What Happens To Our Skin When Exposed To Ashfall

Safety should always be a priority.
PHOTO: istockphoto

On January 12, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) placed Taal Volcano, which is about 50 kilometers away from Manila, on Alert Level 4 because of its phreatic eruption. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) defines phreatic eruption as "steam-driven explosions that occur when water beneath the ground or on the surface is heated by magma, lava, hot rocks, or new volcanic deposits." This phenomenon covered Southern Luzon (Batangas, Cavite, Laguna), Bulacan, Rizal, and Metro Manila in ashfall.

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According to USGS, ash contains volcanic glass. rocks, and minerals, so it can be irritating and toxic to our bodies. The World Health Organization of the Philippines warns the public to stay indoors due to the negative effects of ashfall to the body. In a Twitter post, WHO listed down all the possible effects we should be wary about: Physical trauma and injury, lung problems, eye irritation, gastrointestinal problems, and skin burns + irritation.

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So what are we supposed to do when we're exposed to ashfall?

  1. Wear a protective face mask.

    Health professionals recommend wearing an N95 mask to filter at least 95 percent of airborne particles from being inhaled. But, if this is not available, put on a surgical or cloth mask and place a clean damp towel or handkerchief underneath. 

  2. Soothe irritated eyes with eye drops.

    Volcanic ash has acidic and silica content that it can irritate the eyes, so it is encouraged to wear protective eye gear such as goggles. In case you become exposed to volcanic ash, you can get rid of the tiny particles with eye drops. Do not rub the eyes as this may cause further irritation. Also, avoid wearing contact lenses as your eyes can get very irritated.

  3. Wash away volcanic ash with water.

    Rinse your body with cold water and refrain from rubbing with a damp towel as this will just trigger irritation (again, volcanic ash is sharp in nature). Dermatologist Dr. Erin Tababa of @TheNerdyDerma advises applying a thin, bland moisturizer (one that is made without actives like retinol, AHAs, BHAs) to the affected areas after washing. If you don't know which jar to get, check out our ultimate guide to sensitive skin-friendly moisturizers here.

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If you're still experiencing health problems, please seek medical attention. 

In case of an emergency, here is a list of hotlines you can call:

  • National Emergency Hotline – 911
  • Philippine National Police – 117
  • PHIVOLCS – (02) 8426-1468 to 79
  • Philippine Red Cross – 143 or (02) 8790-2300
  • Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) – (02) 8426-0246
  • National Disaster Risk Reduction And Management Council  – (02) 8911-5061 to 65 local 100
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