Can Wildfire Smoke Damage Your Skin?
Although fire season isn’t expected until summer, conditions are turning fire season into what seems like a year-round occurrence these days. Severe drought, winds, unseasonably warm temperatures and low humidity are raising the risks and frequency of fire.
We know that wildfire smoke can cause lung and heart problems, but how does wildfire smoke affect your skin? Because of the increase in the number and severity of wildfires in the Western US, scientists are studying the effects of wildfire smoke more seriously.
A new study in 2018 near California's Camp fire found an increase in dermatology visits over previous years when there was no fire and an increased incidence of eczema, dermatitis and itching.
What is the danger?
Wildfire smoke contains dozens of pollutants that produce free radicals that damage lipids, proteins and DNA in skin cells, and weakens the skin barrier. Some pollutants trigger receptors that stimulate inflammatory pathways that make the skin more sensitive and leach it of water. The result is dry, scaly skin. What’s worse than pollution alone is when it’s combined with UV as this combination depletes the skin of antioxidants faster and causes more oxidative damage to cells, leading to premature aging and skin disease.
Wildfire smoke pollution contains particulate matter (PM). Particulate matter are fine particles that are too small to see. Particulate matter can be inhaled, causing lung damage. And it can penetrate the skin and cause hyperpigmentation in the skin, increased wrinkles and an increased risk for skin cancer.
How to protect your skin
On days when the air quality index (AQI) is high, it is best to limit time spent outdoors if you can. If you have to be outside, long sleeves and long pants are advised. An N-95 mask can help reduce the number of particles inhaled.
Applying an emollient gives your skin an extra barrier to which tiny particles can stick, and therefore not penetrate the skin. Emollients not only soften and smooth skin, they fill in the little gaps where skin is flaky or cracked. Read more about how to use emollients in skincare.
When you come in from working outdoors, gentle cleansing is very important. Washing your face can remove the pollutants before they can penetrate and cause damage.
Using an antioxidant rich moisturizer with vitamin C and E can help protect the skin barrier function. Good nutrition, including foods high in polyphenols, the powerful antioxidants that give plants their bright color, is also beneficial to help protect skin from the inside out.
Read More About Wildfire Pollution
To Your Healthy + Happy Skin,
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