It was crystallized last month that climate change is a major issue. We experienced the most intense wildfire season in history this past month. There are plenty more where those came from according to a recent UN report. We are walking evidence in this case, so this is bad news.
Dermatologist and Mohs surgeon Dendy Engelman, MD, is concerned about how climate change may be affecting skin cancer rates. A report from the American Academy of Dermatology found that between 2000 and 2010, basal cell carcinomas increased 145 percent and squamous cell carcinomas soared by 263 percent. Melanoma, the most lethal form of skin cancer, has increased threefold over the past four decades, according to the National Cancer Institute. Awareness and screening are certainly contributing factors to those numbers, but the role of climate in them cannot be overstated.
1. Ozone protection has been lost
Ozone is Earth’s equivalent of SPF, forming an integral part of its stratosphere and acting as its ultimate shield. According to Dr. Engelman, it absorbs UV radiation, preventing other carcinogens from reaching our bodies as well. By emitting greenhouse gases over the decades, we have depleted it by five to six percent, according to the EPA. It results in more “UV radiation reaching our skin,” says Dr. Engelman. Research shows that a one percent reduction in the ozone layer increases the incidence of melanoma by 1 to 2 percent when compared with a 0.5% reduction.
A landmark 1987 global agreement that banned ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons led to a slowdown in ozone depletion, and a new global agreement extends to hydrofluorocarbons, another potent greenhouse gas. Despite this, scientists say levels will probably never return to those of the 1970s.
2. The temperature is rising (quite a bit)
How was your recent outdoor experience? That’s not pleasant at all. OptiSkin in NYC dermatologist, Orit Markowitz, MD, says that warmer weather is becoming more prevalent, and summers are getting longer. In the last century, NASA estimates that global temperatures increased by a little over 2°F. It is primarily caused by greenhouse gases trapped in the atmosphere. Moreover, high temperatures increase the intensity of UV rays, says Engelman, as “studies have shown that the deadly effects of UV radiation are stronger at higher temperatures.” Models predict that 3.6°F of ambient temperature increase could increase skin cancer incidence by 11 percent globally by 2050.
It’s not just the heat that causes skin cancer, though-it’s how we act in the heat that can lead to it. Studies have found that temperatures over 72°F more than triple sunburn risk, a type of damage closely associated with the development of skin cancer. In warmer months, people tend to spend more time outdoors without wearing protective clothing.
3. The air is polluted more
As a result of widespread fires, the last two years, land area burned by wildfires has been more than doubling that of 1985 to 1999. It was obvious to all that smoke from the fires this summer covered the country, something that we usually aren’t able to see.
In addition to hazardous components commonly found in air pollution, smoke also contains chemicals such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, particulate matter such as black carbon, and gases such as volatile organic compounds. Particulate matter, for example, has risen by 20 percent in the past two decades-and the use of these substances is linked to skin cancer.
Where do we go from here?
So, to protect ourselves against skin cancer, seek shade and wear sunscreen. UV rays are stronger than in previous generations, so you’ll have to be more proactive. According to Dr. Markowitz, mineral blocks protect the skin immediately, and they are more environmentally friendly, too, which, as we now know, is actually vital to mitigating skin cancer rates. It’s best for the planet if you use the product you already have. (We’re not recommending any products here.)
Do you have any skin care advice that you would like to share? Do something—anything—to enact change on a personal and global level. Consider candidates who will use policy to protect the little ball we call earth that we call home. Consider reducing your carbon footprint in all possible ways. Commute by bike instead of a car, or install solar panels. (As we said before: every little change will make a difference.)
Diligent SPF is good. To paraphrase Dr. Engelman, “we need to make more sustainable choices now rather than wait until the world around us changes.”. Do we SPF and take action against climate change in a diligent manner? The situation has greatly improved.
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