8. September 2021
Forest fires can lead to increased itching and atopic dermatitis  

Smoke from forest fires damages not only the lungs and respiratory tract, but also the skin. As a result, atopic dermatitis and itching disorders are on the rise.


Forest fires are still raging in the Mediterranean region – in Italy, on the eastern Adriatic coast, in Greece and in Turkey. Certain regions are seeing the worst fires in over ten years. At the same time, some of these regions are currently advertising bargain prices for tourists.
So if you plan to travel to there, you should also consider the air quality in these regions.


It is known that smoke from fires can lead to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. But it also leaves traces on the skin. A new study from California compared dermatologist visits at a university hospital during the California wildfires in 2018 to visits during normal years in 2015 and 2016.


More people visited a dermatologist during periods with forest fires

The study revealed that during periods with forest fires, significantly more people experienced skin irritations due to atopic dermatitis. Nearly 50 per cent more children presented to the clinic, and at least 15 per cent more adults. Itching brought even more people to the clinic: 82 per cent more children and 29 per cent more adults visited the dermatologist.

“Eighty-nine per cent of the patients who came to us for itching did not have atopic dermatitis, which is why we suspect that the pollutants also damage healthy skin – even if exposure to smoke is only very brief”, says study leader Maria Wei, dermatologist at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

Furthermore, smoke also affects the skin in people who are not directly located in the forest fire area. The USCF Dermatology Clinic is located about 200 kilometres from the wildfire source.


What should we do?

Dermatologists at UCSF recommend the following in the event of forest fires in the surrounding area: Stay indoors. If you must go outside, you should first put on clothing that covers as much skin area as possible. Secondly, a skin care product containing emollients should be applied in order to strengthen the skin’s barrier function. Emollients are basic creams that contain no active ingredients or none that are pharmacologically active.


Given the likelihood that more forest fires will occur in future, there will also be a corresponding rise in skin damage as a result. The increased air temperature and stronger UV radiation due to climate change are also stressful for the skin. “Atopic dermatitis and other skin diseases will therefore increase significantly in the coming years”, says health scientist Kenneth Kizer in his commentary on the study.




Fadadu RP. Association of Wildfire Air Pollution and Health Care Use for Atopic Dermatitis and Itch. JAMA Dermatol. 2021;157(6):658-66.


Fernandez E. First of Its Kind Study Links Wildfire Smoke to Skin Disease. Press release of the University of San Francisco (UCSF) from 21 April 2021