Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Staying healthy at home has been everyone’s priority since the implementation of Extended Community Quarantine (ECQ). To prevent the spread of disease, we’ve all been required to wear face masks in public and practice routine hand-washing. This is only right, as COVID-19 is transmitted through droplets and close contact. However, while taking precautions to prevent the spread of the pandemic, we may be neglecting our skin, which is also our first line of defense against infections.
With the current regulations in place, dermatologists are concerned that skincare has taken a backseat. Dr. Lyra Laconico-Tumalad, a diplomate of the Philippine Dermatological Society, points out: “To slow the spread of coronavirus, people have increased the frequency of washing their hands and face. However, frequent washing and application of alcohol can disrupt the protective layer of the skin, causing dryness, itchiness, flaking and sometimes wounds which may cause infection.”
Face masks may also cause skin irritation, which will make the precaution to avoid touching one’s face more difficult to follow. In a compromised state, your skin will not be able to effectively perform its role as a barrier to infections and the elements.
Those suffering from preexisting skin conditions such as psoriasis and atopic dermatitis are also particularly vulnerable to flare-ups with the stress of our situation. Dr. Patricia Pontejos, also a diplomate of the Philippine Dermatological Society, recommends that those with such conditions consult a dermatologist remotely: “Luckily, dermatology is a visual field and most skin conditions can be diagnosed with clear photos and a proper online consultation with a board-certified dermatologist.”
As such, moisturizer should be a staple in everyone’s daily routine, especially while we use preventative measures such as alcohol, masks and antibacterial soaps. While some dryness may be of little concern to most, any resulting wounds or contact with eyes, ears and nose will leave the body vulnerable to bacteria.
Sunlight can help and can harm
Increased time indoors has, for the most part, protected us from outdoor air pollution and dangerous amounts of sunlight. There are known benefits to sun exposure in regulated amounts. “It helps with vitamin D production, mood improvement, and the healing of some skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema,” says Tumalad.
On the other hand, essential workers and people with inadequate housing are especially exposed to excessive sunlight. Dermatologists caution that even those staying at home may experience its health risks. Dr. Pontejos observes, “Since we’ve been experiencing extremely hot weather, I’ve been getting consults for heat rash, excessive sweating, and flaring of chronic conditions like acne, bacterial and fungal infections.”
This is because of ultraviolet (UV) rays A and B — overexposure to UV-A rays is associated with rapid skin ageing, while too much UV-B rays were seen to develop skin cancer. Luckily, there are numerous types of sunscreen in the market, each with the familiar acronym “SPF,” which stands for “sun protection factor,” an indicator of how well the product protects against UV-B rays in particular. When looking for sunscreen, a high-SPF (of SPF 30 or more) is the way to go; also look for the label “broad spectrum,” which means that it protects the skin against both UV-A and UV-B.
Healthy body, healthy skin
While skincare is often associated with specific product lines and multi-step facial routines, it’s worth recognizing the skin as an important part of our body.
Dermatologists' primary recommendation for protecting the skin, while at the same time taking care of your overall health and well-being during this ECQ, is to keep moisturizing. With the potentially irritating effects of face masks, hand-washing and alcohol, the skin needs to be hydrated and protected. After disinfecting your hands with alcohol, apply hand lotion. Opt for fragrance-free, dye-free moisturizers that contain mineral oil or petrolatum. Readily available in the market are petroleum jelly, coconut oil, mineral or castor oil, and olive oil.
Protection from excessive sunlight is also necessary. Key indicators to know when the sun is harmful are signs of redness, pain, sunburn, and rashes. Given our country’s record high temperatures, sunlight can still reach the skin and cause long-term damage. During these times, it is still advisable to apply sunscreen of at least SPF30 even indoors. Apart from that, it’s important to use an umbrella or wear apparel such as hats and sunglasses — preferably also with UV protection — when one expects to step out in the sun. For children using inflatable pools, advise them to bathe immediately and make sure they don’t ingest the water. Sunscreen is crucial — opt for SPF 30 or above, ideally with a water-resistant formula.
When asked about products to use for treatment, dermatologists encourage using gentle products on the skin. Best to stick to one's usual skincare regimen and try not to experiment too much on previously untried products to prevent developing allergies or irritation. If you’re in the market for a new soap, inspect its ingredients first before buying: look for mild antibacterial soaps for face and body, and avoid products with ingredients such as parabens, synthetic fragrances, and triclosan.
“With the ECQ, we have all been bound to stay in our homes, which has brought both good and bad [effects] on our skin. While we continue practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19, let us not forget [to take care of] our skin,” advises Tumalad. Skincare goes beyond trendy products and multi-step routines; keeping skin moisturized and healthy is an often-forgotten part of good health, made all the more important during quarantine.