The impact of climate change on the skin

Misha Rosenbach, USA

Friday, 13 Oct 2023
14:15 – 14:45 CEST

Climate change is one of the defining health threats of our time – with health impacts not in the distant future, but occurring here and now. 
Climate science has conclusively shown rising temperatures are related to fossil fuel emissions, with these greenhouse gases acting to trap heat and raise ocean and land temperatures, with myriad consequences. Rising temperatures have led to record heat – with this summer already setting (and breaking) the record for overall planetary temperature. There is record low sea ice, rising sea levels, and more extreme weather events as a result.

Extreme heat directly interacts with dermatology, as the skin serves as a thermoregulatory organ, and many diseases we care for and medications we use can impact the body’s ability to sweat and cool. 
Heat has also led to drought, and extended fire seasons, with massive wildfires devastating North America, and the resultant plumes impacting air quality across the US and stretching across the Atlantic to reach parts of Europe. These plumes of smoke harm not just the lungs, but the skin as well, with evidence linking wildfire smoke and small particle pollution to flares of skin disease ranging from atopic dermatitis to psoriasis to autoimmune skin diseases like lupus and pemphigus. 

Climate change is leading to ecological impacts and changing habitats for vector-borne illness, with ticks and mosquitos bringing old diseases to new areas, expanding the territory for illnesses like Lyme, dengue, leishmaniasis, and more.

The field of medicine has recognized the health impacts of climate change, with the New England Journal, Lancet, and over 230 leading journals co-publishing “Call for emergency action to limit global temperature increases, restore biodiversity, and protect health.” This message has been echoed in the dermatology literature with a number of ‘calls to action,’ and a growing body of evidence linking climate impacts to skin health. 

The American Academy of Dermatology has a strong position statement on Climate and Health – and the AAD, EADV, and other dermatologic societies have an opportunity to follow the science and enact meaningful, impactful change to limit our fields’ negative impacts on the climate, incorporating sustainable practices to deliver the same high-quality care to our patients, while minimizing negative impacts to the environment and helping overall public health.  

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