Although much has been written on how climate change affects social, economic, and health systems, only a few studies exist about its effects on the skin. We rely on our skin to protect everything else inside our bodies, and yet as the most highly exposed organ to the environment it is on the frontline to climate change.
The World Health Organization predicts that the depletion of the ozone layer could lead to increased rates of skin cancer. A rise in temperature by 2°C could possibly increase the carcinogenic effect of the sun by 10%. “Greenhouse gases” such as the chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs (used in refrigeration, insulation, and spray-can propellants) and methyl bromide, while inert at Earth-surface temperatures, react with and depletes ozone in the stratosphere. Ozone absorbs much of the incoming solar ultraviolet radiation, especially the cancer-causing UVB wavelengths. Whole-body immunosuppression that can result from UV radiation can also influence the occurrence and progression of various autoimmune diseases.
A hot and humid environment can also encourage the colonization of the skin by bacteria and fungi. Some infectious diseases such as leishmaniasis, Lyme disease, Chikungunya and Zika viruses are able to become more geographically widespread thanks to the effects of climate change, deforestation, and changes in precipitation.
The International Society of Dermatology Task Force on Climate Change reports that weather phenomena such as El Niño and La Niña also result in changes to dermatologic conditions. El Niño has been associated with increases in the occurrence of actinic keratosis, tinea, pityriasis versicolor, miliaria, folliculitis, rosacea, and dermatitis.
Global warming also affects the start, duration, and intensity of the pollen season, which in turn affects the rate of asthma exacerbations due to air pollution, respiratory infections, and/or cold air inhalation, with probable increases in eczema and other atopy-related conditions.
As much as some people may deny that there is any credible cause for concern, global warming has serious implications for not just the planet but also for us as individuals who care about our skin and our health.