What Does Your Skin Have to Do With the Climate Crisis?
Look, we know that skincare products can only do so much. Good skin transcends the physical level. The old adage of “inner beauty”, doesn’t just mean you’re a kind person and good tipper. Even healthy habits like sleeping well, eating a diverse diet, with active exercise can only go so far when there’s underlying anxiety, depression and social isolation infiltrating our world today.
So why should we care about the climate crisis? Well first, the climate crisis is making us break out. You might think it was that sugary dessert you ate or that high-stress period at work and everything should clear up in a few days. Though that sugary dessert is directly correlated to the systems of hyper-consumerism and capitalism where companies value profit over the health of Americans. The U.S. consumes the most sugar of any country in the world. Consuming 126.4 grams of sugar daily, that’s more than 10x the lowest recommendation by doctors. And people make money off it at every level of the system. A high-stress period at work can be viewed as internalized capitalism and fosters the belief that freedom comes from working harder and more. And the cycle continues.
Our self-confidence is intimately connected to our complexion. Our complexion is intimately connected to the state of nature. The same systems exploiting nature, are exploiting humanity and our mental health and thus causing breakouts, adult acne, and increased skin conditions.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the rates of acne in adults are increasing over time, affecting up to 15% of women. There’s also this study in The British Journal of Dermatology establishing the link between acne and depression that deemed the importance of a mental-health screening in acne patients "critical." There is also the relatively new field of psychodermatology these days, a field that researches the boundary between psychiatry and dermatology by addressing the interaction between mind and skin.
So we know that our skin is directly correlated with mental health. And a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published in February last year revealed that rapidly increasing climate change poses a rising threat to mental health and psychosocial well-being; from emotional distress to anxiety, depression, grief, and suicidal behavior. Then we understand how intimately connected our skin conditions are tied to the climate crisis at large.
Our skin acts as a mirror of our internal state of equilibrium that is increasingly becoming disconnected fueled by these systems. The systems of capitalism, colonialism, imperialism, hyper consumerism are also the same systems that cause wars, intergenerational trauma, wealth and racial inequalities.
But I’m just one person, what difference can I make with something as broad as the climate crisis? Well first, it’s important to understand that there’s a reason we feel disempowered in the movement. In fact, these same systems aforementioned strategically try to take away our power by redirecting the blame onto us. It was BP Oil who originally started using the “personal carbon footprint calculator” in 2004 as a marketing tool to greenwash away its gigantic fossil-fuel destruction around the world.
So the first step is to reclaim our autonomy, agency and power in this movement. Data shows that it doesn’t take much to galvanize change during societal movements. A Harvard study by Erica Chenoweth demonstrates that we actually only need 3.5% of a population doing nonviolent civil disobedience to catalyze social change. Chenoweth studied movements such as the Philippines People Power Movement, the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and found that this small percentage can shift society at large.
We all have a role to play in the climate movement because it impacts us all. Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, a marine biologist and climate policy expert, shares how to identify this role by drawing a climate action venn diagram asking these three questions: what brings you joy, what work needs doing, and what are you good at? The intersection answers of all three questions can lead you to your role for the climate movement at large.
We can also look towards the guidance from Indigenous communities, as they have lived in symbiosis with nature for thousands of years. In fact, Indigenous People have their own version of a Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs chart, the First Nations Perspective, where they have an inverted pyramid on top of the original pyramid. Sharing that self-actualization isn’t the last step, self-actualization needs to be reached so we can then all contribute to community actualization. When we self-actualize, we use that wisdom to give back to our shared communities for collective well-being.
When we combat the climate crisis, we are bringing humanity back to equilibrium, to symbiosis with ourselves and nature. To combat the climate crisis is healing, to combat the climate crisis is bringing us back to true freedom. It is our birthright to have clean air, clean water and an environment that encourages stable mental health. Wait, you’re telling me combatting the climate crisis will help us all have better complexions? Ultimately, yes. Thus, happy earth day, every day.