One important aspect of health that is often overlooked is skincare. Lockdown has provided a unique opportunity, including through improved environmental conditions, for taking care of our skin.
Dr Karolina Gholam
Dr Karolina Gholam is a Dermatology Consultant at St John’s and St Elizabeth’s, and a Paediatric Dermatology Consultant at Great Ormond Street Hospital. She is one of only two doctors in the UK accredited in both Paediatrics as well as Dermatology and is an honorary lecturer at the Institute of Child Health.
Dr Gholam spoke to us about why skincare is important, as well as the challenges and opportunities that lockdown presents to healthy skin – for both children and adults.
Your skin is your body’s largest organ.
If your skin fails in any way, it can have a very serious impact on your quality of life – and because it is the body’s largest organ, there are more things that can go wrong with it than for other organs; most specialities count a few hundred conditions compared to dermatology which counts a few thousand.
The impact on quality of life is made all the worse by the fact that a large number of those conditions can be very uncomfortable. For example, imagine you have cracked skin on your hands – that will make all the handwashing you have to do at the moment very painful.
Then there are the severe, life-threatening conditions, like melanoma skin cancer – which is the fifth most common cancer in the UK. In recent years, as a result of international travel and exposure to the sun on holidays, we have been seeing an increase in skin cancers. It is therefore very important to survey your skin, and if you find anything suspicious to contact a medical professional promptly rather than postpone it.
Finally, your skin can actually be a sign that there is something wrong within your body; for example, if your skin starts turning yellow it may indicate a liver condition, or if you develop a rash it may be a result of lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. Again, paying attention to your skin is incredibly important, there’s a lot that can go wrong with it and a great deal it can tell us about our general health.
We are getting more sunlight – and drier skin – in lockdown.
In terms of what people have been able to do during lockdown, it is largely limited to walking outside in parks – and because the weather has been unseasonably good there has been a lot of exposure to sunlight, resulting in quite a few cases of sunburn. Self-protection, including applying regular sun cream, should be adhered to. Furthermore, with people working from home, even sitting in front of the window can expose you to more sun than you might otherwise expect.
Finally, the need to wash our hands more frequently has been damaging to skin too – although we must obviously continue to wash our hands. Many people will find their hands have become dry and crack. It is really worth investing in a good hand moisturiser and using it frequently – after washing your hands, and in the morning and in the evening.
Generally, a healthy diet and staying hydrated will always benefit your skin.
Don’t let lockdown put you off getting checked out – or using your medication.
It is very, very important – especially for adults – to look at their skin and if they find any lesions that are suspicious to get them checked out. In the summer we always get a surge in people worried about skin cancer because they have started wearing less clothing and are noticing unusual things on their skin. I am particularly concerned that because of lockdown there might be a tendency to delay presentation as people are scared about coming into a hospital to get checked out.
Another worry is that there has been a huge misconception that if you have eczema, you should not be treating it with topical steroids because they are immunosuppressants – which is totally wrong; topical steroids do not weaken your immune system. Some people’s skin has flared up because they have been frightened into not using their usual medication making them more susceptible to infections.
Parents of babies with eczema should not be over-cautious.
Where we have young babies with eczema, we have noticed that there has been a lot of fear about treating their skin, and a lot of cautiousness about starting them on various foods – and these two factors together increase the risk of the baby developing food allergies.
Parents should seek medical attention to treat the eczema promptly, and they should start all the foods and not be late weaning off. It is also very important to have vaccinations done in a timely fashion.
The environmental impact of the lockdown is good for skin.
The decrease in pollution in cities – and the decreased need to use public transport – mean that it is easier for skin to stay cleaner and healthier under current conditions. That being said, there are implications in terms of increased anxiety that means people may be picking at their skin or focusing on things about it they don’t like.
Now is a good time to deal with your skin conditions.
There is more time in lockdown to focus on your long-standing skin issues – for example if you have not had time to sort out conditions like acne, eczema or psoriasis. Healthcare professionals are still providing video consultations and are able to see patients face to face.
I have spoken to many teenagers who have been quite depressed that they have been unable to treat their acne, and the lockdown has actually been a very good time to teach them how to look after their skin and carry out their treatment.
If you would like to book a skin consultation call our booking department on: 020 3370 1026