Talking about the weather is a “hot” topic given that it’s an easy conversation starter that everyone can relate to. Case in point: the current erratic weather we have been facing with intense heat from the scorching sun, cloying humidity, sudden downpours and the occasional haze that hits our equatorial island. But beyond just commenting on it or griping about it, the effects of the changeable weather on our bodies can also bring about more pressing concerns, especially on our skin, which is the area where problems first manifest and are immediately noticeable.
Typically, mid-year in Singapore heralds the hottest period of the year. According to Meteorological Service Singapore, the month of May has temperatures soaring up to an all-time high of 35 degrees Celsius this month as of reporting time and throughout the day, which is almost 2 degrees Celsius hotter compared to the coolest months of December and January which has a 24-hour average of 26 degrees Celsius. And come June, Accuweather predicts that the weather will hover between 31 to 36 degrees Celsius.
When subjected to increased heat and even at a perceived minute number of 0.5 degrees Celsius, our bodies react with the heart pumping more rapidly, which brings blood closer to the skin’s surface. Next, our skin starts to flush and activates the process of perspiration. The skin on our pores releases sweat so that it can be evaporated to wick heat away while regulating its temperature, but even though the saying goes to not sweat the small stuff, it isn’t just embarrassing when it is excessive. According to Dr Rachel Ho, who practises aesthetic and anti-ageing medicine at La Clinic, this heat and increased perspiration also increases the risk of folliculitis, the inflammation of hair follicles caused by bacteria and presents as itchy, red bumps, often referred to as heat rash or prickly heat.
Add excess skin sebum to all that sweat and what you have is a recipe for clogged pores and acne breakouts. “High humidity levels can trigger the skin to produce excess oil or sebum, which makes the skin greasy,” says Pauline Ng, founder and managing director of Porcelain Skincare, a homegrown luxury cult skincare brand, which has a dedicated line of products to soothe, protect, and prevent acne with fruit and vegetable extracts like chamomile, aloe vera, and papaya extracts.
Next, comes another problem that we often don’t realise until it is too late. Dr Kok Wai Leong, a dermatologist at StarMed Specialist Centre, adds that there are also skin conditions that are specifically light sensitive and manifest no thanks to sun exposure. “You may experience stinging, flushing or raised itchy patches,” he says, but the cure he prescribes is thankfully straightforward. Use simple products—it’s fundamental for your skin to function and start repairing itself.
“You really want to go light and focus on hydrating,” adds Dr Barbara Sturm, an aesthetic doctor based in Germany, who put her anti-ageing and anti-inflammatory expertise into her namesake skincare line. She recommends going for a serum made with low- and high-molecular-weight hyaluronic acid, where the former penetrates the deepest layers of the skin to sustain hydration, while the latter sits on the surface where it continues to draw moisture from the atmosphere into the skin.
UNDER THE WEATHER
If there is one constant in our equatorial climate, it is the sun, and there’s no getting around the fact that we are at constant risk of skin damage no matter where we are. We can blame wrinkles and sagging skin on our genetics and the passage of time but dermatologists assert that the real culprit is the double whammy of ageing and sun exposure, of which the latter is more controllable.
“Ultraviolet light exposure on the skin leads to activation of signals in the skin that causes inflammation in susceptible individuals. Not all patients will experience this and it depends on your immune status and if you have conditions that are aggravated by sun exposure,” says Dr Kok. He shares that there are patients who have photosensitivity, a medical condition that develops after exposure to the sun. In such instances, the body views the effects of the sun on one’s skin as a cue to activate an immune response to counteract them. Therefore these individuals develop rashes after sun exposure.
“The two main types of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight are UVA and UVB. UVA leads to accelerated skin ageing, which shows up as wrinkles and reduced skin elasticity. On the other hand, UVB causes redness and blisters on the skin, which usually manifests as a sunburn. More importantly, UV exposure from cumulative sun exposure has long-term effects on the skin, including increased pigmentation and DNA damage that can lead to skin cancers,” adds Dr Kok.
Occasionally too, haze descends on us which typically occurs during the Southwest Monsoon season between June and October. This is when the air is clouded by a suspension of small, dry particles that are invisible to the naked eye, which gives the air an opaque appearance. Whether the cause is forest fires in the region or other sources of smog, scientifically, haze is air pollution. “Air pollution can induce or exacerbate a range of skin problems, particularly inflammatory diseases such as atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, acne and even hair loss,” explains Dr Ho. To counter the effects of these weather aggravators, sunscreen and sun avoidance play a major role in caring for our skin.
