when you're constantly exposing your skin to dust, exhaust, and the smoke from trash fires on a daily basis? This city is rough on all of our skin.

But it turns out you don't need to even be on the streets for your skin to suffer. I, personally, drive a car and the only time I am actually outside in Jakarta is the few minutes it takes me to smoke a cigarette at work or the time between my car and the front door of wherever I'm going. Still, the city's pollution is doing a number on my skin too, Dr. Riska told me.


"I can even feel it here in this room!" Dr. Riska said. "Pollution just doesn't exist on the roads. There are pollutants in the outside environment, but also in our homes. Sure, when we're talking about external pollutants, we're talking about when people are more exposed to dust, smoke from vehicles, cigarettes, restaurant waste, factories… But there are even pollutants in your home… stuff like pollen, sawdust, cleaning solutions, pesticides. All of those are pollutants or free radicals too."

How the hell is a girl supposed to look fresh in a city where even our bedrooms are pretty polluted? The key is using products that protect your face, while also keeping it clean, but not so clean that it gets damaged by harsh face cleansers. I called up Samantha San Antonio, a US-based esthetician, to get her recommendations for the products you just have to use if you want to pollution-proof your pores.



You really don’t want all those gross particles on your face for too long, so cleaning your skin is a no-brainer. Makeup wearers need to make sure to double cleanse. Samantha recommends using an oil-based cleanser like The Body Shop’s Camomile Silky Cleansing Oil to remove makeup and impurities, followed by a gel cleanser. "CeraVe’s Hydrating Facial Cleanser is great for anyone tho thinks their faces are too dry, and COSRX’s Good Morning Gel Cleanser is great for those who are acne prone or oily," Samantha told me.

Although double cleansing is essential, you still need to make sure you don’t accidentally overdo it. “Twice a day is enough to make sure we don’t get rid of the skin’s layer of fat and moisture” Dr. Riska explained. In other words, these layers make up your skin barrier, and it’s really important to keep it healthy because, quoting from Samantha, “pollution compromises the health of our skin and our skin’s main function is to work as a barrier against the environment.”


Now a good serum isn’t absolutely necessary, but boy does it help. As a general rule, the main ingredient to look for are antioxidants like vitamins C and E. Antioxidants help prevent the damage from free radicals and combat the negative effects of the Sun's UV rays. Samantha’s product of choice is Mad Hippie’s Hydrating Nutrient Mist. It contains all that antioxidant goodness, but she loves it because it also makes your skin so bright and healthy.

Breakouts are probably one of the most common complaints for all you ojek riders out there. So another ingredient that you can incorporate to your routine is Niacinamide, which Samantha considers as “a superstar ingredient for those who live in polluted areas, or anywhere!” It’s such an all-rounder, “not only does it reduce the effects of pollution, it boosts collagen production, fades hyper-pigmentation, controls sebum production while helping keep pores free of impurities. Resulting in less breakouts!” This might be an obvious choice, but The Ordinary’s Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 10% is the way to go.


Now just because pollution makes your skin breakout, doesn't mean that your face isn't also screaming for some moisture. “One of the effects of pollution is decreased collagen," Dr. Riska explained. "So your skin can dry up, fine lines start to appear, and elasticity is reduced.” That means you can't forget to moisturize your skin as well.

But what about if you're still a bit traumatized by moisturizers that make you feel all greasy and gross? Then you haven't tried Kiehl’s amazing Ultra Facial Oil-Free Gel Cream. I know it’s pretty damn expensive, but I just can’t stop buying it. It leaves my skin feeling cool and moisturized in the best possible way because it’s a gel, instead of a conventional cream.


If you really don’t have the time and self-discipline for all of this then you can just probably skip the serums and moisturizers. But the one thing you can't skip is sunblock. “UV damage will always be the biggest cause to our skin’s aging so you can only imagine how both UV + pollution together effects our skin” Samantha told me. The outdoors are like a warzone for our skin. And you wouldn't really go into war without some kind of armor, right?

There are two types of people: those who think SPF 10 is enough, and those who apply the highest factor possible. I’m guilty of being the latter. But actually, for us Indonesians, Dr. Riska suggests protection between SPF 15 to SPF 30. Bigger doesn’t always mean better, particularly for acne-prone skin. “Because the higher the SPF, the more it covers," she said. "The pores of those who are acne-prone can easily get clogged by the sunscreen.” I'm not gonna lie, that last part shocked me a bit. So if you have SPF 50 in your arsenal, you might want to tone it down a bit and get the right sunblock before your face totally breaks out.

Dr. Riska Melani is a dermatologist at Surface Skin Habit, in Cilandak Town Square, South Jakarta if you want to talk to her face-to-face about your… umm.. face.