Skin Issues Of Farming Community Exposed To Agrochemicals And Harsh Natural Conditions

JEAS-Blog (2024.1)

Skin Issues of Farming Community: Exposure to Agrochemicals and Harsh Natural Conditions
Awais Ihsan
Department of Bioscience, COMSATS Institute of Technology, Sahiwal, Pakistan

1. Agrochemicals

Agrochemicals, pesticides, fertilizers, etc, were introduced aiming to enhance crop yields and protect crops from pests (insects, weeds, fungi, bacteria). Pesticide is a general term for a wide variety of products designed to control and manage pests (Hanson and Ritter, 2010). Due to adaptation and resistance developed by pests against agrochemicals, gradually higher amounts and new chemistry agrochemicals are used (Jayaprakas et al., 2022). The indiscriminate use of agrochemicals has undesired and adverse effects on the air, water, soil, non-target organisms, and human health, and also raises the costs of crop production (Elahi et al., 2019; Parween et al., 2016). Increasing agrochemical exposure is threatening human health. Annual affectees of Pesticide exposure include 200 million deaths and 3 million poisoned people across the globe (Tariq et al., 2007).

2. What is skin
Skin is the major (more than 10% of total body mass) component of human body, which is a very dynamic, but the complex organ, consisting of an outer epidermis and inner dermis serves as more than just a barrier. In addition to barrier protection skin is actively involved in the biotransformation of xenobiotics, immunological affector, sensation, tactile endocrine activity, thermal regulation, vitamin D synthesis, and water preservation (Anderson and Meade, 2014).

3. Agricultural Workers and Skin Issues

Agricultural workers and their families face skin health challenges due to occupational exposure to various agrochemicals, and natural factors further aggravate these issues. Agrochemicals, herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides, are widely used to improve not only the quantity of agricultural produce but also its quality (Waring et al., 2023).

The adverse effects of agrochemicals are more prevalent in low and middle-income countries for various regulatory, social, cultural, and occupational reasons. Major causes of increased exposure to agrochemicals include weak regulations, inadequate awareness regarding contamination risk, the predominant use of handheld backpack-style spraying equipment prone to leaking, lack of personal protective equipment and washing facilities, and low literacy about proper agrochemical application, storage, and exposure reduction techniques (Flynn et al., 2021).

Agrochemicals can enter the human body through multiple routes including absorption through the gastrointestinal tract (intake of food with agrochemical residues), dermal absorption, inhalation, etc. Once inside the body, agrochemicals can have various effects on human health, including potential disruptions to metabolic, hormonal, and neurological processes. The sprayer operators are among the most vulnerable especially during the preparation of liquid spray (dermal absorption) and its application in the field (dermal absorption, and inhalation), as they are in direct contact with the concentrated agrochemicals.

4. Skin Issues Commonly Faced by Farming Community

4.1. Agrochemical Associated Skin Issues in Farming Community

Farmworkers work in open working conditions, where, they are exposed to different skin irritants, harsh climates, fertilizers, and pesticides, leading to various skin issues. Pesticides, fertilizers and other agrochemicals contain a range of chemicals that can cause direct irritation and allergic reactions on the skin. Common symptoms include redness, itching, burning, blistering, and even chemical burns. Long-term exposure to agrochemicals can lead to chronic skin conditions like eczema, dermatitis, and even skin cancer. Improper handling and protective measures exacerbate these risks, especially for mixing, spraying, and applying.

Following are common skin problems associated with exposure to agrochemicals. 

a. Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis or contact eczema is an eczematous local inflammatory skin reaction caused by direct and usually repeated exposures, to chemicals or physical factors, depending on the contact location (Schütte et al., 2023; Li and Li, 2021). It is a common skin issue for farmers. Pesticides can harm the skin health of farmers. The prevalence of contact dermatitis in agricultural workers is well documented in different regions of the world, as described below.

  • Pesticide induced Contact dermatitis and facial contact dermatitis are common in China (Wang et al., 2022)
  • Fruit and vegetable farmers in India have a prevalence of 26.7% contact dermatitis and the suspected allergens are Captan and Propargite (Sharma et al., 2018).
  • More than 41% of Indonesian local vegetable farmers experienced occupational skin diseases, mainly due to pesticide exposure (Febriana et al., 2023).
  • In Panama, banana plantation workers have a chance of 41%, and suspected irritants are Carbaryl and Ethoprophos (Panagos et al., 2004).
  • In Taiwan, fruit farmers have a chance of 40%, and the irritants are Captan, Captofol, and Folpet (Guo et al., 1996).
  • In California, orange pickers have a prevalence of 58% contact dermatitis, and the causing irritant is Omite-CR (Saunders et al., 1987).

b. Tinea or dermatophytosis

Tinea or dermatophytosis is a skin condition also called superficial mycosis, caused by a group of filamentous fungi (dermatophytes). Based on its transmission, it can be geophilic (soil-associated) or animal-person contact (Zoophilic) and person-to-person contact (Anthrophilic, less inflammatory). It affects young people who have contact with soil. This fungal group can infect at head, body, feet, hands, nails, etc (Aly, 1999). Generally, it requires keratin, a family of structural proteins, for growth. Keratin is found in the hair, nails, and outermost layers of the skin

c. Contact Urticaria:

It is an allergic (Immunological) inflammatory reaction, however, can also be nonallergic eczematous dermatitis. When field workers are exposed to pesticides, these pesticides induce sensitivity and intoxication, which may lead to various skin issues, including urticaria (Ale and Maibach, 2010; Armentia et al., 2020). This is the reaction in the skin due to the release of histamine and other vasoactive substances, from the mast cells lining of blood vessels. It causes the leakage of plasma into the skin. It is a rare clinical form that occurs due to exposure to pesticides.

