Whether you are a local, or an expat that lives in Singapore, one is struck by the stark weather of this equatorial city- constantly humid with temperatures rising above 30 degrees celsius. The cause of our sweaty pimply skin, simply put, Singapore’s weather causes bad skin-acne on the face, pimples on the chest and back. True or false?
Also, too many aesthetic clinics and medi-spas are advertising some sort of acne treatment for our humid climate, how does one know if it’s going to work? Does bad skincare cause problems and what exactly constitutes good skincare?
As many of my patients have asked, I share my top skincare tips on maintaining good skin in Singapore (which you could achieve on your own), and how to get treatment when you really need it.
Skincare Tip #1. If it’s bothering you, you may have a real skin problem. Do see a dermatologist.
Do you suffer from any of these: sensitive skin and break-outs if the products were not right? Constant red face? Having flaky itchy skin whenever you’re traveling? Always having a pimple breakout at that time of the month?
If you have any of these symptoms, stop self-medicating and applying a bunch of anti-redness or “sensitive skin” products if you have these symptoms, it’s just going to make it worse. All of the above can be treated with proper medications. Eczema treatment for flaky, sensitive and itchy skin, hormonal acne treatment for pimples around that time of the month, and sometimes it isn’t even really acne. I’ve seen cases of perioral dermatitis that have been wrongly diagnosed as acne and obviously did not improve.
Acne on the chest and back is often actually a fungal infection known as pityosporum folliculitis. This sort of chest and back “acne” requires treatment with specific antifungal lotions and creams. People who are at risk include athletes or those living in a humid country like Singapore, as the constant sweating and the moist environment worsens it. When chest and back acne or fungal infections are left untreated, it leaves bad scars and even develops secondary bacterial infections.
If you always have a red face you may likely suffer from rosacea. Rosacea treatment is with correct oral antibiotics and creams before anti-redness lasers (to eradicate the blood vessels) are used. Rosacea is triggered off by hot climates, spicy foods, emotions in certain people who are at risk. It is likely to be related to increased blood vessel sensitivity as well as certain mites that live on your skin (demodex mites).
If you have any such symptoms, stop all skincare products and promptly seek the care of a dermatologist rather than self-medicate, or adopt a “wait-it-out’ attitude. Some skincare tips: Look for the labels “dermatologically tested and formulated” when it comes to choosing cleansers, moisturisers and cosmeceutical products. Avoid testing many different cosmetic products which have no scientific evidence proving effectiveness. Finally, where possible avoid dust, extremes of temperature and humidity, prolonged contact with sweat as these tend to worsen skin sensitivity.
Skincare Tip #2. Don’t use just any wash on your face, use a dermatologist-tested and formulated cleanser.
It almost feels like because Singapore is so warm we constantly need to keep washing and keeping clean because of the sweat! As a dermatologist, I’ve heard from many patients with acne how they struggle to wash their face 3 times a day and are puzzled that they still have pimples. Cleansers perform one function, they emulsify the dirt, oil and bacteria in the foam which is rinsed off with water. Acne not due to dirt or bacteria, although they both can worsen people who already are prone to acne, such as those who have a family history of acne, so no amount of washing can actually get rid of acne.
There is a difference between normal cleansers and those which are dermatologist-tested/formulated. Cleansers approved by dermatologists are gentle on the skin, due to a good balance of the lathering agent and use of quality ingredients that do not strip the skin dry of it’s natural moisture while cleansing effectively. I personally formulate a honey-based cleanser which is suitable for both oily skin and sensitive skin types in Singapore (honey is a natural emulsifying agent which also has anti-bacterial properties) for my patients. Here’s a skincare tip, cleansers that leave your skin feeling squeaky clean is usually a bad sign. Stop using your supermarket cleanser and start looking carefully for those “dermatologist-tested and formulated” labels.
Skincare Tip #3. Don’t buy more scrubs or clay masks to clean your face better.
