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How Air Conditioning Affects Your Skin and Overall Health

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Air conditioners have seen a significant surge in recent years, particularly in countries with hot climates like India.

According to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the global stock of air conditioners in buildings is projected to grow to 5.6 billion by 2050, compared to 1.6 billion today.

In India alone, the demand for air conditioning units has increased dramatically, with sales reaching nearly 10 million units in 2023; a sharp rise from just over 3 million units a decade ago.

This increase is driven by several factors including rising temperatures, increasing urbanization, and improved affordability. As more people experience the discomfort of extreme heat, air conditioners are no longer considered a luxury but a necessity.

Here are some of the top reasons why people buy AC:

  • They provide us comfort from heat and better quality sleep.
  • They protect us from heat-related illnesses such as dehydration and heatstroke, and they also enhance productivity at workplaces.
  • Modern air conditioning systems come with air filters that remove pollutants, allergens and dust from the air, making our indoor environment safer and healthier.

However, there is also a flipside to it that is not discussed so often. This article addresses the elephant in the room as we examine how air conditioning affects our body, especially our skin health.

We will also suggest what preventive action can be taken to avoid these side-effects.

The Cold Hard Facts: How Air Conditioning Affects the Body

Air condition can have several harmful effects if not used with basic caution. It can cause dehydration, respiratory issues and even hypothermia – a medical emergency that occurs when the body’s core temperature drops below 95°F (35°C) because it’s losing heat faster than it can produce it.

An air conditioner sucks moisture out of the room and creates an atmosphere with low humidity levels. It also pulls water out of your skin and causes dehydration.

Dehydration can also trigger headaches and migraine and cause dry, itchy eyes, at times with blurred vision and burning sensation.

If the temperature of the air drops quickly by 5°C, it can negatively impact the respiratory system. This impact can be more pronounced on those who have respiratory illnesses like Asthma and COPD.

In asthmatics, cold air can also trigger bronchoconstriction. Prolonged exposure to dry air during sleep can cause dry throat / irritation, hoarseness, rhinitis and blocked nose.

Moreover, continuous air conditioning coupled with poor ventilation can fill the room with stagnant air. Due to this, allergens such as dust, pollen and dander can accumulate. If moisture remains trapped in the room, it can promote mold and mildews. These can further exacerbate respiratory and skin problems.

Constant exposure to artificially cooled environments can interfere with your body’s natural ability to regulate its temperature (or thermoregulation), thus making it harder to adapt to outdoor temperatures.

The body’s metabolic rate can also be affected, leading to weight gain and other metabolic issues. Over time, it also weaken the immunity system, making you more susceptible to illness.

It is especially important to bear in mind that babies – especially new born – are not exposed to cold air as they can develop cough, which can lead to pneumonia. Babies cannot adjust to the change in temperature quickly, therefore the AC temperature should be adjusted to their body.

A Closer Look at Skin Health

Apart from the above, air condition can affect skin health negatively too. It can cause dryness and irritation, oil imbalance, redness and heightened sensitivity of the skin, and it can also accelerate aging.

Air conditioning strips moisture from the air, reducing the humidity levels your skin needs to stay hydrated. This can lead to dry, flaky, and irritated skin.

For individuals with pre-existing skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis, the dry air can exacerbate symptoms, causing more frequent flare-ups, itching and increased discomfort.

Dry skin can become more sensitive and prone to irritation from everyday activities including bathing, applying skincare products, and exposure to environmental pollutants.

When the skin becomes dry, it may compensate by producing excess sebum (oil), which can clog pores and lead to acne breakouts. This imbalance can create a cycle where the skin becomes dry and oily at the same time, making it difficult to manage skin care effectively.

Overproduction of oil can also contribute to the development of other skin problems, such as blackheads, whiteheads, and inflammation.

Constant dryness can reduce your skin’s elasticity, making it more prone to sagging and the formation of fine lines and wrinkles.

The lack of moisture can speed up the aging process, leading to premature aging signs such as wrinkles, fine lines, and dullness. Chronic dehydration of the skin can result in a lacklustre, tired-looking complexion, further contributing to an aged appearance.

