Beijing newbies may already be noticing that their lips are chapping more, or that they are scratching their suddenly very itchy dry skin on their legs. Welcome to Beijing! Soon your face will look like the photo on the right. (Well, maybe, under a microscope)
Winters in general are drier than the humid summers, but in our northern city of Beijing it is very dry– plus, humidity is usually lower indoors, especially once the heating kicks in. Humidity levels in the teens are common; this is almost as low as on a plane! That’s why you always feel that itchy, irritated throat, or start having very dry skin — not to mention the cracking furniture at home.
This dry air can cause a number of health problems, including:
- Irritation cough
- Severely itchy, dry skin, especially lower legs
- Longer recoveries from common cold symptoms
So, Beijingers need to have different habits in the fall and winter, until the humidity picks up:
Moisturize! Most likely at least once a day after your shower, but really as often as needed to get your skin moist. This is the #1 thing to do to prevent as well as treat itchy skin problems, so get in the habit of moisturizing daily just after your shower — as quickly as you can after lightly toweling off. What’s the best moisturizer? You can ask your colleagues and also check the info already up on websites like Beijing Kids or the Beijing Cafe Yahoo group, but in general the non-fragrant lotions like Neutrogena, Keri, Cetaphil, and Aveeno are all ok. Some people need stronger, thicker types like Vaseline (petroleum jelly), especially kids with eczema problems. I’ve also just started to use baby oil, especially on dry legs, and I find it works even better than my lotion. You can read more about helping kid’s dry skin here.
Our clinic pharmacy carries Vaseline, Cetaphil and a couple others, including a decent popular lotion called biaoting, sold by a local hospital and here for 30RMB (see the photo to the right). I actually prefer this lotion during winter for my itchy legs, and I also like Neutrogena’s body lotion. Watsons is another good place to start when looking for lotions. And no, there is no need to spend a ton of money on super-fancy lotion. Oatmeal solutions such as the Aveeno brand are also excellent for itchy, dry skin but I haven’t found that brand here yet in stores, although there are lots of Aveeno Baby lotions on taobao.com.
Humidifiers! Since most of your winter hours are indoors, it is crucial to have control over your home’s humidity. I think it’s essential to have these in as many rooms as needed, especially the bedrooms. In my home, I have two big humidifiers running 24-7 from now to April to keep the air at a nice 30-50% humidity. (Don’t know your humidity levels? Get a hygrometer at Carrefour/April Gourmet-type stores). As for which is best, again you can ask around but I think the best local brand, Yadu, available at all big stores, is probably just as good and far cheaper than imports. They also have a higher-end joint venture with Westinghouse. In either case, I now prefer their large ultrasonic models over their impeller “spinning disk” models.
Does Hard Water Make It Worse?
Some expats feel that Beijing’s hard water makes their skin itchier and drier. I’m honestly not sure about this connection, but I have heard anecdotal reports of people’s skin improving after installing shower water softeners. I’m a bit curious so I just bought the best brand, Aquasana, and will try it out over the next few months and see if there’s any improvement. By the way, Aquasana is easy to order in China, from Tianjin, and they are rated highly for drinking water purifiers (which I also just bought).
More health information
Dry skin (medical term: xerosis) hopefully for you will be only a mild irration, but it can be quite severe for people, especially the itchiness. You can learn more about it with these links:
- Patient handout on dry skin from American Family Physician
- Good wikipedia review on winter dry skin (xerosis)
- Similar patient guidelines from the Mayo Clinic and a dermatology group
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