How Climate Change Can Impact the Health of Your Skin, Plus What to Do About It
The skin is the largest organ in the body and interacts with the environment the most. However, skin care should not be considered an afterthought.
Although you may think of sun protection and skin cancer when considering climate change’s impact on your skin, there are many other ways that your skin can be affected.
“Extreme weather conditions can cause all kinds of problems, including dehydration and sunburn,” said Allison Leer , dermatologist and cofounder of Unity Skincare. “Air pollution and other environmental factors also can take their toll.”
These are some of the possible effects of climate change on your skin’s health:
- Extreme weather conditions
- ozone layer depletion
- Increased humidity and temperatures
- Increased pollen
These factors can contribute to skin and health problems, such as:
- skin cancer
- Premature signs of aging
- Skin conditions such as hives, eczema and rashes can include eczema and psoriasis.
- Infectious disease and skin-related side effect
Climate change and skin cancer
Consider the ozone to be Earth’s SPF. As the ozone thins and disintegrates, more UV radiation reaches the surface.
An older 2011 study found that a decrease of just 1% in the thickness of the ozone layer increases the incidence squamous cells carcinoma by 3-4 percent, basal Cell carcinoma from 1.7-2.7 percent, and Melanoma of 1 to 2 percent.
According to 2016, skin cancer is the most prevalent cancer in the United States.
According to the World Health OrganizationTrusted Source(WHO), 2-3 million skin cancers not related to melanoma and 132,000 skin cancers related to melanoma occur annually worldwide.
The 2021 review revealed that these nanoparticles (also known as PM2.5) penetrate the epidermis. They may also pass through the skin via the follicles or glands. Exposed to traffic emissions led to a 20% increase in pigmented facial lesion. Black carbon, a well-known carcinogen, makes up a large portion of PM2.5. These particles are more carcinogenic when they form aerosols with toxic metals or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
This study also found that air pollution can worsen inflammatory skin conditions.
Atopic dermatitis, as well as immunopressant medications, can increase your risk of developing skin cancer.
Acne and climate change
According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, acne rates are on the rise, with about 85 percent of Americans aged between 12 and 24.
Climate change could alter the pH0_ of our skin. Acne breakouts can also be exacerbated by increased sweating and oil production.
Sun exposure can worsen skin aging over time.
Climate change may lead to an increase in UV radiation and other pollutants, which can cause free radical damage. This will compound the harmful effects of sun exposure.
A 2019 study found that air pollution causes or worsens premature skin ageing.
Skin condition flare-ups
Individuals with eczema or psoriasis may experience more sweating when they are exposed to higher temperatures and humidity.
Other skin conditions like athlete’s feet, hives, and rashes can result.
Older 2010 researchTrusted source suggests that urbanites may be more susceptible to eczema. This could indicate that pollution may play an important role in triggering flare ups.
Dr. Peter Lio , a member of the Scientific Advisory Board for the National Eczema Association, agrees that inflammations of the skin will continue to worsen, particularly eczema.
Lio says that although Eczema has existed for a long time, it has skyrocketed in western industrialized societies because of our more clean lifestyles and fewer bacteria in our skins and gut microbiomes. This trend is likely to continue, and probably increase, with our planet rapidly warming.
Lio also noted that environmental factors such as:
- air quality
- Wildfire smoke
- allergens, like pollen
Climate change can have a profound impact on your skin. Flooding is one example.
Flooding is the most deadly and frequent disaster in the world. A 2021 studyTrusted Source concluded that climate change may be increasing the severity and frequency of floods.
Research by 2018Trusted Source indicates that skin diseases caused by contamination exposure are among the most prevalent health effects of flooding.
These effects include an increase of infectious diseases like:
- dengue fever
They can also increase the likelihood of skin conditions such as:
- contact dermatitis
- Alopecia areata
- Urticaria or Hives
Climate change and infectious diseases
There are many types of infectious diseases. Climate change can increase the risk of all of them.
Vector-borne infectious disease
These diseases can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or protozoa that are transmitted from living organisms.
Lyme disease is a prime example. According to Caroline Nelson, dermatologist, FAAD, it has dramatically increased in from 2001 to 2014.Trusted Source
ticks are parasites that carry Lyme disease and transmit it to humans. Warmer winter temperatures mean that ticks are more likely to survive and spread Lyme Disease outside of their usual geographic areas.
Lyme disease is also influenced by increased contact between ticks infected and humans.
The Environmental Protection Agency states that changes in land use such as farmland restoration or development in wooded areas can increase tick populations and tick carriers like white-footed mice and deer.
Lyme disease can cause many symptoms that are not related to skin health. It can cause skin problems such as large rashes ( Erythema Migratoris) or skin infections ( Acrodermatitis Chronica AtrophicansTrustedSource).
Other vector-borne diseases
Other emerging diseases include the tickborne anaplasmosis and dengue virus.
According Dirk Elston MD, FAAD climate change is increasing the spread of these diseases. Ticks that are normally found in the south are becoming more common in the middlewest and northern parts of the United States due to the rising temperatures.
Viral and fungal infections
Many examples are available of an rise in infectious diseases as a result of climate change.
A 2019 studyTrusted source shows that weather affects the severity and incidence of foot, hand, and mouth diseases.
