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Caring for skin, hair and lips this harmattan


Just as the skin needs to be cared for and moisturised this harmattan period, the hair also needs to be protected from harsh weather, which can make the natural hair look dull and dry. The season is dry and dusty, so it is important to take extra care of the skin and ensure that retention of extra moisture on the hair is maximised.

Dr. Erere Otrofanowei, Consultant Physician, Dermatologist and Genitourinary Specialist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital said: “There is need to be more aware of the skin during harmattan. The skin, hair, nails, and mucous membranes will be crying out for more attention this period. The one thing they all need is adequate and recurrent moisturisation.

“As the air is dry and lacking water vapour, one must attempt to restore this by drinking lots of water (not beers or fizzy drinks, which are argued to have liquid content only). The recommended intake is at least three litres of water daily. This is about six of the now ubiquitous water sachets peddled everywhere and two of the large bottled water commercially sold. This will plump up the cells of the body, which mostly contain water. About two thirds of intracellular fluids is water.”

Otrofanowei explained that this is the season, when exposed skin of the arms and legs are cadaveric grey in colour and the skin texture is dry with lines and cracks .

She said: “Medically, this dry skin is called Xerosis and in severe form, xerosis brings about Ichthyosis. Xerosis is the harbinger of itching, and when one scratches dry skin, it easily fissures, causing sores and ulcers, depending on the intensity of the scratch (er) and the tools employed for scratching. Some people have bought those long plastic hands to assist in scratching the difficult to reach parts of the skin. Tight clothing such as jeggings or skinny jeans, scratchy lace fabrics and stiff clothing worn during harmattan may not be very pleasant for the skin.

“Tight clothing will strip off the little moisture the skin tries to produce and reduce or even cut off the skin capillary blood supply, causing pins and needles sensation, numbness, and eventual sores. Sometimes, people attempt to restore blood flow to the skin by slapping on it gently or rubbing against a surface, when all that is needed is to remove the tight clothing or spandex and allow unrestricted blood flow.

“The hair becomes dry, brittle, lacking in lustre and easily breaks during this season. Females who wear their natural hair should put them in protective hairstyles and limit the exposure to the dry harmattan winds. Steaming, applying leave-in conditioners and moisturising for all hair types is recommended. However, styles needing hair gels are discouraged. Males who are bald or like clean shave need to apply hair creams and oils to a damp scalp/skin often, whilst those who sport a hairstyle should ensure they apply hair creams after a shower before combing. Everyone should avoid combing the hair when dry.

“The hair needs to be protected, as well as the skin to avoid looking like you are malnourished or have just had an electric shock therapy. The lips, the nails (especially the cuticles) and genitals are all part of the skin and should not be neglected. Some people would dress up fully after a bath and apply a moisturiser only to their feet because they plan to wear slippers or open–toed footwear. Thus, the hands were just lucky to be the messenger. The partition between the buttocks easily gets robbed of its moisture because of clothing (underwear, tailored trousers, jeans) and is prone to fissures and ulcers when dry.

“The lips easily get chaffed. This is not a sign of vitamin C deficiency requiring oral medication, but a cry for help in applying a protective jelly. So, how does one go about maintaining healthy skin this harmattan season? The solution lies in adequately moisturising the skin, hair and lips. There should be water on those surfaces before applying the occlusive cream or ointment, which then effectively traps the water on the skin. Attempting to apply oils (whether organic or natural as the current trend is) directly to dry skin results in making the skin oily or slippery with a shiny exterior, which has not been moisturised.

Appreciating that a cold bath may be a tall order now, a hot bath is discouraged, as it allows for faster evaporation from the skin. Use tepid water and a gentle toilet soap with no added antiseptics or disinfectants. Do not stay too long in the shower and apply your moisturiser while still in the bathroom.

Petroleum jelly or shea butter is recommended, and this should be applied all over the skin surface, including the lips and nails. For ladies, it may also be used to take off your make up at nighttime, before washing your face. A pocket-sized tub of the petroleum jelly can be carried about to adequately re-moisturise as often as needed.”

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