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Humidifiers for skincare | How to balance the risks and benefits

Updated: Jun 2, 2023

Humidifiers can have benefits for skincare and managing several dermatologic conditions and condition the nasal passages and throat when the air is dry. Read more...
 

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Humidifiers skincare

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What are humidifiers?


Humidifiers are an appliance designed to add moisture to the air. There are different types of humidifiers.

  • Steam humidifiers work by essentially boiling water to release steam into the air. The benefit is that often bacteria in the water cannot withstand the higher temperatures making it less likely to release these into the air. These are less popular in homes with children and animals as they can get very hot to work.

  • Ultrasonic humidifiers are popular as they are cool to the touch and use vibration to create water droplets. Although safer from a temperature perspective, bacteria in the water may be released into the air on use.



How does humidity affect skin? How can a humidifier aid in skincare?



Studies demonstrate that humidity in the air can impact the hydration of our skin. Low humidity causes a decrease in the water content in the superficial layers of skin called the stratum corneum, decreases the elasticity of the skin, and contributes to skin roughness according to a review by Goad et al. A humidifier can improve the ambient humidity surrounding the skin to improve these qualities.




Should parents be concerned about mold growing in their child's humidifiers?


Mold growing in a humidifier is very concerning. Humidifiers can have benefits for several dermatologic conditions and condition the nasal passages and throat when the air is dry. There is a fine line here, however, in that the conditions the humidifier can help manage are the same conditions that can be worsened if not properly maintained.



Can and should humidifiers be cleaned?


Regardless of the type chosen, routine cleaning of a humidifier is essential. Clean a humidifier by:

  • Taking apart the entire device

  • Cleaning the basin

  • Maintaining filters

  • Avoiding the buildup of mineral residue and mold is essential

The use of distilled water and not tap water is preferred. Tap water can have more minerals that can deposit or build up on the sides of a humidifier. These minerals can serve as breeding grounds for bacteria and mold to overgrow.


 


 



Is mold growth as much of a problem in cool mist humidifiers as it is in warm mist humidifiers?


For any humidifier not properly maintained, the risk of mold growth exists. The use of tap water can increase this risk. I could not find any specific data to support the benefit from a mold perspective of choosing warm over cold water. That being said, the use of heat to steam the water in a warm mist humidifier may serve the added benefit of killing bacteria and mold potentially in the device.



Are there any studies that show statistics on mold growth in humidifiers?

I could not find studies demonstrating statistics on mold growth in humidifiers. This is likely due to the fact that there is wide variability in maintenance patterns amongst those that use these devices.

I find humidifiers challenging to maintain. I hesitate to recommend these for all of my patients with atopic dermatitis unless I can be certain they will understand the need for routine cleaning.


I recently tried out a newer humidifier called “Carepod” (hellocarepod.com). This is the first device I found to be simple to use, simple to clean, and does not require filters.

How can parents avoid this? What is the best way to clean a humidifier?


Most humidifiers are best cleaned at least once weekly with soapy water. The entire device where water comes into contact should be dismantled and cleaned thoroughly. Wipe down surfaces to reduce mineral and residue buildup. Filters, if present, should be changed to avoid mold overgrowth. There are many reports of hypersensitivity pneumonitis from the use of humidifiers.


If a mineral buildup is noted, the use of a dilute vinegar or bleach solution can help reduce this buildup. Be sure to thoroughly rinse and dry the device after the use of these cleaning products to avoid aerosolizing vinegar, bleach, or other cleaning solutions once the device is in use again.

Use distilled water for your appliance to reduce the chance of bacteria or minerals from the water depositing in the device or in the air.


One of the biggest mistakes I have come across is when a patient goes on vacation and does not take the time to empty and dry their device while away. Sitting water for several days creates the potential for bacterial overgrowth and mold to develop.


I personally am not a fan of devices with filters as the cost and lag in maintenance is a very practical concern. Vaporizers do not always use filters but have the challenge of not being as safe to use given the temperature for small children and animals. Humidifiers often use filters. The Carepod humidifier is one of the first devices I have come across without the filters and is easy to clean making it much easier to recommend.




Are all humidifiers noisy? What type of humidifier tends to be the quietest, for people who don't want excess noise?

Humidifiers are a lot like fans- they create white noise that can be soothing to some and not to all. The type of humidifier can make a difference in sound level, however. Ultrasonic humidifiers tend to produce less noise overall based on how they work. They do tend to be pricier, however.

Why is an automatic stop/shutoff feature important (for safety reasons)?

I strongly recommend automatic shutoff features. Often these are run at night. If your mornings are hectic and you forget to shut it off, it is one less worry if the device automatically shuts off. Most newer humidifiers have this safety feature but it is always important to verify. This is more of a concern for steam humidifiers than for ultrasonic, however, due to the heating element.

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