Covid-19 has got under our skin, both figuratively and literally. There are rising concerns and debates around skin related health issues and perception building. Asian Voice spoke to Dr Sreedhar Krishna, NHS consultant dermatologist who threw some light over these pressing issues.
While Covid-19 has forced everyone to use sanitisers and soap more frequently than before, many people have complained of rashes or peeling of skin. We asked Dr Krishna what triggers that and do we need to worry about it. He said, “Hand sanitisers and soaps are harsh on the skin. While the alcoholic component of sanitisers is excellent at sterilising the skin, they can also lead to increased drying of the skin and damage to the skin barrier. Likewise, soaps are generally alkaline - applying them to the skin raises the skin pH and can trigger skin peeling and hand eczema. My recommendation is to use soap substitutes to wash your hands - these will clean the skin without damaging the skin barrier.”
Since the BAME community is primarily identified by the color of the skin, and many people still feel insecure about it or develop complexes, Dr Krishna explained the scientific basis of having brown skin and why whitening products may or may not be good for dermatological health. He said, “The colour of our skin is determined by a number of substances with the most important of these being melanin. Our skin colour is mainly determined by genetics which affects the amount and type of melanin that an individual produces. Our skin colour has been determined by evolution - brown skin helped our ancestors survive in sunny climates and thus the dark skinned are adapted for life in sunny climates. Modern life has meant that people of all colours live all over the world and this has led to a variety of health issues. The dark skinned in the UK are generally Vitamin D deficient (which increases the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and depression) while fair-skinned people in Australia are at much higher risks of skin cancer. We should be proud of our skin colour as it has served our ancestors well in Asia!”
He also added that the ingredients in skin lightening products can do irreparable damage to our health. “The commonest ingredient used in these products is hydroquinone, the long-term use of which has been associated with kidney failure and blood cancers. From a skin perspective, it can lead to a patchy skin tone as well as triggering eczema. Corticosteroids which are another key ingredient can also lead to premature skin ageing, wrinkling and skin fragility. The risks are simply not worth it!”
Many Asian households have a tendency to follow self medication and traditional methods of treating skin issues. Dr Krishna explained why it is not ok to do that. “As you say, the use of self-medication and alternative therapies is pretty widespread in Asian households. While I am trained in conventional medicine, I do not have a negative view of alternative therapy. The issue is that many products which are labelled 'natural' or 'organic' often contain other unlabelled ingredients which can be dangerous for health. This has been shown in the case of herbal remedies which were tested in an industrial laboratory and found to contain potent steroids. Self-medication in itself is not the issue - the problem is that if something doesn't resolve, you must seek medical help. Skin issues such as skin cancer cause no symptoms (i.e. no pain, no itch) and so people tend to ignore them. This can mean that they see the doctor much later than they might otherwise have done - making treatment much more difficult. If you do try self-medicating or alternative therapy, please do mention it to the doctor when you see them. The treatment you have done can make rashes look different and if we don't know what has been done to the skin before we meet, it makes securing the correct diagnosis a lot more difficult!”
Women are now preferring to go for laser hair removal after being stuck at home without regular grooming sessions. Is it safe to do that? Dr Krishna said, “Yes, this would be fine. Make sure you see someone who is reputable, experienced with skin of colour and is taking the necessary precautions to keep you safe.”