Among the most common medical complaints brought to offshore medics are chapped lips and sore facial skin.
It’s not surprising when you consider the harsh weather conditions that offshore workers are exposed to.
The skin on our lips is much thinner than the rest of the skin on our faces and so is more easily susceptible to damage. It doesn’t have sweat glands or sebaceous glands and so lacks the protective layer of body oils and sweat that help keep skin smooth and regulate heat. Our lips tend to dry out faster than other body skin and so can become sore and chapped more easily.
If the lips become cracked then they can bleed and feel sore and are, of course, open to infections. When lips have become badly chapped the skin flakes off, revealing raw areas which can bleed. Eating can become painful, especially if the food is salty or spicy. Cracked lips can lead to infection and crusts can form in which case you should consult your doctor who can prescribe an antibiotic cream.
The cold weather experienced working out on the North Sea can dry the lips and the lack of moisture causes chapping. Working outside in windy conditions has a damaging, drying effect on the lips.
The lips can suffer from sunburn like the rest of the body and should not be overexposed to sun. When the weather is bright and sunny you should apply sunscreen to your lips – think of the Australian cricket players who always have liberal amounts of sunscreen applied to their lips.
Sometimes people get into the habit of overly licking or biting their lips and this can cause chapping.
Some medical conditions such as psoriasis can cause chapped lips, as can some medications. If you are concerned that your chapped lips are not caused by weather conditions, you should seek medical advice.
To help prevent lips becoming chapped it is necessary to use a lip balm to moisturise and protect the lips.
There are a huge number of lip balms on the market and the medic on your rig or installation will be familiar with them and be able to recommend a product.
Facial skin can also become chapped if exposed to harsh weather conditions for long periods of time. Unlike the lips, facial skin does have sebaceous glands, which produce body oils that protect the skin.
However, if the skin has extended exposure to wind, cold or sun, its natural oil is removed and it becomes dry and damaged.
Offshore workers can protect their skin by using moisturisers or barrier creams.
Again, your medic will have experience of these products and know which are the most popular and effective.
Several of the most well known cosmetics companies now have skin-care products specially formulated for men.
It’s a good idea to apply moisturiser before working outdoors and again after cleansing when the work is finished.
Apart from protecting the skin from adverse weather conditions, you can help to keep your skin healthy and supple by eating a balanced diet and drinking plenty of water.
Vitamin E helps to reduce the effects of sun exposure on the skin and soothes rough and dry skin when applied as a cream.
Spinach, cabbage and other leafy vegetables, and peaches, tomatoes, asparagus, sunflower seeds and nuts are all rich in vitamin E.
Vitamin C is effective at protecting the skin from prolonged exposure to the sun, especially when combined with vitamin E. The richest sources of vitamin C are fruit and vegetables, and we should all be aiming for five portions a day. Vitamin A helps to promote the skin’s maintenance and repair.
Foods rich in Vitamin A include eggs, cheese, oily fish, milk and fortified margarine and yoghurt.
The body also makes Vitamin A from the beta-carotene found in orange, red and dark green vegetables, such as carrots, spinach, broccoli and pumpkins.
Using lip balms, skin barrier creams and moisturisers will help protect your skin from the elements, and eating a healthy balanced diet will help to nourish your skin and keep it smooth and healthy.
Pauline Ganley is lead travel health nurse for occupational health specialist Abermed in Aberdeen