Similar results from 2016 researchTrustedSource were also found for fungal disease.
These practices will help you to take the best care of your skin due to changes in your environment and climate.
Use sunscreen every day
Apply sunscreen even if you don’t feel the need.
When you are outdoors, apply sunscreen with a 30 or higher. Even if it’s cloudy or you are only out for 10 minutes, the sunscreen is still recommended.
It is important to care for your skin first. Reef-friendly Sunscreen is also an option.
The International Coral Reef Initiative and Sweden’s government conducted a 2018 study which concluded that traditional sunscreen has a negative impact on the world’s corals reefs.
Avoid peak hours
Leer recommends that people not be in direct sunlight between 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
You can avoid these hours by wearing sunscreen with a higher level of SPF and reapplying every 60 to 90 minutes.
Check air quality
Check the air quality before you go outside.
There are many websites and apps that allow you to check the air quality, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) app .
An excellent idea is to use an home filtration system.
This is an essential one, despite climate change. Keep your skin hydrated to maintain its elastic.
To keep your hydration efforts sustained, you should use a reusable water container rather than buying bottled water.
Eat vitamin-rich foods
A 2019 study demonstrates the importance of Vitamin E as well as Vitamin C for skin health and protection against UV radiation.
Vitamin E and vitamin C levels are depleted by UV radiation. Vitamin C protects the skin against oxidative damage by neutralizing harmful free radicals.
Vitamin E levels also decrease with age.
This can be combated by consuming lots of antioxidant-rich foods .
- leafy greens
Vitamins and Supplements
Even though vitamin E and vitamin C oral supplements alone did not show any benefits, research showed a decrease of UV-induced inflammation when combined.
2019 research shows that a diet low in selenium can cause damage to oxidative stress and premature aging.
A similar study found that the recovery of skin immunity function following UV radiation exposure was accelerated by taking an oral supplement.
Probiotics may be beneficial for both your gut and your skin health.
Free radical damage can be caused by environmental stressors such as pollution. Applying a topical cream can neutralize free radicals, and help prevent or treat skin damage.
While vitamin E and Vitamin C both have positive effects, many studies show that vitamin C combined with vitamin E are more effective in protecting against outdoor stressors.
These two vitamins work together to inhibit:
- UV damage
- Photoaging caused by UV radiation
- skin cancer
- pollutant-induced skin inflammation
- collagen degradation
Protective clothing and hats are recommended
The problem is not only the UV radiation and heat. What we wear in the heat can also increase our risk of skin cancer and sunburn.
In the summer, people tend to be more outdoors and wear less protection. While it is important to protect your skin and limit your exposure, it is also beneficial to wear sunscreen and protective clothing when you are outside.
For prolonged sun exposure, UPF (ultraviolet Protection Factor) clothing is a good choice. To be eligible for The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation fabric must have a UV protection factor of 30. However, they prefer UPF 50+.
Sun protection is best when the hats have a wide brim and are tightly woven.
Although no one person can reverse climate change, we all can do our part. These changes can have a ripple effect on the rest of the world.
Here are some resources and ideas to help you do your part to save the planet.
These action-based tips can be used individually, but they still have an impact.
Reduce your meat intake
Although it isn’t something that everyone wants to do 100% plant-based, the truth is that these habits can have a positive effect on your health.
Keep your R’s in mind
Although you may have heard the phrase “reduce. reuse. recycle”, there are actually five R’s!
- Don’t accept any freebies or print materials that aren’t necessary.
- Donate or sell what you don’t use.
- Use what you can
- If you are unable to do the first three, recycle
- The rest can be left to rot (compost).
Vote with your wallet
Supply and demand will not change much as long as corporations and mass consumption have the greatest impact on the planet.
But, corporations can make changes and “vote” with their dollars if they wish to survive.
As demand increases, organic foods and products are more readily available and sometimes even cheaper.
Ideas for voting with your wallet
- Buy from a Certified B-corp Business
- Avoid palm Oil if possible
- Change one of your plant-based products to a non-plant-based product
Although this practice isn’t perfect, it does help to recognize that the individual should not be responsible for climate change. Small, positive changes can be a step in the right directions.
Consider supporting organizations that promote positive change if you have the time and money. These environmental organizations do positive work:
- Cool Earth provides funding for indigenous rainforest communities that tackle deforestation’s root causes. They are proud to hold the Platinum Seal of Transparency by GuideStar.
- Clean Air Task Force studies scientifically-driven solutions for climate change. GuideStar awarded them the Silver Seal of Transparency.
- Impact Melanoma places sunscreen dispensers in public or private areas to ensure sun protection.
You might also consider local or community organizations that you can support.
Find out more
Climate change is disproportionately affecting marginalized communities.
Access to sun protection clothing and air conditioning are not available to all, particularly those who are marginalized.
These groups have less access and more inequality in health care.
No matter what skin color, anyone can get skin cancer. When it is more difficult to treat, skin cancers are often discovered in the later stages. According to 2016 researchTrusted source, patients who are not Caucasians are less likely than Caucasians to survive melanoma.
There is a strong correlation between climate change, skin health, and other factors. This topic needs more attention, advocacy, and access to preventive medicine.
To reduce the adverse effects of climate change on the environment, and human health, global action is required.
There are many things we can do to improve our skin, health and planet’s overall health.