Fazed by the haze? Here are some skin tips

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.

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