Be sure to check that sunscreen has the term “broad-spectrum” on its label—this shows that it filters out both UVA and UVB rays and obviously, don’t subject yourself to excessive sun exposure by checking the UV index on a weather app even when it’s cloudy. A numerical value of 0-2 means that the level of UV radiation is at an all-time low whereas anything above eight is considered very high. Next, to safeguard skin from air pollution, look towards skincare products with antioxidising ingredients—green tea extract, coenzyme Q, and niacinamide are the most common—that combat oxidative stress while strengthening the skin’s barrier function to minimise hyperpigmentation, fine lines, and enlarged pores and irritation.
THE SORE SPOT
If there’s one harbinger of skin problems, it is skin inflammation, an almost-immediate sign of immune response by the skin where it reacts negatively to sunlight, skincare, or the surroundings you are in. The symptoms can include redness, heat, swelling, pain, and itching, depending on the condition that arises and there is a quick way to differentiate between it being an allergic reaction or plain irritation. For the former, the symptoms will appear in different areas of the body, and for the latter, it’s limited to the specific site of direct contact.
In severe cases, however, inflammatory conditions, like eczema and psoriasis, which previously lie dormant can surface due to environmental factors. This form of inflammation is caused by internal and external factors or a combination that triggers the immune system. What’s more, skin inflammation can be both a symptom of and a contributor to a weakened skin barrier.
If you’re uncertain about what’s going on, Dr Kok advises that “allergies may be difficult to ascertain as they manifest on the skin and have a varied presentation depending on the type and cause,” and a thorough evaluation with a dermatologist is required to determine this. In certain instances, the doctor might even recommend allergy testing for confirmation. However, the road to soothing the skin in the meantime isn’t all bumpy as you can use non-sensitising methods like cold, wet compresses to help ease irritated skin or wear clothing with a smooth, soft texture.
“The changing weather can further impact the skin as it has to adjust constantly,” says Ng. “Frequent shifts between hot and humid weather to cooler and drier conditions can disrupt the skin’s barrier function, resulting in various skin issues.” We can go on about how the weather and environment mess with our skin but often, the best solution is to focus on soothing, calming, protecting, and defending with skincare that has as few trigger factors as possible.
All the skin experts we’ve spoken to agree that four things are of utmost importance to care for skin in disruptive and erratic weather in our own country or when we travel. Firstly, gently and thoroughly cleanse twice daily—preferably, with the second step using a cleanser that has no sulfates—to prevent grime like sweat, pollution residue, makeup or sebum from building up. Next, maintain the skin’s barrier by not physically or chemically over-exfoliating and building up said barrier by using lightweight products containing ingredients like hyaluronic acid and ceramides. Antioxidants are next in line to battle free radical damage and oxidative stress and finally, the importance of proper sun protection with high-protection, broad-spectrum sunscreen.
FIVE BEST PRODUCTS TO TACKLE SKINFLAMMATION
1. Floral Magic
Not only does this mask calm, brighten, and smooth, its cream formula doesn’t leave your sheets sticky even if you toss and turn. Stick it in the fridge before applying for an even more soothing effect. Fresh Floral Recovery Mask, $110
2. Let It Glow
Feeling like nothing on the skin and delivering SPF 50+ protection for up to 10 hours, another benefit of this sunscreen is that it doubles up as a glow-boosting primer which never looks or becomes oily. Melixir Vegan Airfit™ Sunscreen SPF 50+ PA++++, $55
3. Colour Theory
A multi-tasking product at its best: a green-coloured corrector for redness, soothing gel, and a lightweight humidity-friendly moisturiser. It can also be used on the body if you experience irritation post-shaving. Dr. Jart+ Cicapair Calming Gel Cream, $51
4. Full Speed
If your sensitivity is at an all-time high and nothing seems to work, this cooling gel immediately gets to work by reducing redness even on the angriest spots. We recommend using it under a pimple patch for even results. Porcelain Skin Botanical Soothing Gel, $120
5. All In One
With a formula that is so intense in hydration, we dare say that this product which also reduces irritation can be the first and second last step of your daytime skincare routine with the latter being sunscreen of course. Dr Barbara Sturm Hyaluronic Acid Serum, $495