According to the National Interagency Fire Center, as of July 27, 2018, one-hundred large fires had burned about 1.7 million acres across the U.S.
The Insurance Information Institute (III) states that the Carr fire, which broke out on July 23, 2018, in California, is the 6th most destructive fire in the state’s history and was still not contained as of August 6th. The Mendocino Complex fire broke out on July 27th in Northern California and grew to be the largest fire in the state’s history with over 283,000 acres burned.
The National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) states that in 2016, there were 1,342,000 fires reported in the U.S. They caused 3,390 civilian deaths, 14,650 civilian injuries, and $10.6 billion in property damage.
It sure seems like our country is burning up right now. Whether you’re dealing with wildfires in your area or just super hot temperatures, you may be feeling a little wilted. Your skin, too, is likely showing some of the effects.
How Wildfire Smoke Affects the Skin
Unfortunately, smoke from wildfires can negatively affect your skin. Just like air pollution can damage it over the long term (read our post, “How to Protect Your Skin from the Damaging Effects of Pollution”), so too can smoke particles in the air settle on your skin and lead to signs of premature aging.
You wouldn’t think that skin would absorb much of that smoke, but think again. You may already know that barbecuing produces large amounts of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs. These can cause respiratory problems and DNA mutations.
In an interesting 2018 study, researchers reported that the skin was the second-highest “exposure route” for PAHs, before even inhalation. Bystanders at the barbecue took in the most PAHs when they ate the barbecued food, but even those who didn’t eat the food tested positive for PAHs (in urine tests). Scientists found that “dermal intake”—through the skin—was greater than intake from inhalation (breathing in the smoke).
That means your skin can absorb damaging particles from smoke. Below are some of the ways smoke can be harmful:
- Clogs pores: As the residue from the smoke and the fires settles on your skin, it can clog your pores and lead to an increase in acne breakouts.
- Damages collagen: As the smoke and ash settles on skin, it brings other particles with it that can damage collagen, increasing risk of fine lines and wrinkles.
- Dries skin: Smoke dries out the air, which in turn, dries out the skin. Skin may appear more dull or ashy, and may itch.
- Encourage inflammation: Smoke increases inflammation, which can lead to increased acne breakouts, rosacea and eczema flare-ups, and other conditions that exacerbate redness.
How Excess Heat Affects Skin
Even if you don’t have fires in your area, you may still be feeling the affects of high heat and humidity. Whereas humidity can be good for skin at times, as it provides moisture and can help reduce the appearance of fine line and wrinkles, when you combine it with high heat, you lose that benefit. High temperatures allow more moisture to escape from the skin through sweat, which can actually leave you dryer.
If that sweat mixes with dirt and bacteria, it can increase risk of acne breakouts. The heat itself can cause oil-creating glands in the skin to create even more oil, again increasing the number of pimples showing up on your face, say nothing of that undesirable oily shine. Taking a dip in the pool may feel good, but the chlorine can strip your skin of natural oils and leave you dry.
For some sensitive types, the heat may increase risk of heat rash, that irritating, itchy redness that bugs you all day. The heat combined with the sweat and the dirt and dust can cause rashes to show up on the face, or on other areas of skin where clothes add friction.
How to Protect Your Skin from the Effects of High Temperatures
To keep your skin looking healthy in the hot, humid weather, try these tips:
- Stay clean: Washing away the dirt and dust can help you avoid acne breakouts and heat rashes. Particularly if you’re sweating a lot, it may help to jump in the shower more than once a day, just to rinse off.
- Refresh: Use our Rescue + Relief Spray during the day to give skin a hydrating boost. Store in the refrigerator to make it cool.
- Stay hydrated: Make sure you’re drinking enough water throughout the day. Heat and sweat deprives your body of water, so you need to replenish it more often.
- Moisturize dry spots: If your lips are suffering from the effects of the weather, try our Restorative Skin Balm to help protect and soothe.
- Cleanse on the go: If your skin is acne-prone, take your cleanser along with you and grab a quick wash when needed. Make sure you take your regular moisturizer too, and apply immediately after washing, to avoid overdrying skin and causing a rebound effect.
How to Protect Your Skin from Wildfire Smoke
The good news is that there is a lot you can do to protect your skin so that it’s less likely to notice all that smoke in the air. Try these 10 tips:
- Avoid it as much as possible. If you have fires raging near you, try to limit your exposure to the smoke. Stay indoors, and consider getting an air purifier to keep indoor air cleaner.
- Clean pores: If you’re outside and exposed to smoke, be sure to clean your skin well when you get back inside to rid your pores of the soot and ash particles. Use a gentle creamy cleanser to avoid overdrying the skin, and consider using a clay mask or other type of mask that will help draw out the impurities.
- Exfoliate more: If you’re noticing that your skin seems to be suffering, step up your exfoliation until the smoke begins to dissipate. This can help slough off that surface level of skin, and get rid of the particles sitting there. Avoid harsh scrubs as they can increase inflammation. Instead, use gentle fruit acids and a soft skin brush.
- Replenish moisture: When the smoke comes, your regular moisturizer may no longer be enough to restore moisture levels in the deep layers of skin. Smoke is drying, and can sap the moisture more quickly than usual. Consider using a hydrating mask, or you can apply a thick layer of our Calming Moisture on skin and leave on for 15 minutes or so before rinsing. Our Restorative Skin Balm also works great for chapped lips, dried cuticles, and extra dry areas like elbows and knees.
- Keep cool. Smoke and heat together can dry skin and make fine lines and wrinkles more noticeable. If you’re out in the sun and it’s a hazy day, take along our Rescue + Relief Spray and spritz every hour or so to douse your skin in hydration and cool it down. Make sure you’re drinking enough water while you’re out.
- Use clothes to protect. If the smoke is getting close to you and you have ash to deal with, wear hats, long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and socks to avoid skin contact as much as possible.
Are you dealing with the effects of wildfires in your area?
“National Fire News,” National Interagency Fire Center, https://www.nifc.gov/fireInfo/nfn.htm.“Fire in the United States,” NFPA, https://www.nfpa.org/News-and-Research/Fire-statistics-and-reports/Fire-statistics/Fires-in-the-US.Jia-Yong Lao, et al, “Importance of Dermal Absorption of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons Derived from Barbecue Fumes,” Environmental Science & Technology, 2018, https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.8b01689.