It amuses me that most of my patients are shocked when they hear this from me, their dermatologist, almost as if I am wrong to say that. Dermatologists do not agree with a lot of what beauty companies/aesthetics providers (who are not qualified dermatologists) are telling the public. The beauty industry is limited by what they are allowed to use in their salons (none of the prescription medications that would actually work is found in these places) and are are very happy to include more products in your regimen to earn your dollar.
Dermatologists have seen way too many complications because of an incomplete understanding of the actual science of how skin behaves. Scrubbing with harsh beady grains of sand would work if your skin was made of wood, like sandpapering it down. In reality, you do not brighten or “exfoliate’’ your skin with that but rather you are causing damage and irritation to your skin, that’s maybe even the cause of your sensitive skin and red face problems.
Clay masks? Totally unnecessary even for oily and acne-prone skin types. The skincare tip here is to know that it’s actually the salicylic acid content in these masks that causes your acne to get better, but not without really dehydrating your skin after that (these masks are dry out your skin with an astringent). Most of my patients end up with a red itchy flaky face, on top of acne after they go on a clay-mask spree hoping that it would cure their oily face and acne.
Dermatologists do not prescribe clay masks for any skin problem because there are much more effective options for treatment of oily skin and acne. What counts in a skin treatment product is the active ingredient in these masks and products. So the skincare tip here is to start looking down the ingredient list of your next bottle!
Skincare Tip #4. Use cosmeceuticals but do thorough brand research first.
Haven’t heard of cosmeceuticals yet? It has become quite a fashionable word amongst the dermatologists community (for those in the know). It’s a marriage of two words “pharmaceuticals” and “cosmetics”. It’s actually referring to skincare with active ingredients best for skin that’s backed by dermatologists.
Am I too young? Or too old? Do i even need to get started? As a skincare tip for best results, start on cosmeceuticals early, in your twenties for maintenance of your youth. If you are already in your thirties and forties or beyond, fret not, cosmeceuticals are a useful adjunct to the laser/filler/botox treatments recommended by your dermatologist and help to enhance and maintain the effects of such anti-aging treatments.
There are a myriad of cosmetic brands that claim wonders. Unfortunately, cosmeceuticals are not regulated by the HSA and so are not bound to their claims. Hence, it’s difficult for the consumer to know if a given product can do what it claims it can do, contains the ingredients it claims to, or if the ingredients are even active forms?
Moreover, if the ingredients have phototoxic or photo reactive properties when exposed to the sun, among other concerns. What then? There is true evidence for the anti-aging properties of cosmeceuticals, but you are wise to consult a dermatologist before you buy. The HSA does not regulate the effectiveness of anti-aging products available without a prescription.
Skincare Tip #5. Go for a chemical peel or a medi-facial monthly at your dermatologist’s office in your twenties. Lasers in your thirties and beyond.
What is true about acne and the humid Singapore climate is that it all encourages the build up of dead keratin (read: skin flakes) which plug the pores and cause inflammation. Even if you don’t have acne, the build-up of keratin on your face with reduced skin turnover as one grows older, or due to environmental conditions such as exposure to pollutants and to sun. All these cause free-radical damage and accelerated aging, makes one’s face look dull and hence lose the bright complexion of one’s youth.
One of the best skincare tip we can give is a regular chemical peel (salicylic, lactic or glycolic acids as suited for your skin type should be determined by your dermatologist) or a medi-facial (I would use a vacuum handpiece with customised chemical peel solutions for patients), would reduce your chances of having oily acne-skin breakouts and reverse early signs of mild aging. It’s affordable as well. However, this alone will not work for a lot of patients with more severe acne/oily skin, for which they may require laser treatments to shrink oil glands or take oral isotretinoin for control of severe acne.
© 2017 Dr. Teo Wan Lin. All rights reserved.
Dr. Teo Wan Lin is a leading dermatologist in Singapore and also the Medical Director of TWL Specialist Skin & Laser Centre.