5 Must-Haves of Singapore Skincare Brands: Dermatologist Recommended
Singapore skincare brands ought to tailor to Singapore’s climate, what do you think? What are the key characteristics of skincare tailored to tropical climates? Ever experienced frustration at your “melting” moisturiser and foundation because of the sweltering heat? Welcome to Hot & Sweaty Beauty, a podcast by Dr.TWL Pharmacy covering all things relating to skincare, makeup and beauty in sunny Singapore.
Ep1: How Singapore Weather Affects Skincare Choices
Hear from Dr Teo Wan Lin, author of leading research in the skin microbiome1 on the unique challenges faced by Singapore skincare brands in formulating beauty products adapted to equatorial climates. The local environment is a well established factor that directly affects one’s skin. Dr. Teo expounds on her research focus on the skin microbiome. The skin microbiome is now key to our understanding of various dermatological conditions like acne, rosacea, perioral dermatitis and eczema. As the chief scientific officer of Dr.TWL Pharmacy, she also goes into the unique considerations affecting skincare choices for skin of color in the Singapore context.
For our international listeners, here’s a bit of context. Singapore is a tropical island that is situated right at the equator. This means we get 100% of the sun’s UV rays year round. There are no seasons, well other than the monsoon season which sends heavier rains and floods at the end of the year. Nevertheless the temperature hovers at 33-35 degrees Celsius on average with near 100% humidity levels. What does this mean for beauty lovers?
Singapore skincare brands should tailor their products to alleviate common heat-related skin conditions
How does one single product adapt to all skin types, ranging from oily, combination to dry sensitive skin? The magic here is hidden in our proprietary formula that allows users to titrate the amount of cleanser used for different skin types. This works well because of the base formulation that is universally tolerable. In addition, the botanical actives are non irritating to skin. In scientific terms, our cleanser works therapeutically on skin in a “dose-dependent” manner.
As a dermatologist trained in and practising in Singapore, my clinical experience is especially in the area of tropical dermatology. Tropical dermatology is legitamately a part of our academic curriculum as dermatologists. Most of our textbooks contain a section on that. The reason is truly because our climate does foster certain skin and scalp conditions which are less prevalent in temperate weather. Examples of common skin conditions which the public would be familiar with include heat rash. This is known medically as miliaria rubra. In addition, we have folliculitis, a form of occasionally itchy pimple like eruptions that can affect the entire body. On top of that, there are worsening flare-ups of existing skin-conditions like acne, rosacea and eczema.
The key characteristic of skincare designed for Singapore weather has to be tolerability
The Radiance Fluide is our skincare pharmacy’s answer to a 2-in-1 toner and moisturiser. Sans astringents in a universally tolerable formula, this toner moisturiser uses a potent combination of synergistic plant extracts and oligopeptides that stimulate collagen and exfoliate the skin. While retinols, acids like AHAs and BHA form the backbone of western cosmetic formulations, that doesn’t always bode well for Singapore skincare users. Due to the year round high UV exposure in Singapore, skincare that contain these photosensitising ingredients are not well tolerated in the medium to long term. Singapore skincare brands must cater to Asian skin types as well. This means skin is much more prone to developing post inflammation hyperpigmentation (PIH). PIH can develop from any irritation experienced. Redness, sensitivity, flaking are symptoms of irritation that ultimately results in PIH.
Skin “breathes” but not the way you think it does
This brings me to the reason why. Our skin is literally a living “breathing” organisms with an entire complex ecological system to call its own. Now when I say breathing, I mean the phenomenon of air flow, across the surface of skin, as opposed to respiration. This phenomenon was especially pertinent with mask-wearing behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, skin is subject to an environment which is occlusive, meaning that there is minimal/zero air flow on the skin. Additionally, Singapore’s tropical weather exacerbated this. The increased humidity, accumulation of sweat due to high environmental temperatures all led to an increased growth of microorganisms on skin covered by the face mask.
