After the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, people were advised by their doctors to use hand sanitisers and to wash their hands regularly to avoid catching the disease. However, the excessive use of chemicals on the skin can cause skin irritation or damage to some types of skin. Professor of dermatology at the Faculty of Medicine at Ain Shams University in Cairo Mahmoud Abdallah gave some tips to Al-Ahram Weekly on cleaning the skin safely and efficiently during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“There are four main types of skin, oily, dry, normal and combination skin. Each type has its own characteristics,” Abdallah said. “Oily skin is a type of skin that produces oil in large quantities and gives the skin a shiny appearance,” and the pores of this type of skin are constantly open.
“The second type of skin is dry skin. This is the type that feels tight to the touch and may have cracks or scales in it and could be flakey,” he said, adding that this type of skin does not have the ability to store water since it has little of the natural moisturising factor (NMF), epidermal lipid fats, cholesterol and ceramides that are usually present in the skin.
“The third type of skin, normal skin, is usually well balanced and has no such problems. As for the fourth type, combination skin, this can be on the face, where the T-zone, the central part of a person’s face including the forehead, nose and chin, is oily and the cheeks are either normal or dry skin,” he said.
There is also another categorisation of skin types based on colour and how much sun it can endure without burning. This is numbered from one to six, with one being the lightest and most sensitive and six being the darkest and most resistant to the sun.
Many factors determine the type of skin a person has, including genetics, hormones and personal habits, Abdallah said, but it mostly comes down to genetics. It is essential that the right products are used for cleansing each type of skin.
“In general, it is not advisable to use soap to wash the face. Instead, use a soap-free cleanser because the pH of soap is alkaline, and alkaline substances can cause irritation of the skin and not let it secrete its oils normally. It is also good to use the type of cleansers that some companies manufacture for oily and dry skin. Those with oily skin should use toners because they slightly decrease the emission of oil. Harsh cleansers can be used by those with oily skin since they decrease the oil emissions, while gentle cleansers with moisturisers should be used by those who have dry skin,” he added.
People with combination and normal skin should seek the face washes or soap-free cleansers that are suitable for their skin types. Oily skin needs to be washed from two to three times a day, whereas dry skin should be washed far less. “As for hand washing, we usually advise people to wash their hands four to five times per day. It is preferable to use soap-free hand washes. The same thing applies to all skin types,” Abdallah said.
He also gave advice on what ingredients to look out for when shopping for skin-cleansing products or sanitisers. “The most important component of a sanitiser is a disinfectant that contains 70 per cent alcohol, since it has been scientifically proven that this kills the coronavirus,” he said. “However, its disadvantage is that it causes the skin to dry up. People with sensitive skin should wear gloves and spray those with sanitiser if they want to overcome this problem,” he added, saying that to compensate for the dryness that can occur in all types of skin people should use a moisturiser up to four times a day.
He dismissed some long-held beliefs about skin as myths. “People believe that those with oily skin are prone to eczema, a type of skin allergy that causes itching, but this is wrong since it is determined by the quality of the sebum [an oily secretion of the sebaceous glands] that emerges from the skin more than the quantity,” Abdallah said.
“A person prone to eczema will have some substances missing in the sebum, like linoleic acid, and when it is missing the sebum is more prone to clogging the pores, causing white or black heads that turn into acne. A person with dry skin, on the other hand, is more prone to eczema,” he said. While dry skin needs moisturisers, these are not only for dry skin since some other types of skin also need moisturising.
“The types of skin you have controls many things, like what type of sunscreen to use,” he commented. The fluid and gel form is suitable for oily skin, and the creamy form is good for dry skin, he added.
Tips for healthy skin
There are many things you can do to protect your skin, including following some of the tips below
Fruit and vegetables, especially colourful fruit and vegetables like strawberries, red peppers and tomatoes, are all good for the skin. They all contain antioxidants and vitamins that can prevent wrinkles appearing on the skin. Fruit that contains large amounts of water also helps hydrate the skin.
Dark chocolate is good for the skin since it contains flavonoids that slow down the aging process. Vitamin F or the essential fatty acids that are found in salmon, tuna and cotton seed oil also help the skin to function properly. On the other hand, fatty food like fried food is harmful for the skin since it causes the oxidation of some proteins and could cause early aging.
There are two main types of skin aging: intrinsic and extrinsic. The first is determined by genetics and is uncontrollable, while the second is controllable and is usually caused by sun exposure, smoking and eating unhealthy food that damages the collagen in the skin.
The use of a sunblock on a daily basis protects the skin from ultraviolet rays that accelerate the ageing process, and it should be applied half an hour before going out and reapplied every two to three hours to be sure that it will be effective.
The skin should be moisturiused every day. Women should make sure they don’t sleep with their makeup on, and they should use a night cream that contains a moisturiser and Vitamin A derivatives like retinaldehyde that helps rebuild collagen. There is also Vitamin C in the form of a cream or serum that has the same effect, but the Vitamin C needs to be in a stable form, and that is why it is essential to read carefully what type of Vitamin C is written on the packaging of the night cream or other products.
Vitamin C can also help get rid of freckles and any other pigmentations in the skin.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 22 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly