Caring for Skin After Wildfire Smoke Exposure and Irritation

As West Hollywood-based dermatologist Jason Emer says: “In the short term, the smoke can clog your pores due to soot and ash particles [which can lead] to acne outbreaks, blemishes, blackheads and increased oil production.”

There’s more bad news. If you have sensitive skin or issues such as rosacea, you may be even more likely to notice a reaction. “Any pre-existing skin condition would also be likely to flare up from added irritation and inflammation,” notes Jennifer MacGregor, a dermatologist at Union Square Dermatology in New York.

Flora Kim, a dermatologist in Dallas, agrees, saying that exposure can “exacerbate dryness and other skin conditions such as eczema, atopic dermatitis, [and] psoriasis.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to sweat (and it’s not just because my apartment morphed into a sauna this week). Let’s move on to solutions.

Protecting your skin from smoke

The experts agree that the best way to protect your skin from wildfire smoke is to stay indoors as much as possible. And while you’re stuck inside, Chang suggests using an air purifier to battle any smoke that makes its way indoors.

And if you must go outdoors? Both Chang and MacGregor caution you to cover up your skin as much as possible, such as with long sleeves and a mask (which you should be used to wearing anyway).

In addition to covering up, it’s also more important than ever to rely on sunscreen. Just because you can’t see the sun’s rays through the smoke doesn’t mean you’re safe from them.

Kim explains the importance of using sunscreen to battle smoke damage: “It is interesting to note that studies are showing synergy, and thus amplification of damage, when air pollution is combined with sunlight — specifically UVA rays.”

When choosing a sunscreen, Kim suggests going for a mineral option with a high absorption of UVA rays: “Wide selection of UVA filter ingredients are unfortunately limited in the USA so choose those with physical sunscreens and high concentration of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide — think double-digit percentages.” We’ve rounded up a selection of sunscreens that fit that bill right here.

Caring for smoke-damaged skin

Sometimes exposure to wildfire smoke is unavoidable. Whether you’ve suffered prolonged exposure or simply had to walk the dog around the block, there are several steps you can take to help your skin recover — starting from the second you walk inside.

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