How Is Your Skin Affected by Pesticides?


Each year, more than 1.1 billion pounds of pesticides are used in the United States—a five-fold increase over what was used in 1945. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that over 70 million households use pesticides as well to control bugs in the garden, flower bed, and indoor spaces.

We already know that these pesticides are linked to health problems, including childhood developmental problems, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), asthma, blood cancers, and even obesity. But how might these pesticides affect the skin?

We decided to find out.

Pesticides present specific dangers to skin—so they’re best avoided whenever possible.

Skin Cancer

By far the most scientific study on pesticides and the skin has focused on skin cancer. Here are some of the findings:

  • 2010: Workers who apply certain types of pesticides to farm fields are almost twice as likely to develop melanoma, a deadly form a skin cancer. Four of the pesticides are commonly used on crops like nuts, vegetables and fruits. The researchers concluded that the study results showed that sun exposure isn’t the only possible cause of skin cancer, and that pesticides may also increase risk.
  • 2007: Another study found that cases of melanoma were higher in homes where people had used “pyrethroids,” which is an insecticide used in ant and roach sprays, or carbamates, which are present in many lawn and garden pesticides.
  • 1987: Early research from Swedish researchers indicate that pesticides may have increased incidences of skin cancers in vine-growers.

We need more research before we can completely understand how pesticide exposure translates to skin cancer risk. Right now, we know there is a potential danger. According to Cornell University, wet, dry, and gaseous pesticides can be absorbed through the skin. Exposure can occur if any of the pesticide gets on your skin, but also if it gets on your clothes and then on your skin, particularly if the clothes aren’t washed well afterwards. Damaged or open skin is especially vulnerable.

Other Possible Effects

In addition to increasing risk of skin cancer, pesticides may also affect the skin in the following ways:

  • Skin irritation and burning: Look on most any label for pesticides and you’ll see a warning related to skin irritation and burning.
  • Inflammation: Pesticides can increase risk of skin inflammation, and cause skin to get red and swell up as the body fights off the foreign invaders.
  • Allergic rashes: Pesticides can cause red, rashy reactions on the skin, particularly if you’re allergic to them.

Whenever you can, choose green options for controlling pests in your house and in your garden areas. Remember that cedar oil is a very effective natural solution for both—just put in a spray bottle with water and apply to areas where you want to kill and repel pests.

Note: Hawaii Leading the Way with New Bill

We’re excited to hear about a new bill recently passed in Kauai, Hawaii, that will require the world’s largest agrochemical-GMO corporations to disclose when and where they’re using highly dangerous pesticides. The bill passed on November 16, 2013, and is intended to help curb the widespread pesticide use by companies testing new genetically modified crops on the island. Read more on Huffington Post and Reuters.

Do you avoid pesticides? Please share your thoughts on this article.

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Kresge-supported report traces increased prevalence of pesticides, children’s health problems,” The Kresge Foundation, January 29, 2013,’s-health-problems.

Gordon Shetler, “Farm pesticides linked to deadly skin cancer,” Environmental Health News, March 31, 2010,

“Toxicity of Pesticides,” Cornell University,

Emily Main, “New Study Links Pesticides to Skin Cancer,” Rodale News, April 6, 2010,

Olav Axelson, “Pesticides and Cancer Risks in Agriculture,” Med. Oncol. & Tumor Pharmacother. Vol. 4, No. 3/4, pp.207-217,

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