Skin discomfort affects the brain-skin connection
The retention of sweat led to an increase in what researchers term “ stickiness sensation”. This is also affected by the type of material used in the face mask. Now, this is a form of skin discomfort which isn’t just about making your skin feel uncomfortable. It can certainly get us very irritated indeed. However, the most important thing is it also triggers a feedback mechanism to your brain
Our skin is wired with nerve endings that send messages to the brain. The brain subsequently replies with chemical signals that aim to regulate certain pathways to ensure healthy skin functioning. However, what happens when skin feels uncomfortable, is not ideal. For those who suffer from eczema, they know that itch is an unbearable sensation that provokes more scratching and damaged skin. The issue with constant friction over the surface of the skin, whether caused by clothing or a face mask, results in disruption of the skin barrier, known as frictional dermatitis.
Skincare best suited for Singapore weather must feel comfortable
The commonest culprit of skin discomfort comes from sunscreen. One of the key considerations of specialist Singapore skincare brands must include how cosmetics feel on skin. Most ultra rich moisturising formulas are impractical in Singapore as they cater to temperate weather. Secondly, caucasian skin tends to be more tolerant of higher doses of retinols/retinoids when used with moisturisers than asian skin. Sunscreen formulations are usually greasy. The reason is because of the chemical sunscreen component that is oil soluble. Gel sunscreens are usually dehydrating on skin due to the alcohol component. Over time this can cause skin dryness.
The ideal sunscreen for Singapore weather is one that retains the high level of protection at the same time feels comfortable on skin. The SunProtector consists of a proprietary formulation specially designed for Singapore’s climate. It does not leave a white cast and also absorbs fully into skin without any greasiness in 60 seconds. Rather than leaving skin excessively greasy or dry, it achieves the perfect balance without a white cast. Specially suited for Asian skin types.
Climate directly affects the skin microenvironment
Coupled with increased environmental temperatures and humidity, a disrupted skin barrier then becomes the perfect breeding ground for harmful skin pathogens. This is when dermatological conditions like acne, rosacea and eczema either develop or worsen. Traditionally, dermatologists have always focussed on genetics as the primary cause of skin conditions. Rightly so, since clearly there are individuals living under the same climate conditions who never seem to develop skin problems. However, with the co-occurrence of the maskne pandemic with COVID-19, dermatologists, myself included witnessed the explosion of skin diseases amongst those who otherwise never had skin problems.
Skincare from K-beauty and J-beauty
I hope that gives you a good idea about how climate directly affects how skin behaves. Right now, we shall move on to how and why skincare and makeup in Singapore simply doesn’t behave the same under these environmental conditions.
Starting with cleansing. Traditionally, the skincare brands stocked at the beauty section in departmental stores or drugstores in Singapore are either from the west, America, Europe, or prominent Asian brands emerging from Japan and Korea. While it may be intuitive to assume that our ethnic Asian population will find Asian skincare brands more suited for their skin type, it is noteworthy that Japan and Korea, known for J-beauty and K-beauty respectively have vastly different climates. These are temperate countries just like the rest of east Asia.
Should you just shop from Asian beauty brands like those from Korea and Japan instead of western or European skincare brands? While designed for Asian skin types, these are not tailored to Singapore’s tropical weather. For example, the traditional AHA and BHA components in leave on toners can lead to sensitivity in the long term. Whether because of increased UV exposure in Singapore or because our climate can cause individuals to be at higher risk of flare ups. Especially if they have pre-existing skin conditions like acne, rosacea and eczema. Singapore skincare brands like Dr.TWL Dermaceuticals provides a customisable toner essence service that also incorporates papain enzyme peels. For those keen to exfoliate their skin and still want to avoid skin sensitivity, the Papain enzyme peel is ideal as it contains anti-inflammatory properties as well as provide benefits of exfoliation without irritating skin.
Issues with western brands of skincare not designed for Asian skin types
For American/European skincare brands sold in drugstores or specialty beauty stores, cleansers are marketed specially for different skin types. Cleansers for oily skin example often incorporate AHAs, BHAs,examples of each include glycolic and salicylic acids respectively. It does make sense from a dermatologic therapeutic perspective. This is because these acids help to increase skin turnover by exfoliation and also act as an astringent. This means that it can reduce skin oiliness or seborrhea, which directly worsens acne. However, there are issues that arise when you translate that to the Singapore context.
