Hong Kong winters can wreak havoc on our skin. The drop in temperature and humidity brings great weather to explore the trails and playgrounds of the city, but with it, dry and irritated skin. Moisture is essential in your skin to maintain its function as a strong protective barrier.
Environmental and medical causes of dry skin
Dry skin is not usually a serious condition and it is often caused by environmental factors: low humidity outside, a lot of time inside exposed to indoor air, bathing too often with hot water, use of harsh soaps and several more serious causes.
Some people may have an underlying condition such as eczema or psoriasis that causes them to be prone to dry skin. Eczema occurs because of a hyper-sensitivity to certain irritants such as soaps, detergents, dyes, fabrics, and others. As for psoriasis, it is an autoimmune disease that causes an over-production and buildup of skin cells in patches.
Symptoms and complications of dry skin
Most people are quite familiar with the symptoms of mild dry skin. It’s dry to the touch and can be a bit dull and scaly-looking and feel tight and itchy. If skin is very dry, it becomes very delicate and can be red, irritated and even break into painful fissures.
Eczema and psoriasis are both conditions that can cause patches of extremely dry skin. Eczema present in dry, red patches in creases of skin (behind the knees, inside of elbows), or on the face, neck, hands or feet whereas psoriasis present on the scalp, shin, lower back, outer aspect of elbow and in front of knees. Eczema is the most common of the two and is usually itchy but not often painful. In someone with psoriasis, the excess skin cells produced build up into silvery-white scales and are painful, inflamed, itchy and red.
Tips for soothing dry skin
Dry skin is easily preventable and almost everyone will experience it at some point. We spoke to dermatologist Dr. Shiao Yi Wong from OT&P to suggest some changes you can make to stave off winter dryness:
- Using oil in the bath such as coconut oil or liquid paraffin.
- Avoid using soap for every bath or shower. Look for a gentle, fragrance-free soap such as Cetaphil cleanser.
- Apply a fragrance-free moisturizer such as aqueous cream, Physiogel after bathing and showering to prevent skin drying out further.
- Avoid fragranced products. These can irritate skin and dry skin out further.
- Many of us live and work inside buildings where we aren’t able to open a window to let fresh air in. It seems counterintuitive to have a humidifier when we are so reliant on dehumidifiers to stave off mold but it can really help both your dry skin and waking with a dry throat to sleep with a humidifier.
Signs that you should see a doctor
Dry skin is not a serious condition in itself, though it may be uncomfortable and possibly unsightly. It is usually very easily managed with regular treatment at home. If any of the following occur, Dr. Shiao Yi Wong recommends seeing a doctor, as they could be signs of something more serious:
- Redness or rash that doesn’t clear up.
- Skin so itchy it is causing trouble with sleep.
- Broken skin.
- Yellow or cloudy fluids appearing on the skin suggestive of bacterial infection.
- Other signs of infection such as increased pain, swelling or redness; red streaks extending from the affected area; a fever of more than 38°C; or swollen lymph nodes in the head, neck or groin.