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How Climate Change Can Affect Your Skin

The World Grows Warmer, Becoming a More Dangerous Place for You and Your Skin
December 1, 2021
Climate Change Skin Cancer

A warming planet will steadily cause problems threatening life on earth. Even now, climate change is known to be the root cause of serious skin conditions that are liable only to get worse. Here’s what you need to know.

The National Institutes of Health and the American Academy of Dermatology report that climate change influences the distribution and severity of dermatologic conditions, including skin infections, harsher effects from sun exposure, environmental irritants, and the transmission through water of bacteria and viruses. This means the hotter it gets, the more likely people will develop skin problems that are, at best, irritating, and at worse life-threatening.

Infectious skin diseases are already on the rise worldwide as a warming climate supports the growth of bacteria and the spread of viruses. Studies show an increase in global temperature has triggered a sharp spike in the number and severity of cases involving hand, foot, and mouth disease, which is viral based. Fungal skin diseases are also spreading – both from warmer temperatures and shifts in global wind patterns, carrying the microbes farther and to different corners of the world.

Changes in the environment also impact the habitat of parasites that spread illness. Tick-borne Lyme disease has increased in some parts of the United States in direct relation to global warming. These parasites thrive in a warmer environment and they live longer as the temperature change between seasons is becoming less extreme. New cases of Lyme disease have nearly doubled since 1991, according to the EPA, which says climate change is likely to blame. Deer and mice, the common carriers of diseased ticks, also thrive in a warming climate.

Then there’s increased risk of skin cancer, the most prevalent form of cancer in the United States. Mid-autumn still feels like summer in many parts of the world. Because it stays warmer for weeks longer than even 20 years ago, we spend more time outdoors, increasing our exposure to the sun.

As the earth’s protective ozone layer becomes thinner, more UV rays from the sun penetrate our atmosphere. That greater exposure to radiation raises the risk of developing skin cancer, as well as a host of conditions that can cause our skin to age prematurely.

Melanoma skin cancer is the greatest danger we face from increased UV radiation, although warmer temperatures and air pollution can also irritate the skin and change its appearance. Air pollution, especially, is often to blame for an inflammatory skin outbreak. 

Warming water in oceans and lakes encourages bacterial growth, blooming algae, and the faster reproduction of organisms that cause swimmer’s itch (cercarial dermatitis). 

Bacteria multiply quickly in temperatures above 40F up to 140F, according to the USDA. Bacteria ingested through water can cause skin and respiratory infections, cellulitis and even sepsis, a life-threatening condition when the body becomes overwhelmed with infection.

Children and the elderly are at greatest risk of developing skin problems and health conditions as a result of climate change, but climate change affects everyone. Kids may become more susceptible to asthma and impaired lung development. Children are also more likely to scratch a skin rash and make it worse.

Multiple skin conditions have been linked to climate change. One common condition is eczema, which triggers irritating, itchy rashes. Eczema can flare up for many reasons, including air pollutants. An increase in wildfires has been linked to climate change, while wildfires have been linked to an increase in eczema outbreaks. The smoke irritates the skin. Air pollution has also been linked to increased rates of psoriasis and lupus.

What you can do

Using a quality sunscreen with a high UV protection factor (at least SPF 30) has never been more important. Protecting your skin with sunscreen and limiting outdoor time, especially during the heat of the day, are the best things you can do to prevent the sun from drying, damaging and prematurely aging your skin. You’ll also reduce the risk of developing skin cancer. Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours.

If you live in a region prone to wildfires or that routinely experiences a higher rate of air pollution, use moisturizers and emollients to keep your skin supple. Limit your outdoor time. Wearing a mask can help reduce your exposure to respiratory illness.

During tick and mosquito season, apply a bug repellent and wear pants and long-sleeved shirts as much as possible outdoors. Insect bites are not just unsightly on the skin; they are also potentially deadly.

To help prevent many common skin rashes and avoid ingesting contaminated water, heed all health safety recommendations before going swimming. Whether you’re at a beach or lakeside resort, the local health department should be monitoring water quality.

Before travelling abroad, do some research on the local conditions. Sub-tropical regions often see an uptick in viral and bacterial infections during the summer months, but the prime season for the spread of disease grows longer as the planet grows warmer. Know also that densely populated urban areas worldwide are at greater risk of air pollution as well as the spread of skin diseases and infections.

Above all, after spending time outdoors, wash your face and hands thoroughly and apply a good moisturizer.

Your dermatologist can identify worrisome skin conditions during a virtual visit or in-person. In some cases, prescription medication will be necessary for treatment. You’ll also be able to discuss your outdoor habits and living conditions, travels or any other factors that could be quietly harming your skin. 

Until and if climate change can be slowed or even reversed, there are still many things we can do to take care of our bodies and minimize the risk of developing serious skin conditions. Your dermatologist is always available to provide care and answer your questions.

Let Walk-in Dermatology Take Care of You and Your Skin

If you have concerns about any skin condition and need dependable answers fast, you don’t have to wonder, worry or wait. Walk-in Dermatology is here to keep you healthy. Our team of board-certified dermatologists and experienced medical staff will address your concerns and provide the necessary care for all your skin conditions. You can schedule an appointment with us online or we can set up a Video Visit and even prescribe medications remotely. Contact us today.