Singapore’s unique tropical climate and how it affects skincare choices
Firstly, we have much higher baseline UV exposure compared to other countries outside of the equator. These acids happen to cause photosensitivity or sun sensitivity. For many with acne and oily skin, using these cleansers once or twice may not result in issues. However, I have witnessed many cases whereby long term use led to facial dermatitis. Even in those who were not considered at risk. These were individuals with oily skin types, who suffered from acne and many don’t even have a family history of sensitive skin or eczema. There is another factor at play here. That is the fact that Asian skin is also more susceptible to the photosensitive effects of peeling acids found in skincare.
As one of the leading Singapore skincare brands, Dr.TWL Pharmacy prides itself on the development of skincare devices that match the stringent standards of a dermatologist. The SilkPeel is the prototype of our microdermabrasion system. The system uses copper oxide nanoparticles to resurface skin gently without the use of any sun sensitive ingredients like retinols/retinoids or acids.
Dermatologist’s experience with AHAs, BHAs in Singapore context
The point here is chemical peels, for example performed in the dermatologist’s office, are at a lower dose for skin of color which Asian skin falls under. These are wash off chemical peels which have to be neutralised. For cleansers, serums and toners which incorporate acids, skin is exposed to a much lower dose chronically. What happens then? There is not much research available on that so we can make our best guess based on firstly, clinical experience and secondly, logical deductions based on sound dermatological concepts.
Dr.TWL Dermaceuticals, headed by accredited dermatologist Dr. Teo Wan Lin, leads the way for Singapore skincare brands that are retinol and acid-free. Dr Teo is also the author of Asian Beauty Secrets-A Guide to K-beauty Skin Cycling. The book includes a glossary of retinol-alternatives.
@drteowanlin Here’s the skincare guide to read before 2023 Why You Will Love This: – Comprehensive Asian skincare bible on regimens & actives – Asian beauty’s gut-skin microbiome approach – Written by board certified dermatologist & expert on beauty formulations – Scientific approach to the ancient art of ethnobotany – Harness plant intelligence to create the ideal skincare regimen – Dictionary of Asian beauty plant actives categorised by plant parts – Discover nature’s own plant-based skin cycling formulas Asian Beauty Secrets: Hello to Plant-Powered Skin Cycling Say bye to DIY Skin-Cycling. Here’s how. With skin cycling all the rage on TikTok, we reveal how hidden intelligence of plant extracts facilitates natural skin cycling. In fact, the better way is to identify whole plant actives, nature’s ready made skincare actives, that work on multiple cellular pathways to mitigate irritation & are universally tolerable. #dermatologist #beautyhack #skincareguide #skincycling #skincareroutine #skincyclingresults #skincyclingnight2 #dermatologistontiktok #tiktokderm #dermdoctor #drtwl #skincaretips #booktok #booktoker ♬ Ballet song like “Waltz of flowers” _3 minutes(965255) – yulu-ism project
Dr.TWL Pharmacy’s Ethos
Retinol-free skincare safe for all including pregnant and breastfeeding women
What I have found is that because these formulations do work on a cellular level. The accumulated effects eventually result in skin sensitisation, regardless of whether the individual had oily skin or not. The time taken would vary, some would develop sensitivity over weeks, others months or years. It is hard to conduct such a study, but my main takeaway from over a decade of clinical experience as a dermatologist in Singapore is that the cellular effects, both beneficial and deleterious were very real. So as the chief scientific officer of the cosmeceutical arm at the pharmacy, I took the decision to pivot the traditional concepts of using acids/retinols in skincare to plant-based, non irritating, minimally sensitising alternatives which now form the basis of our skincare range.
- Teo WL. Diagnostic and management considerations for “maskne” in the era of COVID-19. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2021 Feb;84(2):520-521. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2020.09.063. Epub 2020 Oct 1.