Heat and humidity are the eternal summer foes of great skin and hair. What's a Hongkonger to do? We spoke to Ceri Silk from Glow with Ceri Silk spa, Robin Lomas from Paul Gerard hairdressing salon and Sarah Chung from Gentlemen's Tonic for professional advice on how to get fabulous hair and skin this summer.
Although sun exposure is needed for the body to make vitamin D, an essential nutrient for healthy bones, it can be extremely damaging to skin and hair. Smog and pollution may make it seem otherwise, but Hong Kong experiences high levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Silk says one of her clients was sitting under an umbrella by the pool, but the reflection from the water and the tiles caused her face to get sunburned.
Sunburn is bad for your skin as it causes ageing, pigmentation problems, and irritates the skin. In the long term, it can cause cancer. It is therefore important to get a sunblock that protects your skin from both UVA and UVB rays. Many sunblocks protect skin only from UVB rays, which penetrate the upper layer of skin. But UVA has an effect on the deeper layer of skin which can cause more long-term damage.
Says Chung: "UV is definitely a key external force which causes damage to skin and hair." To protect your hair from UV rays, there are shampoos, conditioners and styling products that contain UV protection to prevent breakages and keep your natural hair shine and colour.
The high levels of pollution in Hong Kong can be very damaging for both skin and hair. Heavy metals present in pollution, such as mercury, arsenic and lead, can accumulate in the skin and can cause pigmentation problems. Silk says they can also build up in hair and nails.
When exposed to pollution, the odd melanin cell can become overstimulated and cause uneven patches of darker skin. To prevent this, find creams that contain polysaccharides, which engulf such heavy metals, protecting your skin from the pollution.
Vitamin C can help protect the body from pollution as it has powerful antioxidant properties. It has an anti-free radical action that protects the skin against UV radiation. It also helps in the formation of collagen, which helps to prevent premature ageing.
Vitamin C is water soluble and not stored in the body. Any excess is eliminated in urine. So daily doses of vitamin C are needed, says Silk.
It does not easily penetrate the skin, which is why a lot of vitamin C must be consumed in order to make a difference.
Apart from vitamin C, foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, and other essential vitamins, are needed to keep skin, hair and scalp healthy. The skin is the largest organ of the body and is the last to receive essential vitamins. So it is the first to show signs of any deficiencies caused by stress or illness.
Hair can grow up to 1.5cm a month, and the foundation of all new skin, hair and other tissue comes from nutrients in food.
The body is made up of 75 per cent water, and hydration is vital for the body and skin's health. "Your skin is one of the body's major organs responsible for elimination of toxins. The more hydrated your body is the better your skin will perform this function," says Chung.
Drinking too little water causes both skin and hair to become dehydrated and look dull and lifeless. Both coffee and alcohol have dehydrating effects on the body, so those who drink a lot of these substances must drink even more water to counter such effects.
It is a common misconception that acne and other skin irritations come from dirty skin. Such irritations usually come from within.
Nevertheless, it is important to keep skin clean, as this will help to remove bacteria. But it is also a good idea not to over-wash the skin, as this will only irritate and worsen a skin condition.
One should have a daily cleansing routine for the skin. Don't over-cleanse. The oil produced by the skin is necessary to protect the body from external irritants. Bacteria are also harboured by the skin to give it a pH of 5.5. Excess oil production encourages bacteria to thrive and can cause infection, which leads to spots.
But if there is not enough oil, the skin will become dry and sensitive, as it will not have the oil and bacteria it needs to protect it.
Silk also suggests getting professional facials regularly. This is because although home cleansing products have improved in recent years, they still cannot reach the lower layers of skin that professional treatments do.
A spot or a pimple indicates a deeper infection. Refrain from squeezing spots. Although this may remove the top layer, it may also push the infection further into the dermis layer which may only worsen the problem.
Chung suggests using high quality products and avoiding ingredients such as alcohol, petrochemicals and parabens.
In the summer months, long hair is likely to become frizzy and uncontrollable. Regular trims every six to eight weeks help, says Lomas.
More serious frizz problems may require a "Brazilian blow dry treatment", which injects pure keratin (the natural substance in nails, skin and hair) into hair strands to nourish them. But Lomas advises caution for this treatment, as most of the products used contain formaldehyde, a pungent gas that's linked with cancer. Try to choose organic products that do not contain formaldehyde.
He suggests: "Start off with a stylist you trust, and let them guide you in what's best for your hair."
"Be happy," says Chung. "There are many studies which show a correlation between emotional well-being and physical health. So looking after your mental and emotional self will nurture your physical self."
Stress releases hormones including adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. These cause the blood vessels that supply nutrients to organs such as the skin to constrict, thereby reducing the amount of nutrients provided to these cells.
This inhibits the barrier function of the skin, causing dry and flaky skin, which is easily irritated.
Stress also affects breathing, and reduces the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream. In the long term, this can affect the health of the skin and all other tissue in the body.
Stress can also play a part in hair loss by forcing hair follicles into a resting phase, resulting in rapid, but not necessarily permanent, hair loss. A massage can help to reduce tension in the skin and surrounding tissues, improve blood circulation, stimulate the lymphatic system and help you to mentally relax.