Preventative Measures and Skin Care Solutions

Given the aforesaid harmful effects of air conditioning, it is imperative to take some preventative measures. One of the most effective ways to combat the dehydrating effect, is to regularly drink plenty of water and liquids.

Hydration is key to maintaining healthy, moisturized skin. Aim to drink at least 7-8 glasses of water daily. Add a pinch of Himalayan salt per litre of water for better cellular absorption. Consider incorporating hydrating foods such as cucumbers, watermelon, and oranges into your diet.

Secondly, it is also advisable to use a humidifier. This device adds moisture to the air by releasing vapour or steam, thus helping to maintain an optimal humidity level in your living space and countering the drying effect of air conditioning.

A regular moisturizing routine can be very helpful for skin health. Look for serums that contain hyaluronic acid or glycerine. They help to attract and retain moisture in the skin.

Use creams or lotions that are designed to provide long-lasting hydration. Products containing ceramides, shea butter, or natural oils can create a protective barrier on your skin.

Apply moisturizer immediately after showering or washing your face to lock in moisture.

Your diet also plays a crucial role in skin health. Consuming foods rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin C & D, Zinc can help protect and nourish your skin.

Foods like berries, green tea, dark chocolate, and leafy greens are high in antioxidants. They can protect your skin from damage caused by free radicals.

Omega-3 found in fatty fish (such as salmon and mackerel), flaxseeds, and walnuts, help maintain the skin’s lipid barrier, keeping it supple and hydrated.

And finally, you should also maintain you air conditioner regularly. Change the filters from time to time so that there is no build-up of dust, mold and allergens. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology recommends changing the filters in your central A/C and in-room air conditioners at least once a month, if you are prone to allergies.

HEPA filters and air purifiers can significantly improve indoor air quality, providing a breath of fresh air.

Schedule professional servicing of your air conditioning unit at least once a year, to ensure it operates efficiently and circulates clean air. If you can’t vent to the outdoors, install a recirculating appliance vent that sucks up air, purifies it, and releases it back into the air of your home.

Ensure your living spaces are well-ventilated to prevent stale air from accumulating. Proper maintenance of your air conditioning system helps to improve indoor air quality, reducing the risk of respiratory issues and skin problems. Go for air filtering plants like the spider plant, golden pothos, the snake plant, and the peace lily. They can improve indoor air quality as these plants literally filter the air naturally.

Balancing Comfort and Health: Adjusting Air Conditioning Habits

In addition to the preventative measures, it is also advisable to find the right balance between comfort and health when using air conditioning.

To achieve this, you should set your air conditioner to an optimal temperature range of 24-26°C. This range provides comfort without being excessively cold and thus, it helps to maintain natural thermoregulation while reducing the risk of dryness.

Additionally, you should also take regular breaks from air-conditioned environments. It will allow your body to adjust to natural temperatures, thus promoting better thermoregulation and reducing dependency on artificial cooling.

Finally, spending time in natural environments is essential for overall health and skin condition. Exposure to fresh air, natural sunlight, and outdoor activities supports mental and physical well-being, offering a healthy counterbalance to the effects of prolonged indoor air conditioning.

The Functional Medicine Perspective: A Holistic Approach to Skin Health

Functional medicine adopts a holistic approach to health. This approach aims to address the root causes of skin issues exacerbated by air conditioning, offering personalized strategies for mitigation.

Functional medicine practitioners evaluate each individual’s unique health profile, functional medicine practitioners develop tailored plans that include lifestyle changes, nutritional support, and environmental adjustments.

These strategies not only target immediate skin concerns but also promote long-term skin health and resilience from the inside out. This is a comprehensive approach to managing the effects of air conditioning on the body.

It is important to be mindful of the potential side effects of air conditioning on both health and skin. You can mitigate these effects by adopting preventative measures like staying hydrated, using a humidifier, and maintaining a balanced skincare routine.

Embracing a holistic approach – as advocated by functional medicine – can further enhance your overall well-being by addressing the root causes of skin issues. For more personalized health tips, consider consulting our team of functional medicine practitioners at Wellfinity.

Sign up for their advice to support your journey towards optimal health.

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