The busy woman’s complete guide to taking care of your skin
What does wearing a mask do to your skin? Must you wash your face in the morning? How do you cope with period acne? CNA Women asks doctors to share their insights.
You’re busy. We get it. Juggling work, family and social commitments often leaves you with little to no time for yourself. But that doesn’t mean you should neglect your skin.
The good news: Your skincare routine can be simple, instead of the 10-step routine popularised by the South Korean beauty industry. You just need to know what to do when you see the changes in your skin, whether from lack of sleep, stress, hormonal shifts, going back to the office and more.
CNA Women spoke to doctors for their advice on how to care for your skin.
HOW A WOMAN’S SKIN IS DIFFERENT FROM A MAN’S
On average, a man’s skin is approximately 20 per cent thicker than a woman’s. Dr Evelyn Tay, dermatologist at Dermatology & Surgery Clinic, said it’s mainly due to the composition of the sex hormones – testosterone in men, and oestrogen in women.
These sex hormones are responsible for the amount of collagen we have. Collagen is a protein that provides structure within our bodies, including our bones, skin, tendons and ligaments. In the face, it is what keeps the skin from sagging, giving you a youthful appearance.
Dr Lynn Chiam, dermatologist at Children & Adult Skin Hair Laser Clinic, explained that the collagen content in male skin reduces at a constant rate as they age.
In women, even though collagen does slowly decrease over the years – between 1 and 1.5 per cent a year from early adulthood, a 2020 clinical study in the Plastic and Aesthetic Research journal found – it tends to dip more later in life.
That’s why women observe more pronounced and visible changes in their skin after the menopause. “This is due to the reduction of collagen over a shorter period of time, as compared to men,” said Dr Chiam.
“This could also be why, excluding lifestyle factors, a woman’s skin is more susceptible to ageing than a man’s,” Dr Tay added.
At the same time, the higher proportion of testosterone in men also influences sebum content, resulting in their oilier skins.
“Men have more active sebaceous glands, and therefore more pores than women,” said Dr SK Tan, a general practitioner with an interest in dermatology and medical director of IDS Clinic. As a result, men are also less prone to dry skin compared to women.
The female hormone oestrogen is responsible for increasing skin thickness, said Dr Tay. It also has a part to play in “boosting hydration, enhancing wound healing and reducing oxidative stress” and its decline can lead to dry skin, eczema, increased wrinkles and prominent facial sagging, as well as poor wound healing.
Dr Chiam added that oestrogen delays the effects of skin ageing.
For women experiencing the menopause, Dr Tan recommended using “effective skincare containing ‘oestogen-equivalents’, like plant extracts that can mimic the effects of oestrogen in the skin”.
But if you’re still some years away from the “change”, you can keep your skin healthy by incorporating skincare products with anti-ageing actives like Vitamin C, ceramides, peptides, antioxidants, hyaluronic acid and even retinol.
These help strengthen the skin’s barrier function to defend it against external free radical damage and also promote collagen and elastin production so your complexion looks youthful.
BATTLING MONTHLY BREAKOUTS
“It’s very common for women to experience acne, especially the week before the period starts, because oestrogen levels are dropping,” said Dr Chiam.
She recommends that if your breakout is related to your menstrual cycle, that you avoid using thick, creamy moisturisers and makeup during this time. Instead, apply benzoyl peroxide or alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) on acne-prone areas.
At the same time, Dr Tay added that during menstruation, the levels of oestrogen and progesterone, another female hormone, are at their lowest, which “makes the skin more prone to dehydration and can cause conditions like eczema to flare up”.
If this happens, she advises regular application of moisturiser to keep skin moisture levels in check.
COPING WITH MASK-WEAR
It’s important to know how to care for your skin when you’re wearing a mask, especially if you’re wearing one for long hours at a time.
“Wearing a protective mask alters the surface environment – the increased trapped heat and humidity changes the skin microbiome and may trigger outbreaks of acne and folliculitis (a skin condition that is caused by an infected or inflamed hair follicle),” Dr Tan explained.
For the uninitiated, the skin microbiome is an ecosystem of micro-organisms – bacteria, viruses and fungi – that protect the skin against external aggressors, keeping it healthy. Unfortunately, there are many factors that can throw the skin’s microbiome off-balance, from age to hormones as well as UV rays, pollution, stress and even your diet.
Mask-wearing is a contributing factor. With mask-wear, the skin under the mask is subjected to elevated levels of heat and humidity from our perspiration and breath, which in turn can cause skin flare-ups that lead to breakouts and increased skin sensitivity.
