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How to avoid dry skin and allergies this winter

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It's not uncommon for newcomers to Beijing to feel uncomfortable when they first arrive here. Beijing is full of weird and wonderful foods, smells, and particles – and those who are exposed to these things for the first time may react to them. To help you avoid allergic reactions and skin irritations from any pesky new allergens you may encounter, we asked Dr. Shan Yuan, Chair of Dermatology at Beijing United Family Hospital (BJU) for some guidance.

Here be allergens. “Allergic reactions can be caused by something new in the air,” explains Dr. Yuan, citing pollen, dust, and mold as the main airborne offenders. The second-most common allergens are from food. “There’s a lot of delicious food in China, but there can be a lot of ingredients that are new or unfamiliar for foreigners,” says Dr. Yuan. She cautions that these new ingredients may cause reactions in people who have never had them. 

Find the cause. “When allergic reactions happen, we should see the doctor as soon as possible to control it and try to find the cause,” advises Dr. Yuan. BJU can conduct allergy tests to help determine what you are allergic to, and our ER is equipped to deal with allergy-related emergencies, such as anaphylaxis. While our dermatologists can help with allergy treatments, we also have a dedicated allergy specialist at BJU's main campus every Monday, and she can provide further insight if needed. 

“When allergic reactions happen, we should see the doctor as soon as possible" says Dr. Shan Yuan.

Check your risk. So, who’s more likely to suffer from allergies to new stuff, we asked Dr. Yuan? “People with a family history of allergies, and people who suffered from allergic reactions when they were very young, such as infant eczema, asthma or bronchitis, are more susceptible,” she says.

Skin deep. If you’re feeling itchy and uncomfortable but are pretty sure it’s not an allergic reaction, the cause could be something else entirely. “Sometimes, foreigners who come to China (especially if they come in the winter) will have a very bad winter,” says Dr. Yuan. “Apart from the smog, the water will make them feel very uncomfortable,” she explains. “Beijing’s water is hard and full of minerals and, especially in winter, it can rinse off a lot of skin oil.” This, combined with Beijing’s dry air, can leave your skin dry, itchy, and more susceptible to skin irritations from unfamiliar things. 

It puts the lotion on the skin. So, what’s a laowai to do on a cold, dry, Beijing winter’s day? Dr. Yuan’s magic formula for skin health is simple: Don’t shower too much and use lots of moisturizer. “Generally, skin doctors who work in Beijing or other dry areas strongly recommend moisturizer cream. Don’t use water that’s too hot when you shower. Don’t shower too often. Don’t spend too much time in the shower. Don’t use too much cleanser," she cautions. It could also be a good idea to attach a water filter to your shower head to filter out minerals. 

Choose your battles. If you’re one of those crazy foreigners who likes taking two showers a day and really can’t cut down, you’re probably thinking, “Eh, what’s the big deal? So what if my skin is a little drier in the winter?” If you don't mind a bit of dryness, then perhaps your skin is more robust. But others who are more sensitive may find that this dryness causes some unpleasant reactions. “When skin gets dry and sensitive, you may get more rashes, more itchiness, tingling, swelling, or oozing. Itchiness can also affect the sleep. Bad sleep also affects the skin. So this is a very bad cycle.”

Write it down. If you're the itchy, oozy type, then just remember Dr. Yuan’s simple recipe: Don’t shower too much and use plenty of moisturizer on your skin! If you find you’re still uncomfortable – or think you may be suffering from allergies – make an appointment with Dr. Yuan to get to the root of it. 

Dr. Shan Yuan is Chair of Dermatology at Beijing United Family Hospital. She has practiced dermatology for 21 years. If you would like to make an appointment with her, please call our service center at 4008-919191.

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Louise Andren
Louise Andren

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