Different types of environmental factors can have their own effects on the skin. For example, chemicals such as oil and tar can clog your pores and cause acne or folliculitis. Other materials can cause tissue to break down or fluids to build up in the skin. They can also lead to bacterial infections, burns, hair loss and changes in pigmentation -- meaning the color of the skin becomes lighter or darker [source: Suskind]. Exposure to building materials such insulation, formaldehyde and aerosols can cause irritation and dry skin [source: Rea].
As for physical factors, heat, cold, and the sun can all cause their own damage if you're not careful. For example, if you can't take the heat, you might want to avoid it. Skin exposure in hot, humid climates can cause irritation. If you sweat, that perspiration could become trapped in your skin and lead to blisters or heat rash. On other end of the thermometer, cold combined with low humidity can cause dry skin, dandruff, irritation and even frostbite [source: Suskind].
The sun causes 90 percent of skin damage, which often worsens with age [source: Poirot]. The body needs sunlight to produce vitamin D for strong bones and teeth, but when ultraviolet rays meet unprotected skin, they can cause hyperpigmentation, sunburn, wrinkles, freckles, age spots and skin cancer [source: WebMD].
If playing with your pet leaves you with a rash, or you break out if you so much as get near a strawberry, you know all too well the effects that allergens can have on your skin. Biological factors such as chemicals, foods, bug bites, mold, and pet dander can cause allergic reactions that might include hives, swelling, drying and irritation [source: WebMD].
If you find that environmental factors are wreaking havoc on your skin, you should try to avoid the irritants, even though it's not always possible. You can also take preventive steps to protect your skin, such as wearing gloves and protective clothing when dealing with chemicals or other irritants on the job, and you can apply sunscreen daily. Be sure to see a doctor if a skin condition doesn't go away or continues to get worse.
To learn more about how the environment can affect your skin, take a look at the links below.
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- Casey, John. "Beat the Itch of Winter Skin." WebMD. March 6, 2009. (Accessed Sept. 19, 2009)http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/features/beat-itch-winter-skin
- Freeman, David. "Mold Allergy Self-Defense." WebMD. July 24, 2009. (Accessed Sept. 19, 2009)http://www.webmd.com/allergies/relief-for-allergies-8/mold-allergies-allergy
- Kravitz, Robert. "Preventing Occupational Skin Diseases." Occupational Health and Safety. April 1, 2009. (Accessed Oct. 21, 2009)http://ohsonline.com/articles/2009/04/01/preventing-occupational-skin-diseases.aspx
- Mayo Clinic. "Allergies." Jan.30, 2009. (Accessed Sept. 19, 2009)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/allergies/DS01118
- National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. "Acne." National Institutes of Health. January 2006. (Accessed Sept. 19, 2009)http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Acne/default.asp
- Peate, W. F. "Occupational Skin Disease." American Family Physician. Sept. 15, 2002. (Accessed Oct. 6, 2009)http://www.aafp.org/afp/20020915/1025.html
- Poirot, Lissa. "A Wrinkle in Time: Preventing Damage to Aging Skin." WebMD. Feb. 18, 2009. (Accessed Sept. 19, 2009)http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/features/how-life-affects-aging-skin?page=2
- Rea, Caroline. "Environmental Illness -- Toxins in Our Environment." WebMD. Nov. 1, 2007. (Accessed Sept. 19, 2009)http://www.webmd.com/allergies/tc/environmental-illness-toxins-in-our-environment
- Suskind, Raymond R. "Environment and the Skin." Environmental Health Perspectives. Vol. 20, pp. 27-37. 1977. (Accessed Sept. 19, 2009)http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/picrender.fcgi?artid=1637330&blobtype=pdf
- WebMD. "Cosmetic Procedures: Sun Exposure and Skin Cancer." April 1, 2005. (Accessed Sept. 19, 2009)http://www.webmd.com/skin-beauty/guide/sun-exposure-skin-cancer
- WebMD. "Understanding Allergies - the Basics." Nov. 10, 2008. (Accessed Sept. 19, 2009)http://www.webmd.com/allergies/understanding-allergies-basics
- Yung, Anthony. "The Structure of Normal Skin." New Zealand Dermatological Society. June 15, 2009. (Accessed Oct. 6, 2009)http://dermnetnz.org/pathology/skin-structure.html