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Skin care, stress and your skin

Good skin care is extremely important to everyone regardless of age, ethnicity or gender. Good skin care and practice should be practised from young to keep your skin healthy at all times. For those who are too busy for intensive skin care, appropriate basic skin care which takes up very little time is good enough. Good skin care helps to delay the natural ageing process and helps to prevent skin problems later in life.


One important issue in our tropical and sunny weather is the sun. Cumulative sun exposure leads to skin ageing such as wrinkles/fine lines, discolouration, age spots, benign (non-cancerous) growths or cancerous skin growths. A majority of skin cancers are related to prolonged and intense sun exposure. For adequate sun protection, do apply sunscreen generously and re-apply every 2-3 hours, more frequently, if you are perspiring excessively under constant sun exposure or swimming.


It is best to choose a sunscreen that has both UVA and UVB protection, with a sun protective factor (SPF) of 35 and above. Nevertheless, it is still advisable to avoid the sun especially between 10am till 3pm when the ultraviolet radiation is the strongest. In addition to sunscreen, it is still best to cover your skin with long-sleeved tops, long pants, wide-brimmed hats and use the umbrella.

Stop smoking

Smoking is not only harmful to the lungs, but also to your skin. It leads to premature ageing and wrinkling by depleting oxygen and essential nutrients to the skin. Besides that, it damages the collagen and elastin, which are integral to healthy and supple skin. Hence, for smokers out there, it is best to quit now.

The skin is the largest organ in our body, and it has to be treated gently. It is not advisable to scrub the skin daily and after shower, pat dry your skin gently and apply moisturiser for those with dry skin.

What to look for in a skin care product

As for skin care products, there are no strict guidelines in most countries that oversee each and every product that is marketed, and hence, their benefits and claims may not be as good as advertised. It is best to consult your dermatologist to recommend skin care products that have solid scientific research to prove their safety, tolerability and efficacy in humans. Another crucial thing to remember when you make your research is to trust yourself, as you know the best with regards to the type of skin you have. There are too many branded and expensive products in the market and you will be easily lured to buy those which claim to be the best, but may not be suitable for you.

It is always safer to get to know your skin before purchasing skin care products. Always double check with your dermatologist or family doctor if you are in doubt or if you have specific skin issues.

Checking your skin type

Before you consider purchasing any skin care product, a few basic facts about your skin are important to know:

  1. Skin type: dry, oily, combination or normal?
  2. Skin texture: sensitive or normal?
  3. Skin phototype:
    • Type I – pale, white skin that always burn
    • Type II – fair skin phototype that may burn
    • Type III – darker white skin that tans after burn
    • Type IV – light brown skin that tans easily
    • Type V – brown skin that tans dark easily
    • Type VI – dark brown / black skin that always tan darkly
  4. Your skin concerns:
    • Skin sensitivity e.g. develop rashes and itch with skin care or cosmetics
    • Co-existing skin conditions e.g. acne vulgaris, psoriasis or hyperpigmentation?
    • Enlarged pores, sun damaged skin or significant scars?
    • Premature ageing changes e.g. fine lines?
    • Eye puffiness or under-eye bags that is unsightly?
  5. You may also need to consider daily activities and hobbies when you choose your skin care:
    • Are you a smoker?
    • Do you spend a lot of time outdoor, under the sun?

With this information, you are armed with more knowledge to purchase the most suitable skin care for your skin. However, if you are still uncertain, do not hold back from getting a consultation with your doctor.

Do you suffer from a skin condition?

For those with specific skin condition, special attention and care needs to be taken to ensure the skin care products do not aggravate or trigger unwanted responses.

Those individual with dry skin should manage this issue promptly. Treatment is important as extensive dry skin can predispose to dermatitis. Dry skin may be controlled by taking quick, lukewarm showers as opposed to long hot baths. If the skin remains dry after all these extra measures, please consult your dermatologists to make sure that you are not suffering from any skin diseases which require additional or more intensive treatment.

On the other hand, for those with acne prone skin, it is a complete different skin care approach altogether. If your skin is prone to acne breakouts, you should choose a cleanser specifically formulated for acne prone skin. Generally they are products with sebum regulating function, anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties. If you need to use a moisturiser, get one which is light, oil free and non-comedogenic. As for those who are in their 5th decade and above, with some degree of photo-ageing of the skin, it is still not too late to practice good skin care habits. Using of sunscreen may prevent further progression of photo-ageing.

Over-the-counter products

There are also myriad topical over-the-counter products that are available for anti-ageing purposes, with active ingredients that contain the following:

  • Tretinoin – helps to exfoliate the skin (removes dead layers of skin cells), improves skin texture and pigmentation. It also helps to reduce fine lines. However, this product can only be used at night as it makes the skin more sensitive to ultraviolet radiation.
  • Alpha hydroxyl acids (AHAs) – help with fine lines, irregular pigmentation and may help decrease enlarged pores.
  • Beta hydroxyl acids (BHAs) – exfoliates skin, may improve skin texture and skin colour. It also helps to improve acne.
  • Hydroquinone – helps to remove hyper pigmentation of skin

Does stress affect the skin?

Stress is a notorious culprit that can affect your whole body and immune system, including your skin, hair and nails. Stress can also trigger many types of skin condition, e.g. acne, eczema, psoriasis and alopecia. Since stress is a part of our daily life, what matters most is how you handle it.

‘Psychodermatogy’ is a relatively new term used in a field that addresses the impact of an individual’s emotion as it relates to the skin. Psychodermatology is gaining more recognition with the integration of psychology and psychiatry into the holistic management of dermatological disorders. Essentially, to have healthy skin, a healthy state of mind is a priority.

How does stress affect our skin:

It causes a chemical response in your body that makes skin more sensitive and reactive. It can also make it harder for skin conditions to heal. Do you notice that when you are stressed out, there is more acne eruption? This is because during stress, the body releases more stress hormones such as cortisol, which in turn leads to more sebum production thus, making the skin more likely to have the breakouts.

  • Stress may potentially worsen existing skin conditions and trigger a flare of skin diseases e.g. psoriasis, eczema, hives or other skin rashes.
  • Stress may interfere with the way you care for your skin, and if you are stressed up, you may neglect your personal grooming and skin hygiene.
  • Skin problems by themselves are stressful, and often times are visible to others, which in turn leads to stigmatisation.
  • Often times, the sufferers are embarrassed about their skin and tend to keep to themselves, which adds more stress to the existing issues.

Although it is close to impossible to eliminate stress, there are certainly methods to handle them better and hence, reduce the effect of stress on your skin:

  • Pay attention to very basic skin care, such as regular wash, emollients and sun avoidance even if you are tired out or stressed up.
  • Allocate time to exercise regularly, as it is good for your skin and relaxes the rest of the body.
  • Practise stress-management techniques such as breathing exercise, yoga or meditation or relaxation therapy.
  • Get enough sleep, 7- 8 hours each night is ideal.
  • Talk to someone, or get professional assistance from health care personnel.
  • Other modalities of treatment include pharmacotherapy, e.g. use of anti-depressants.

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