These bad habits can be damaging to your skin and general health too. A dermatologist shares why sunscreen is so important and more about the right products to use, to cope with the heat
By Hong Xinying
Without the right precautions, the recent rise in temperatures can affect your health. Your skin may need extra care during this period too.
“Certain skin conditions may be aggravated by heat,” says Dr Gavin Ong, a dermatologist at The Skin Specialist. “The recent warmer weather can certainly lead to a flare in some skin conditions.”
Common heat sensitive skin conditions include acne, eczema (inflammation of skin), rosacea (characterised by facial redness, swelling and small bumps) and prickly heat (itchy rash triggered by exposure to high temperatures).
You should also keep your skin well-protected against sun exposure. Over time, prolonged sun exposure may lead to health conditions such as skin cancer. What’s more, the more often you’re in the sun without suitable sun protection, the faster your skin ages, warns Dr Ong.
But how much of sunscreen is enough, on these hot days? And why isn’t a tan as “healthy” as it seems? Dr Ong picks out a few common skincare mistakes and how to correct these bad habits, before they lead to more skin problems.
1. You’re still going for tanning sessions
If you have a tanning habit, quit it. “A tan is a natural skin response to skin damage,” explains Dr Ong. “There is no such thing as a ‘healthy’ tan. The darker your tan, the greater the skin damage.”
Without adequate sun protection, prolonged exposure to the sun can also lead to sunburn. As a general rule, you should avoid outdoor activities from 10am to 4pm, where possible. This is the period of the day when the sun in the strongest, says Dr Ong.
2. You forget to remove your makeup before bedtime
If you’re experiencing a sudden burst of acne or other skin problems in the recent weeks, you’re not alone.
“The oil glands in your skin go into hyperdrive in hot and humid weather,” explains the dermatologist. “The end-result: a greasy slick of oil that clogs pores (sweat ducts) and lead to a variety of skin problems including acne.”
So it’s more vital than ever to stick to good skincare habits. Keep your face clean and make sure all traces of makeup is removed at the end of the day, so that these not trigger your skin woes.
Dr Ong recommends oil-based cleansers for makeup removal. These are most effective for most cosmetic products as they contain mineral oils. Then follow up with a water-based cleanser, to remove any remaining impurities from your face.
The dermatologist also cautions against washing your face too frequently, even on warm days. “Over-washing your face can lead to skin dryness and increase the risk of skin irritation,” says Dr Ong.
3. You’re not applying enough sunscreen
Sunscreen should be applied daily. But these don’t work as well as expected when you apply less than the recommended amount and when you’re not reapplying sunscreen regularly.
Perspiration can wash off the sunscreen applied on your face and body, which is why re-application is essential.
For the face, the recommended amount of sunscreen is a quarter teaspoon or approximately 1.25ml, advises the dermatologist. This is about the size of the Singapore fifty cent coin.
If you’re staying indoors most of the day, sunscreen should be applied on your skin at least every four hours in the day. For those who spend more time outdoors or perspire easily, more frequent applications may be needed.
4. You’re using sunscreen with higher SPF to avoid reapplying it
SPF (sun protection factor) is a measure of sun protection from ultraviolet light B (UVB) radiation. UVB is mainly responsible for sunburn.
According to Dr Ong, a minimum of SPF 30 for your sunscreen should provide adequate sun protection. But you shouldn’t use a sunscreen with adequate or high SPF as an excuse for not reapplying your sunscreen.
A sunscreen with a SPF that’s higher than 30 doesn’t necessarily last longer on your skin. The dermatologist also warns that SPF higher than 30 does not mean significantly more UVB protection.
He explains: “The level of sun protection from UVB rays reaches a near plateau after a certain point. When SPF reaches 30, the level of UVB protection is 97 per cent. But when the SPF is doubled to 60, the level of protection is 98 per cent; an increase of only 1 per cent from SPF 30.”
It is also important to protect the skin against ultraviolet light A (UVA), which can age your skin and lead to the development of skin cancers.
There are currently two rating systems for UVA protection: PA, which is more often used in Asia and PPD, which is used more commonly used in Europe. Dr Ong recommends sunscreens with PA+++ (equivalent to PPD 8 or more) and up for UVA protection.
5. You’re swapping sunscreen for makeup with SPF
Some makeup products may contain some components of sunscreen. However, you should still apply a separate layer of sunscreen with SPF 30 before applying your makeup.
“This is either because the SPF and PA ratings on these makeup products are usually too low,” explains Dr Ong. “Most people do not apply these in sufficient quantities to achieve the level of protection as claimed in these products.”
6. You’re not using the right products
A stinging sensation is a sign of skin irritation. This can happen when you’re applying products that are not suitable for your skin. Always check the labels, to make sure you’re using the right products to suit your skin condition.
Sunburned skin also needs extra care. During your period of recovery, you should avoid moisturisers heavy in fragrances as fragrances may irritate the sunburned skin.
As such, it’s best to use a bland, fragrance-free moisturiser, advises the dermatologist. Most moisturisers (either in cream or lotion) that are recommended for use in eczema can also be safely used on sunburned skin.
You can chill the moisturiser in the fridge before use, to help provide a cooling effect when applied onto your sunburn.
Another tip: avoid moisturisers with multiple functions such as exfoliation, anti-aging, anti-wrinkles or whitening. These may contain ingredients that can irritate sunburned skin.
7. You’re scratching your heat rash
Heat rash is caused when your blocked pores traps excess perspiration and causes skin inflammation. This in turn results in a rash that may appear as itchy red bumps.
Resist the urge to scratch your rash: this can cause your skin to become even more inflamed, warns the dermatologist. As with sunburned skin, you should avoid products that contain fragrances and other skin irritants.
Most cases of heat rash should resolve on its own within a few days. Drink plenty of water, stay in the shade where possible and wear lightweight, breathable clothing to help prevent heat rash.
Dr Ong also warns against self-medicating the affected area with medicated oil, toothpaste, butter or olive oil, which may worsen your skin inflammation.
If your skin rash worsens or it does not resolve within a week of self-treatment, consult a dermatologist to help assess and treat your skin woes.