Caring for your skin
Skin is the largest organ in the body. It has a number of important functions:
- It protects against mechanical impacts and pressure
- Acts as a barrier to infection
- Helps to regulate our body temperature
- Absorbs sunlight to make vitamin D
- Provides sensation allowing us to feel touch, pain, pressure and differences in temperature
Sometimes your skin can become dry or irritated causing flaking, redness, itching or soreness. If the skin breaks down (due to cracking or from scratching) then it can no longer act as a barrier to bacteria and may become infected.
If you have sensitive skin, you may find that it is easily irritated and you have to be mindful of which products you put on your skin.
Genital skin is particularly delicate and sensitive. Even if you don’t normally have any skin problems, you should be careful with this area. We recommend:
- Gentle cleansing – avoid soaps and fragrances products such as bubble baths as these can irritate the skin and strip it of its natural moisture. Instead, cleanse the area with warm water and a soap substitute such as aqueous cream. Make sure to pat the area dry rather than rubbing the skin.
- Moisturising – many people neglect the genital area but this often needs moisturising too! Simple non – fragranced moisturisers are best. If you have dry/irritated skin, try moisturising every day after cleansing. Don’t forget that moistures often contain oily substances which can interact with condoms making the burst easily, so you may wish to avoid these moisturisers close the time you have protected sex
- Underwear – wear loose fitting underwear made from natural fibres e.g. cotton and wash them with non –biological washing powder.
- Don’t scratch – easier said than done but scratching causes the release of a chemical called histamine which makes the skin even more itchy! Scratching can also lead to an infection.
Moisturisers (also known as emollients) help to protect and heal the skin. Everyone is different and the best emollient for one person may not be the best for you. However, most people will benefit from simple emollients that are fragrance free. The following are all recommended by Dermatologists (in order of increasing greasiness)
- Double base Gel
- Diprobase Cream
- Cetraben Cream
- Epaderm Cream
- Aveeno Cream
- Cetraben Ointment
- Epaderm Ointment
Greasier products tend to contain less preservatives so may be better if you have really sensitive skin.
Try out a few to see which works best for you and continue to use them. Emollients need to be used on an ongoing basis.
All of the above can be brought without a prescription from your local pharmacy
Steroids are sometimes needed to calm down inflamed and irritated skin. They are normally given as a cream or an ointment. These are safe to use for short periods but it is important not to use a steroid that is too strong or for too long especially on the delicate genital area. This is because overuse can cause thinning of the skin.
Steroids should only be used if recommended by a doctor or pharmacist as using them on some rashes (for example those caused by a fungus or bacteria) may make things worse. Always follow the instructions given to you by your doctor.
Steroid creams and ointments should be applied after moisturising – wait 10 minutes for the moisturiser to soak in, then apply a thin layer to the affected area once or twice daily (unless instructed by your doctor otherwise).
Other creams that you might be prescribed are those containing anti-fungals or anti-bacterials. Sometimes these are combined with steroid creams to calm down the inflammation and treat the underlying infection.
Folliculitis is a common skin complaint caused by inflammation or infection. This can cause an itchy/sore bumpy red rash. It is more common on hairy areas such as the legs, back and genital areas.
It is important to keep the skin clean with gentle cleansing, drying and to avoid shaving as this irritates the hair follicle. Antiseptic washes and creams such as Dermol 500 are often helpful but in severe cases you may need antibiotics.
Further information about specific skin conditions and treatments can be found on the following websites:
British Skin Foundation www.britishskinfoundation.org.uk
National Eczema Society www.eczema.org
British Association of Dermatologists www.bad.org.uk