How Your Air Conditioner Is Affecting Your Skin

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I don’t know about you, but my air conditioner has been turned all the way up all summer as we’ve seen multiple “feels like” 100-degree days. While the sweet relief of artificial air feels like our best friend, it might actually be more like an enemy for our skin. “The cool and dry air of air conditioners can be an environmental stressor on the skin,” says Davie, FL dermatologist Marianna Blyumin-Karasik, MD. We talked to some top dermatologists about all the havoc our air conditioners are wreaking on our skin and how to better protect it.

Air conditioning can pull moisture out of the skin

Just like cold weather, Washington D.C. dermatologist Tina Alster, MD, says air conditioning can pull “moisture out of the skin, which increases the risk of skin dryness, itchiness, and skin wrinkling.” Air conditioners cool the body “by reducing surrounding temperature and humidity,” explains Dr. Blyumin-Karasik. This process can “lead to skin dehydration and disruption of our protective skin barrier. Appearance-wise that can present as a blotchy, tight, rough and dull complexion,” she explains.

Air conditioning can exacerbate skin conditions

For those with existing skin conditions, the air conditioner can exacerbate symptoms. Dr. Alster points to dermatitis, psoriasis, eczema and rosacea as conditions that can be affected by the air conditioner.

Air conditioning can trigger skin irritation

According to Dr. Blyumin-Karasik, strong cold air directly on the skin can trigger irritation and neurodermatitis (or sensitivity of skin nerves) and/or neuralgia. These phenomena manifest “as sharp or shooting pain and/or a burning sensation.”

Air conditioning can cause a flare-up of chilblains or Raynaud’s syndrome

Those that experience chilblains or Raynaud’s syndrome can experience a flare-up when sitting in air conditioning. People with Raynaud’s syndrome respond to cold temperature with “extreme vasoconstriction of blood vessels in the skin,” explains Dr. Blyumin-Karasik. This can “cause temporary skin blanching, blue or a lacy pink-purple pattern with associated tenderness.”

Air conditioners can host bacteria

Dr. Alster warns that air conditioners can “harbor bacteria like Listeria and Legionella that can cause harmful diseases and infections in people exposed to the cooled air.” These specific dangers even go beyond the skin.

What can we do to protect the skin from the potential damage of air conditioning?

We know air conditioning is necessary in the heat of the summer, so we have some solutions for your skin. Dr. Alster says that increasing the humidity in the room can help. She suggests “placing a few bowls of water in the room that will gradually evaporate in the air” and keeping indoor plants that “will transpire water vapor in the air and raise the humidity around them.”

Dr. Alster also notes that “staying well hydrated and applying moisturizer regularly to replace the water that’s been lost from your skin” will help keep skin well balanced. She suggests looking for moisturizers with ceramides and hyaluronic acid. These ingredients will give skin a surge of moisture and trap hydration without that heavy feeling we want to avoid in the summer.

“The best way to enhance skin resilience due to AC offensive is to reinforce the skin barrier with generous moisturizers enriched with soothing and healing adaptogens,” says Dr. Blyumin-Karasik. She says this will make “skin more resilient and balanced.” Dr. Blyumin-Karasik recommends La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Balm B5 ($15) and Youth To The People Adaptogen Deep Moisture Cream ($58).

Dr. Blyumin-Karasik advises avoiding close proximity to the air conditioner unit to protect the skin. If you’re prone to skin sensitivity to the cold, Dr. Blyumin-Karasik also recommends wearing protective, warm clothing and footwear to avoid irritation and discomfort.

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