LAKE GEORGE, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The sky was soupy and grey in the North Country on Tuesday – for reasons far to the west. Wildfires that first started in Alberta, Canada, have now spread as far east as Quebec – and prompted an air quality health advisory for many parts of New York.
In the North Country, residual smoke from those fires are casting a haze on views of the Adirondack mountains – and over water bodies like Lake George. With Memorial Day in the past, the early weeks of summer are here. If you’re keeping an eye on those smoky skies, you may well be wondering: is it safe to leave the hotel and hit the beach?
“There’s an increase in wildfires, but not a lot of research into the effects on skin,” said New York-based dermatologist Dr. Fayne Frey, who specializes in skin cancer diagnosis and treatments. “We do know that wildfire smoke can trigger respiratory and cardiovascular impact, but the danger of smoke exposure to skin is a fairly new concern.”
Some of the most recent data on the subject comes out of the 2018 Camp Fire wildfire in northern California. Started by a faulty transmission line, the Camp Fire would eventually spread across 153,336 acres, destroying nearly 19,000 buildings, and killing 85 people. It also left an impact on thousands more lives.
A 2021 study by the University of California, San Francisco, compared the rates of patients visiting health clinics in the San Francisco Bay Area after the fire to those in 2015 and 2016. What they found was a notable increase of patients with itching and other dermatological concerns among data from after Camp Fire.
Come of those patients had pre-existing skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis. The study found an increase of eczema flare-ups as high as 50% among children. Meanwhile, the number of adults with itching and no history of any such skin condition rose by as much as 90% following the fire.
Data in the study weren’t all from near the fire’s origin in California’s Butte County. Changes were seen as far as 175 miles away from where the fire was actively burning. For comparison, Lake George is over 450 miles from parts of Quebec that were actively burning as of Tuesday, north of Montreal.
Unless advised otherwise by officials, those who want to enjoy a day at the beach at places like Lake George can still pull it off – but there are ways to be smart about it. Dr. Frey recommends moisturizing for anyone with eczema, a condition that causes dry skin and reduces the effectiveness of its natural barrier against fungus and bacteria. The better that barrier is cared for, the safer beachgoers will be.
“If you’re going to go for a long car ride, you want to make sure your tires are maintained for the ride. If you have eczema. It’s the same for your skin,” Dr. Frey said.
Ultimately, the same is true even if you don’t have an existing skin condition. Humid air means moisturizing isn’t always needed during the summer. Dr. Frey recommends using waterproof sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher, even if the sun isn’t directly visible – like it isn’t when obscured by a haze of smoke. It can also help to avoid the midday sun at its brightest and highest, opting for outdoor picnics and swims in the afternoon. Long-sleeved clothing shields skin, and UPF options are designed to keep sunburn away while swimming.
Meanwhile, the effects of smoke exposure go beyond the skin, including respiratory dangers, especially for immunocompromised individuals and seniors. The DEC announced an air quality health advisory to go into effect as of Wednesday in various parts of New York, including New York City, Central and Western New York. The North Country was not included in the advisory,
Frey is the author of “The Skincare Haox,” a book on skincare products like lotions and wrinkle cream. On Wednesday, she will visit the Caldwell-Lake George Library at 6:30 p.m. to give a talk on the book, as well as her career.