Climate and your Skin

The Problem

Climate change will pose a risk to the frequency and distribution of various dermatologic diseases that are associated with infectious etiologies, environmental irritants and allergens, aquatic transmission, and more.

Lyme Disease

  • Increasing global temperatures are creating favorable conditions for microbes to breed and spread, leading to an expanded area of various dermatologic diseases, including lyme disease

  • The incidence of Lyme Disease in the US has nearly doubled since 1991, with the highest increases in the northeast

Image by Erik Karits

Lyme is spread by the deer tick, pictured here

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Map showing the expansion of the geographic range of the incidence of Lyme disease (EPA)

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Lyme causes a bulls-eye rash, joint pains, and can affect your heart and your nervous system

Poison Ivy

  • In one study conducted by researchers at Duke University, higher levels of CO2 increased photosynthesis and water usage of poison ivy, allowing it to grow more quickly

  • Additionally, higher CO2 favors a more allergenic form of urushiol, the chemical that causes the skin reaction to poison ivy, which could make reactions more intense

Image by James Whitney

Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron species)

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Rash from poison ivy, a form of contact dermatitis

Other Risks

Aquatically-Transmitted Dermatologic Conditions

  • Climate change has been attributed to increasing temperatures of water bodies and shifts in precipitation patterns, there is a much higher risk of exposure to skin disease that is spread through bodies of water.

  • Examples include earlier blooming seasons and the growth of jellyfish larvae and aquatic snails. These exposures increase the chances of conditions such as Seabather’s eruption and cercarial dermatitis. 

  • Warmer bodies of water are also associated with increased rates of reproduction of certain species of bacteria, which could be another source of infection.

Allergic Skin Conditions Influenced by Air Pollution

  • Increasing levels of air pollution worsen the severity and incidence of eczema, and is described further in the air pollution section of this page.

References

1. https://www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/climate-change-indicators-lyme-disease

2. Silva, G. S., & Rosenbach, M. (2021). Climate change and dermatology: An introduction to a special topic, for this special issue. In International Journal of Women’s Dermatology (Vol. 7, Issue 1, pp. 3–7). Elsevier Inc. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijwd.2020.08.002

3. Schachtel, A., Dyer, J. A., & Boos, M. D. (2021). Climate change and pediatric skin health. International Journal of Women’s Dermatology, 7(1). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijwd.2020.07.006

4. Coates, S. J., & Norton, S. A. (2021). The effects of climate change on infectious diseases with cutaneous manifestations. International Journal of Women’s Dermatology, 7(1). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijwd.2020.07.005

5. Kaffenberger, B. H., Shetlar, D., Norton, S. A., & Rosenbach, M. (2017). The effect of climate change on skin disease in North America. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 76(1), 140–147. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaad.2016.08.014