Global leaders and activists descended upon NYC recently to discuss the implications of climate change on our society. The meeting quickly went viral.
While arguably there is much to be done at a global scale to counteract climate change, the healthcare industry has already taken action to help patients prepare for and adapt to the changes in our environment.
Our skin is our largest organ and among the many roles the skin plays, the shield it represents to protect us is one of the most important ones. It is the line of first defense, it is the barrier to natural and not-so natural insults, it is the way we interact with the elements and it is through which each individual physically touches each and everything around us.
First, as a shield, the skin protects us from the elements. Heat, cold, wind, dirt and light would do tremendous harm to our internal organs, should the skin fail to do its job. Probably everybody has experienced how a slight increase or decrease in our body temperature impacts us. Imagine if the skin were not there or it were so thin that it would not help insulate us. Living as we know would be unviable.
The skin also protects us from harmful bacteria, pollution and toxins. Without it, our internal organs would be in immediate contact with the outside world, suffering all kinds of insult and injury. Our skin serves a heroic purpose and it is the first to “take one for the team.”
With climate change a reality we must face, our skin is more important than ever as a protective barrier from harmful UV rays, unpredictable weather patterns and increasing temperatures across the globe.
What needs rise:
Sun protection: effective, safe and environmentally conscious sun protectors exist, but technology can continue improving on it. It is not enough to protect the skin from UV-B, but it becomes even more important to protect it also from UV-A.
Sun damage repair: outdoor living is fun and we cannot all live a life away from the sun, so sun-damaged reversal is also a necessity. With repeated exposure to the sun over the long term, our skin loses its laxity, its ability to regenerate, it dries out, it thins-out and it wrinkles up. Our cells become damaged and their ability to produce the basic ingredients that it needs to stay healthy, to feed the internal system and to protect us from bacteria and viruses diminishes. Tools and solutions to reverse the damage, to complement or to nourish the skin from outside become necessary. Some technologies based on dermal fillers, enzymes, botulinum toxin, collagen-stimulators and lasers already exist. Science and technology around them continue to evolve and we are at the brink of major innovation in each one of these segments. Gene editing, gene repair and mRNA-based direct protein expression technologies will emerge and restore some or all of that damage.
We will also enhance our natural ability to protect ourselves or to cope with the elements. Clothes and hats were probably the first technology we used to enhance our protection mechanism. Will we develop other solutions? Will we grow fur or an outer skin layer that increases our resistance to the elements? Will we produce some protein that increases our ability to resist the insults? Isn’t the regular use of fillers, muscle relaxants and a regimen of creams, gels and nutrients the beginning of skin enhancement?
Perspiration control: To cope with temperature changes, we will need to think this through very well. The natural consequence of higher temperatures will be excessive sweating. An emergence of excessive sweating controls is already emerging. But will they suffice, probably not. Better solutions are required.
This is not the place to discuss what to do about the climate change or the environment. For those of us that work on innovation for skin health, technology and science are there to work on ourselves to help the skin cope with the impact that the weather has and will continue to have on skin. The point here is that climate change, combined with global demographic aging, will increase or at least change the challenges for our skin to cope. The need to establish healthy behaviors and protect our skin throughout our lives, before it ever becomes sick, is more critical today than ever before.
Humberto Antunes, Partner