For many, 2020 has been a year of new experiences: wearing masks in supermarkets, Zoom conferences and watching Ministers cry on television. But for me, the biggest novelty has been that the skin on my face appears to be – for want of a better word – shedding.
Every morning for the past six months, I’ve awoken to find a delightful trail of skin debris on my pillow – and have a face that feels, and looks, as if it’s been soaked in bleach.
For a moment, I thought I’d contracted an unusual strain of Covid that causes snake-like skin. But I have weekly tests at work and so far, so negative.
After some research online I stumbled across hundreds of Twitter threads detailing the same affliction, mostly associated with home-working – which sufferers had coined ‘radiator face’.
Every morning for the past six months, I’ve awoken to find a delightful trail of skin debris on my pillow – and have a face that feels, and looks, as if it’s been soaked in bleach (file photo)
The clue’s in the name – unusually dry skin, caused by over-exposure to indoor heating. And suddenly it made sense to me, given my habit of boosting the thermostat at least once daily on the two days of the week I’m working from home.
I’ve also been known to eat dinner sitting on the floor, with my back to the radiator.
Perhaps it’s no surprise then that my partner, Will, is another victim.
‘What’s happened to my hands?’ he asked last week, presenting palms that looked as if they’d been through an industrial cheese-grater.
No amount of exfoliation (he’s rejected my ‘girly’ skin care products and, instead, has taken to making his own concoctions out of sugar and oil) has so far worked to stop the dry, crusty and peeling skin.
I suggested he book an appointment for a beauty therapist for a hand moisturising treatment – but he drew the line.
Neither Will nor I have ever struggled with dry skin, and we are both in our late 20s and have not yet succumbed to age-related problems. One medium-sized pot of moisturiser usually sees me through an entire year. So far in 2020, I’ve got through four.
So why is my face peeling off?
According to dermatologists, Covid lockdowns have created a nation of ‘radiator faces’.
‘Dry, itchy skin is one of the things I see most frequently these days,’ says Dr Alia Ahmed, consultant dermatologist at Barts NHS Trust.
One medium-sized pot of moisturiser usually sees me through an entire year. So far in 2020, I’ve got through four, writes Eve Simmons (file photo)
‘It’s not a surprise with everyone spending more time indoors with the heating on full blast.
‘The sudden change of temperature becomes more extreme when you do venture out, which plays havoc on the skin.
‘And then there’s mask-wearing, which causes friction, rubbing off already flaking skin and irritating it.’
As for my scaly partner, Dr Ahmed says: ‘Alcohol in hand sanitisers removes natural oils in the skin that keeps them moist, causing extremely dry and flaky patches.’
We shed more than 30,000 dead skin cells per minute. That amounts to losing about half a stone’s worth of old skin in just a year.
According to Dr Ahmed, there’s several reasons why heating leads to radiator face.
‘The outer layer of skin, called the stratum corneum, acts as a barrier – keeping bacteria out, retaining moisture,’ she says.
‘But in dry conditions, water in the barrier escapes easily through gaps between the cells of the stratum corneum, causing skin to dry up. So not only will you notice dry, flaky patches, but you may get more spots, as bacteria gets in through gaps in the cells.
‘People with common skin conditions such as eczema are especially vulnerable because their skin barrier is often naturally weaker.’
Coming in from the cold – to a toasty house – makes matters worse. Blood vessels near the surface of the skin widen in warmer temperatures, and are very narrow in cold temperatures. Going from cold to hot too quickly can put extra strain on the delicate blood vessels in the tissue, causing swelling, redness and irritation.
So is there anything I can do about my radiator face?
First, Dr Ahmed advises, I should try methods of prevention.
‘You need to inject moisture into the hot air. An easy way of doing this is to put a bowl of water next to the radiator. Or invest in an air humidifier that does it automatically. You can get them from about £15 online.’
Avoid, or reduce, the use of certain go-to skin care products, too. Popular face washes are a common cause of dry face, specifically gel and foam formulas.
Hundreds of Twitter threads detailed the same affliction, mostly associated with home-working – which sufferers had coined ‘radiator face’ (file photo)
Dr Ahmed says: ‘They contain ingredients like salicylic acid, designed to unclog pores filled with dirt or bacteria. But these potent acids destroy the natural oils beneath the skin which keep it supple, drying it out.’
Dr Ahmed advises sticking to a cream-based cleanser with a high water content, instead, such as La Roche Posay Effaclar H Cleansing Cream Cleanser.
Sadly, anti-ageing creams and oils that contain retinol – proven to increase the production of plumping collagen under the skin – are off-limits for a while. Dr Ahmed says: ‘It increases the production of new skin cells, causing old ones to shed from the skin’s surface, making the “peeling face” look even worse.’
What’s the difference… between a hepatologist and a haematologist?
A hepatologist is a doctor specialising in the field of hepatology – which concerns mainly the liver, as well as the gallbladder.
Hepatologists start off with specialist training in gastroenterology, or the digestive system, before going on to specialise in liver health.
A haematologist specialises in conditions associated with the blood and bone marrow, and they treat people with anaemia, bloodclotting conditions and blood cancers, such as leukaemia and lymphoma.
As for treatment, Dr Ahmed prescribes a routine of thick lotions and potions twice daily. ‘Put a serum on under your moisturiser – and choose one that is labelled as hydrating,’ she says. ‘Then apply a thicker-than-usual moisturiser, and do this morning and night.’
But not just any old moisturiser. ‘Look for an ingredient called ceramide, which is a fatty chemical that can repair the skin’s barrier, helping to stop water escaping. Hyaluronic acid is also useful, because it binds together with water to boost moisture.
‘And try products with Vitamin B5 – which accelerates the rate at which skin cells can absorb moisture from the air around you.’ Dr Ahmed’s recommended products include The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid + B5 Serum and Adex Gel Emollient, which is available from most high street chemists. Using creams that have a high oil content – rather than watery lotions – will work better to repair broken skin as they penetrate the deep layers.
What I feel I need now though is to indulge in a quick fix. I ask Dr Preema Vig, a GP-turned facialist and aesthetician, who runs the Dr Preema London clinic.She suggests a Hydrafacial, costing between £150 and £250. ‘This first exfoliates away the dead skin cells on the surface, before massaging moisture back into the skin with hyaluronic acid and proteins to help rebuild the skin’s barrier,’ she says.
‘Hyaluronic acid absorbs 1,000 times its weight in water. There’s an instant injection of moisture, and effects last about six weeks.’
As for avoiding mask-related skin problems, a simple tip is to make sure it fits properly.
‘If it’s not snug against the face, it’ll rub, further irritating dry and scaly skin and causing itchy, inflamed patches, says Dr Ahmed. ‘Use facial spritzers frequently to rehydrate the skin. If they contain antimicrobial properties, even better. This will destroy spot-causing bacteria.’ She recommends Clinisept’s Skin Protect Spray, which dries instantly.
At least, this year, I won’t need to show my flaking face at any work Christmas parties. And for that, my colleagues can be thankful.