SINGAPORE - As the haze descended on Singapore last week, people rushed to pharmacies to buy N95 masks that would help prevent them from breathing in smoke and dust particles in the air.
These particles, however, do not just affect the airways, but the skin and hair as well, say dermatologists.
Skin therapist Teri Tay, who works as an education manager with American skincare brand Dermalogica, says: "Hazy weather actually traps UV rays in the atmosphere, making the effects of UV exposure stronger than when skies are clear."
The combination of smoke particles and UV rays creates free radicals - molecules that affect skin cells and contribute to signs of ageing, such as wrinkles.
"Pollution is one of the causes of premature skin ageing," says dermatologist, Dr Joyce Lim, of the Joyce Lim Skin and Laser Clinic.
Airborne pollutants, such as dust, can also be a physical irritant, drying out skin or clogging pores, which leads to itchiness, flakiness or acne. This extends to skin on the scalp as well.
Dr Eileen Tan of the Eileen Tan Skin, Laser and Hair Transplant Clinic adds that individuals with sensitive skin are particularly at risk as pollutants can exacerbate existing conditions.
The dermatologists suggest using moisturisers and sunscreens with antioxidants, which combat free radicals and sun damage.
Dr Patrina Wong, medical aesthetic director of the LinC Aesthetic Clinic, also suggests switching to products with vitamin E, an antioxidant and lipid that helps maintain the skin barrier during the hazy period.
Eating fresh fruit and vegetables rich in antioxidants and vitamins, such as berries, can also shore up our skin's defence against free radicals, Dr Tan explains.
Doctors suggest cleansing the skin after going outside and applying hydrating moisturisers and masks.
Those with oilier skin can use cleansers with glycolic or salicyclic acid to help prevent acne, while those with drier skin can opt for soapless cleansers that will not strip the skin of moisture.
But Dr Tan warns that people should not get carried away.
"Take care not to overwash the face as this may lead to the loss of natural oil on the skin. Skin irritation and tiny breakages in the top skin layer will make one more susceptible to infections."
While most people wash their faces twice a day, the optimum frequency depends on the individual's skin type and how much cleansing it can endure.
Those with normal skin can wash up to four to five times a day using a gentle cleanser. Those with dry skin should stick to washing no more than once or twice a day, and oily skin sufferers can cleanse as long as their skin does not start feeling dry.
Similar principles apply to taking care of your hair. Made up of dead protein, hair is not affected by the haze, but the skin on the scalp may experience more itching and flaking than usual.
Using a shampoo and conditioner daily will help get rid of physical irritants.
If you have specific scalp problems, choose products which are appropriate to them, Dr Tan adds.
1. Anti/Oxi Skin Refining Anti-Dullness Cleansing Oil
$55 for 150ml, from Shu Uemura, B2-40 Ion Orchard
This cleansing oil is the only one in the brand's cleansing oil range to target pollution, one of the factors that accelerates ageing. The other oils are formulated to address other skin concerns such as sensitive skin, problematic pores and hydration.
Extracts from the Moringa tree, which are known for its filtering and purifying properties, are used to clear the skin of pollutants and sebum.
Use it: Twice a day or more, to cleanse the skin and remove make-up.
2. Rare Earth Deep Pore Cleansing Masque
$45 for 142g, from Kiehl's, B1-33 Takashimaya Shopping Centre
This facial mask from American skincare brand Kiehl's detoxifies and purifies skin to deep-cleanse clogged skin and reduce pore size. It contains Amazonian White Clay, an ingredient known to remove dirt, toxins, excess oil and dead cells.
Use it: Once a week if you have dry skin and twice a week if you have oily skin.
3. Skinergetic Serum
$99 for 50ml, from Biotherm, B1-56 Takashimaya Shopping Centre
This serum from French skincare label Biotherm relies on broccoli extract, which is rich in antioxidant properties, to shore up the skin's defence system against pollution. Soya protein and botanical cells from apples help stimulate cellular metabolism and skin turnover.
Use it: Twice a day: once in the morning and once at night. Do not use it more often than that because of its potency.
4. Oxygen Infusion Treatment
$33 for a 30-minute session at Estetica Beauty, 06-18 Plaza Singapura
This oxygen treatment from beauty salon Estetica uses puncture-jet technology to deliver pressurised oxygen infused with vitamins and minerals to the skin. The nutrients are absorbed by the skin and help reverse damage caused by free radicals. They also improve circulation and stimulate skin renewal.
Do it: Once or twice a month, depending on skin condition
5. UV Plus HP
$74 for 30ml, from Clarins, at Metro, 02-28 Paragon
This oil-free sunscreen from French skincare brand Clarins offers broad-spectrum protection of SPF 40 against both UVA (ageing) and UVB (burning) rays.
It includes cantaloupe melon extract from the Provence region in France. The extract contains plant ingredients and enzymes which fight toxic residue and free radicals.
Use it: Daily in the morning. Reapply if necessary after additional cleansing.
6. Tea Tree Mint Treatment Shampoo and Conditioner
$18.90 for 400ml each, from Avalon Organics, at Watsons, B2-06 Takashimaya Shopping Centre
This shampoo and conditioner set from American haircare brand Avalon Organics uses a blend of tea tree, peppermint, eucalyptus and rosemary to cleanse and treat the scalp and protect against dry, itchy or flaky skin.
Other ingredients - aloe, jojoba and panthenol extracts - also promote blood circulation for softer and shinier hair.
Use it: Daily in the evenings. Do not use it more often than that as hair will dry out from too much washing.
7. Phloretin CF Gel
$268 for 30ml, from SkinCeuticals, Skin Physicians, 11-08 Mount Elizabeth Hospital
This gel from American skincare brand SkinCeuticals is a triple antioxidant treatment that includes phloretin, vitamin C and ferulic aid. These ingredients help prevent signs of ageing and speed up cellular renewal.
The gel formula is also appropriate for those who find serums too potent for their skin.
Use it: Once a day in the morning after cleansing. Reapply if necessary after additional cleansing.
8. UV Expert GN-Shield
$78 for 30ml, from Lancome, Level 1 Isetan Scotts
This broad-spectrum sunscreen from French cosmetics brand Lancome offers SPF 50 and protects against both UVA and UVB rays. It also combats free radicals and environmental pollution with its Pollusafe complex, which shields skin using Moringa extract. Dust glides off the skin instead of being absorbed.
Use it: Daily in the morning. Reapply if necessary after additional cleansing.
$65 for 200ml, from Kerastase at J's Salon, 03-00 Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel
This hair mask from French haircare brand Kerastase nourishes hair and protects against environmental stress using Gluco-Active technology. Glucose and proteins strengthen hair and lipids help improve the hair's natural protection by forming a barrier on the hair fibre surface.
Use it: Once or twice a week on towel-dried hair.
10. Barrier Repair
$92 for 30ml, from Dermalogica, at Signature Beaute, 02-10 Forum The Shopping Mall
This silicone-based moisturiser from American skincare brand Dermalogica helps shield skin from pollution, cosmetic products and extreme temperatures. Evening primrose oil and silicones strengthen the skin's lipid barrier to help prevent water loss. Shea butter, vitamin C and bisabolol also help fight free radicals.
Use it: Twice a day, in the morning and at night. Reapply if necessary after additional cleansing.
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