Why a Dermatologist Celebrates Earth Day

April 22 is Earth Day! If you’re wondering why a dermatologist celebrates Earth Day, or what the Earth has to do with skin…the answer is:


The Earth is the source of virtually everything we enjoy in this lifetime: from the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat, to all the manmade products we enjoy. The rare earth minerals that enable our devices, the materials that clothe, house, and transport us, and the fuels that deliver goods and services to us—all have their source on planet Earth.

So, as a resident of Earth, it is important for me to acknowledge and be grateful for all that the planet gives me. And from a medical perspective, there are even more reasons to celebrate Earth Day:

After all, what is the first pillar of Modern Wellness?

Eat your water!

The saying “Water is life” is literally true. Our bodies are up to 75% water and a water-rich diet is essential for maintaining cellular function, temperature regulation, and waste removal. A water-rich diet is also vital for the care of our skin. Fresh fruits and vegetables, embryonic foods like eggs, seeds, and nuts, and whole grains are richer in water than processed foods and also contain other essential nutrients your body needs.

The second pillar of Modern Wellness is: Awaken your body!

And no place calls us to do that more than the Great Outdoors, where we can walk, bike, hike, surf, ski, rollerblade, and play sports like tennis, soccer, baseball, football, golf, and hockey. Research shows that people who exercise outdoors have lower Body Mass Index (BMI) and rates of depression than those who don’t. That may be because so many of the activities we enjoy outdoors are fun, so we are more likely to do them consistently. Many of them we can also enjoy with others, which increases their pleasurability. The last year of Covid-19 lockdown has made many of us more excited than ever before to get back outdoors. Indeed, last year’s restrictions resulted in record numbers of participants in activities like running, bicycling, day-hiking, bird-watching and camping, according to data collected by the Outdoor Industry Association.

If that weren’t enough reason to appreciate the gifts of nature on Earth Day, the third pillar of Modern Wellness is Nourish your skin. Skin is your body’s largest organ and literally the “first line of defense” between you and the world outside and the “last line of defense” for keeping your body hydrated. All of the strategies for nourishing your skin come from the Earth: from the foods you eat to the products you apply to cleanse, moisturize, and protect your skin, whether plant- or laboratory-based.

And finally, the fourth pillar of Modern Wellness is to Be kind to your mind! This is a shorthand way of reminding you of the importance of managing stress—particularly the constant, pervasive, 24-hour stress of modern living that I call “Cultural Stress.”

Research shows that spending time in nature is a key stress-reducing strategy. Watching the sunset, walking on the beach, in a park, or through the woods, or simply sitting beside a lake or stream benefits heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, mood, cognitive ability, concentration, memory, and creativity, while reducing the stress hormone cortisol. All of these benefits, in turn, boost the strength of our immune system.

There are several explanations for these results: the beauty and expansiveness of nature can get us “out of our heads” and put our problems in perspective. Time spent in nature reminds us that the world is far bigger and more amazing than the thoughts that tend to repeat themselves endlessly inside our heads.

Being outside also boosts our body’s absorption of vitamin D (just be sure to wear sunscreen to protect yourself from UV radiation). Vitamin D is crucial for immune health because one of its many functions is to activate T-cells. Those are the cells that detect and destroy foreign pathogens–like viruses.

There’s another reason why time spent in nature just feels so good:

Natural settings tend to be rich in negative ions—electrically charged ions—which have a noticeably positive effect on our mood and functioning. Research suggests that negative ions:

  • Can reduce symptoms of depression
  • Invigorate some body systems and improve cognitive performance
  • Promote antimicrobial activity

Negative ions are found wherever water collides with itself, such as near waterfalls, seashores, or running over stones in brooks and streams. They are also generated by discharges of electricity into the air, such as during a lightning storm; and as part of the normal growth process for many plants. So, if you feel renewed and invigorated after a day at the beach or a walk in the forest or a hike to a waterfall—there’s a biochemical explanation for it. Thank you, planet Earth!

Obviously, human beings evolved in natural settings. The concentration of humans, concrete, steel, and noise that characterizes modern urban living environments can be stressful simply because our biology has not fully adapted to this type of living situation. Time spent in nature gives us a chance to “re-set” and re-boot. Nature, quite literally, heals.

Like many of us who have spent a year in lockdown, I’m especially happy to celebrate Earth Day this year. It’s a major part of #ModernWellness and #ConqueringCulturalStress!


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