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A dermatologist’s top tips on relieving dry, itchy skin

If there has been one good thing that came out of the Covid-19 pandemic, it would be this: we are washing our hands more frequently. Regular hand washing, which includes using soap and scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds, can reduce the spread of viral infections and bacteria, as can using a hand sanitiser.    

In an April 2021 poll done by The Straits Times, almost all of the 53 respondents said they washed their hands more than three times a day. The downside to adopting this hygienic habit is those with sensitive or eczema-prone skin can be at a greater risk of getting hand eczema. The reason? Soap and sanitisers tend to dry out skin, especially if they are formulated with germ-fighting alcohol.

When skin is stripped of its natural oils and moisture, the top-most skin barrier, which forms its first line of defence against external stressors, gets weakened and irritation and inflammation are more likely to occur.  

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Dr Tham Siew Nee, a senior dermatologist at Tham Siew Nee Skin Clinic, and who has more than 30 years of experience, says that she sees at least three to four cases of general eczema daily at her clinic. 

There are different types of eczema, also known as dermatitis. The most common form is atopic eczema, which is chronic and “can come and go for many years”. This shows up as red, scaly or weepy lesions, usually found in the folds of the neck, arms and legs. In infants, this presents as rough, dry and inflamed rashes on the cheek and nappy areas, says Dr Tham. Contact dermatitis, on the other hand, develops as a result of external irritants like nickel jewellery, strong detergents or harsh soaps.

Dr Tham says: “During this pandemic, healthcare and childcare workers have been using sanitisers more frequently, and some have developed very dry, itchy hands. Working from home has seen more people cooking and cleaning as well. This has also caused some to present with itchy eczema on their hands.” 

Some signs that you may have hand eczema include skin that looks red and feels dry and itchy, even to the extent of peeling, flaking, cracking and blistering. Being in warm weather makes things worse, triggering more issues of skin conditions all over the body, including eczema, acne and psoriasis. 

But instead of avoiding cleansing products altogether, Dr Tham says taking regular showers to remove perspiration and dirt from your skin is actually crucial. These are some other ways to help reduce the risks of getting contact dermatitis.


Senior dermatologist Dr Tham Siew Nee recommends using a pH-balanced body wash that is specially formulated for dry, sensitive or eczema-prone skin. PHOTO: SUU BALM

Use a soap-free wash

Shop for soaps with lower amounts of sodium lauryl sulphate or none of this at all. This ingredient creates the bubbly foam in soaps, shower creams and facial washes, but it can irritate sensitive skin. 

Don’t use a strong antibacterial wash

Dr Tham says that even during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is not necessary to use a strong antibacterial wash. She adds that many people think such products are more effective at reducing bacteria, but harsher soaps can be more alkaline, which means they cause skin to become dehydrated and the skin barrier to be weakened.

She adds: “Most of us do not work in a dirty environment, so we do not need such harsh soaps to clean ourselves.”

Go for a pH-balanced body wash

Healthy skin has a natural pH level of 5.4 to 5.9, while those with eczema tend to have skin with higher pH levels. For the latter, Dr Tham suggests using a body wash with a pH level closer to that of healthy skin. 

For instance, home-grown brand Suu Balm is known for its Dual Cooling & Moisturising Cream Body Wash. Formulated by Prof. Tey Hong Liang, who is an Adjunct Assoc. Prof running the Itch Clinic at the National Skin Centre Singapore, Suu Balm is specially formulated for dry, sensitive or eczema-prone skin.

Dr Tey chose five moisturising ingredients, including rich shea butter as well as non-drying menthol to provide itchy skin with soothing, cooling relief.  

What you won’t find in the Suu Balm Dual Cooling & Moisturising Cream Body Wash are parabens, preservatives and artificial fragrances, all which can trigger skin inflammation. It is also free of soap and sulfate. 

In addition, the body wash has a rich, creamy and moisturising consistency that feels comforting on sensitive skin or on just about anyone who wants to opt for a body wash that has ultra-clean ingredients.

Moisturise often

Always apply a moisturiser after a shower when your skin is still damp and better able to absorb and seal in the product. Dr Tham explains: “In eczema, there is skin barrier dysfunction on top of inflammation. If your skin is inflamed and dry, you may want to consider a moisturiser with ceramides as they help to lock moisture into skin. If the itch is intense, using a moisturiser with menthol will help to soothe it.”

Suu Balm body wash and moisturisers, from $21.90 – $49.90, are available at Guardian, Watsons, Unity, and on Suu Balm official stores on Shopee, Qoo10, Lazada and www.suubalm.com.

Enjoy 15 per cent off Suu Balm Dual Cooling & Moisturising Cream Body Wash at www.suubalm.com from now till August 11. Enter “WASH15” upon checkout to enjoy the offer along with free local shipping. While stocks last. Not applicable for promotional bundles.


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