Recent research published in Dermatology and Therapy examined the effects of air pollution in relation to skin health. According to the authors, in 2023, wildfires in the Canadian province of Quebec spread air pollution across the northeastern U.S. This aggravated health conditions and coincided with a rise in skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis (AD).
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Carbon monoxide levels measured by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the Boston area after the Canadian wildfires were collected by the authors from the U.S. EPA Outdoor Air Quality webpage. In addition, patient records of dermatology clinic visits for dermatitis and eczema at the Mass General Brigham hospital system, 300 miles from the wildfires, were examined. This data was compared with data from the corresponding months in 2019-2022 for historical control.
The researchers identified a notable rise in carbon monoxide (CO) levels, which correlated with a spike in AD, dermatitis and eczema-related dermatology clinic visits. They concluded that air pollution, exacerbated by wildfires, could damage the skin through the smoke as well as the chemicals used to extinguish the fires, which contain potential allergens and irritants to the skin, such as CO, particulate matter (PM2.5), and ammonium phosphates.
MedicalXpress noted that while airborne particulate matter (PM) is more commonly assessed in studies of air pollution, and while PM was also higher in Boston during the increases dermatitis-related clinic visits, that the authors examined carbon monoxide due to its atmospheric longevity and usefulness to track downstream air pollution during wildfires.
Mass General highlighted the authors emphasized this study is retrospective and that correlation does not prove causation. More research will be needed to explore the connections between air pollution and skin problems.
In the meantime, in the case of recurring conditions, dermatologist Shadi Kourosh, M.D., a co-author on the study, advised consumers during a National Public Radio interview to not only stay indoors if possible and close windows, but also to wear protective clothing and sunglasses outside, and to apply mineral sunscreens to provide a physical layer of protection and prevent air pollution from coming into contact with skin.