Dr Chiam added that “the most important thing to remember is to touch your mask and/or face as little as possible” because that action transfers bacteria from the mask to the skin, which may result in more skin issues.
She also advised that those with sensitive skin choose masks with a softer material, like silk or bamboo cotton.
Susceptible to breakouts? Dr Chiam recommends applying “either a retinoid-based cream or small amount of benzoyl peroxide on the acne-prone areas under the mask”.
In addition, she suggested using powder makeup instead of cream-based makeup as “powder makeup causes less acne and irritates the skin less”.
MANAGING PREGNANCY HYPERPIGMENTATION
Hormones can also cause skin woes during pregnancy. From acne breakouts to dryness, skin changes can vary widely among women.
However, the one notable skin change that pregnant women may see is melasma, a condition characterised by dark discolorations on the face.
“Pregnancy is a state of high oestrogen levels and that makes the skin more sensitive to sunlight,” said Dr Chiam.
To reduce the risk of developing melasma, she advised pregnant women to “always try to be in the shade and apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen daily”.
DEALING WITH HEAT AND HUMIDITY
“It is a myth that humidity and heat increase oil production,” said Dr Tan, adding that the cause behind how active our oil glands are is hormonal, not environmental.
To keep your face clear, use a low-foaming cleanser that is gentle on the skin. “Being obsessive about using cleansers that strip away oil excessively can make the skin prone to damage,” he added.
If you’re tempted to skip your moisturiser because of the humidity, don’t. “Instead, look for moisturisers with a more lightweight finish, such as serums and gels, instead of ointments and creams,” said Dr Tay.
For acne-prone skin, she also suggested looking for “ingredients that can control sebum production, such as salicylic acid, glycolic acid and retinols”.
WHEN YOU EVENTUALLY HEAD BACK TO THE OFFICE
You might want to switch up your skincare to include a thicker, cream-based moisturiser, especially if your skin starts to feel dry or tight, Dr Chiam advised.
This is because our skin tends to get drier in an air-conditioned environment like the office. And this also includes the skin on our legs and forearms, depending on the outfit you’re wearing, so consider being diligent with applying a body lotion as well.
WHICH SKINCARE PRODUCTS CAN YOU SKIP?
If you’re pressed for time, you can consider skipping a step or two in your skincare routine.
According to Dr Tay, “toners are not absolutely necessary but can be a useful adjunct to the skincare routine in certain individuals”.
For instance, if your skin is on the oilier side, you can incorporate a toner with AHAs or BHAs that helps remove dead skin cells and impurities to prevent clogged pores, which can worsen acne.
However, if you have dry skin, you may skip the toner. “It can strip the skin of its natural oils excessively,” said Dr Chiam.
CLEANSING IS STILL IMPORTANT
If you think that cleansing is only important at the end of the day to remove all that dirt and makeup, and just a quick rinse with water in the mornings will suffice, think again.
“Our skin accumulates sebum and dirt throughout the night even though we are sleeping,” said Dr Chiam.
A clean face, Dr Tay added, is also the first step to priming the skin to absorb the lotions we apply on our face. And unless you have makeup on, there’s no need to use a different cleanser for morning and night.
For makeup removal, do a double cleanse with “an oil-based cleanser or micellar water to remove the makeup, followed by a lathering cleanser as a second step to fully remove all the impurities on the skin in the evening”, she said.
NEVER GO WITHOUT SUNSCREEN
“UV exposure is responsible for many issues in the skin, such as premature skin ageing, pigmentary issues and skin cancers,” said Dr Tay. “In addition, exposure to UV is cumulative throughout one’s lifetime and the effects are often seen when you are older.”
Dr Tan added: “Female hormones predispose you to the development of hyperpigmentation. Once it surfaces, it may be treatable but not curable.” So it’s better to prevent hyperpigmentation than to treat after it forms.
“My usual recommendation is to never leave out sunscreen, except at night, because there is UV radiation even on a overcast or rainy day, or in winter,” he said.
The doctors CNA Women spoke to agree that it’s better to use actual sunscreen instead of a beauty product where sunscreen has been added, such as a moisturiser with sun protection factor (SPF).
“To achieve the SPF factor stated on the packaging, it is essential to use an adequate amount, which is approximately half a teaspoon for the face and neck,” said Dr Chiam.
“Thus, when using moisturisers with SPF, it will be hard to estimate the amount needed to achieve the specific SPF, which means the actual protection level you get with a moisturiser with SPF may not be optimal.”
CNA Women is a new section on CNA Lifestyle that seeks to inform, empower and inspire the modern woman. If you have women-related news, issues and ideas to share with us, email CNAWomen [at] mediacorp.com.sg.