4.2. Non-Chemical Factors Associated Skin Issues in Farming Community

  • Sun exposure / Photosensitivity Reactions: Farmers spend long hours working outdoors under the sun, exposing their skin to ultraviolet (UV) radiation that can cause photosensitivity reactions leading to sunburn, premature aging, and increased risk of skin cancer.
  • Extreme weather conditions: Wind, rain, and dust can dry out and irritate the skin, while extreme temperatures (hot or cold) can cause further damage.
  • Certain plants can cause allergic reactions or mechanical irritations on the skin, while insects and ticks can transmit diseases that affect the skin.
  • Mechanical injuries: Cuts, scrapes, and punctures are common due to handling tools, machinery, and sharp plant materials.
  • Friction and chafing: Repetitive rubbing from clothing or equipment can cause irritation and blisters.
  • Insect Bite Reactions: The most common skin issue related to agriculture is insect bite reaction. As we know, when farmers work in open fields, they are at high risk of insect bite reactions that cause inflammation and lesions.

5. Prevention Measures and Treatment for Skin Issues Faced by Farming Community

The health safety of the rural population is crucial because it not only impacts individuals within rural communities but also society as a whole. Skincare is an essential aspect of maintaining healthy skin for farmers and agricultural  workers

The farming community working with agrochemicals should be familiarised with the chemical hazards and protection measures, generally provided in the product brochure. Clear written instructions must be followed regarding use, storage and protection. Spray of agrochemicals must be avoided under windy conditions (wind speed > 4 m/s). Moreover, adequate distance must be observed from public roads, buildings, and water bodies.

There are several treatments and prevention for farmers to protect themselves from skin-related issues. However, Prevention is better than Cure.

  • Use personal protective equipment (PPE): PPEs are among the options for skin protection during agricultural activities. PPEs include gloves, goggles, masks, long sleeves and pants, boots, and hats to minimize skin contact with agrochemicals. Observe and replace worn or damaged items regularly (Febriana et al., 2023).
  •  Practice good hygiene: Thoroughly wash hands and exposed skin regularly with mild soap and water after exposure to agrochemicals and field activity. Regular moisturizing of the skin can help reduce itching, dryness, cracking, and other skin problems. Wash hands thoroughly after handling agrochemicals and wear clean clothes daily.
  • Seek shade and cover: Work during cooler parts of the day and take breaks in shaded areas to avoid prolonged sun exposure.
  • Skin protection: Wear gloves and long sleeves when handling agrochemicals, and apply creams like moisturizers or petroleum jelly to exposed skin.
  • Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water to keep skin hydrated and healthy.
  • Raising awareness and providing training to farmers and agricultural workers on skin health risks and prevention strategies is crucial.
  • Promoting the use of safer alternatives to agrochemicals, such as organic farming practices, can help reduce skin risks.
  • Investing in research and development of safer and more sustainable agricultural methods is essential for the long-term protection of farmers’ skin health.
  • Report skin problems: If you experience any skin irritation or discomfort, consult a healthcare professional immediately.
  • Sun protection: wear protective sunscreen, adequate clothing, gloves and hats, and seek shade during peak sun hours. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect against UV damage.
  • Wound care: Clean and bandage any cuts or scrapes promptly to prevent infection.
  • Wear appropriate clothing: Choose loose-fitting, breathable clothing that covers exposed skin and wicks away moisture.
  • Treatment options may include topical creams, oral medications, or in severe cases, surgery.
  • Skincare: Use gentle and chemical-free products or organic products for skincare.

Finally, skin issues faced by the farming community have a significant impact on the health of people who work in the agricultural industry. Exposure to harmful agrochemicals and prolonged personal exposure to sunlight can lead to various skin abnormalities like rashes, sunburn, skin allergies, cancer, and irritations. So farmers need to take precautions and protect their skin from different issues.

Cite this Blog as:

Ihsan, A. 2024. Skin Issues Of Farming Community: Exposure To Agrochemicals And Harsh Natural Conditions. Agropublishers, Multan, Pakistan. JEAS-Blog. 2024: 1

Copyright © Ihsan, 2024  This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium provided the original author and source are appropriately cited and credited.


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One Reply to “Skin Issues Of Farming Community Exposed To Agrochemicals And Harsh Natural Conditions”

  1. what are protection measures for agricultural professionals working in the field?

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