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Itchy, dry skin? Here’s how to optimize your air conditioning

Even though it’s a luxury that many people cannot afford, its presence has become more and more common in residences. There are ways to use AC that don’t harm the planet, or our health

how to optimize your air conditioning
Air conditioning has direct consequences on the skin.
Elena Muñoz

In 2023, Spain has broken records for high temperatures on several occasions. There were episodes of intense heat before the summer even began, while heat waves have shown their destructive capacity on and off the streets.

Inside homes, air conditioning is on its way to becoming a basic necessity. However, according to data from the Spanish real estate company Idealista, in 2022, only one in three houses in Spain had air conditioning equipment.

A large part of the global population isn’t able to access AC because of energy poverty. And the lucky ones who do have air conditioning at home don’t always make proper use of it. Experts recommend taking intermittent breaks from the apparatus, in order to achieve energy efficiency and save money. Turning the AC off from time to time can also benefit our comfort and even our skin, since continued exposure to the currents can wreak havoc on the dermis.

Choose the right temperature

Let’s start at the beginning. What should we look for when buying an air conditioner? Araceli de la Fuente, director of corporate communication for Mitsubishi Electric, is clear: “It’s very important to use equipment that includes the highest A+++ energy classification.” This label, represented in dark green, lets the buyer know that their electricity consumption will be the most efficient possible with such a unit.

If your air conditioning is already a few years old, or if it doesn’t have a high efficiency rating, there’s no need to worry. There are plenty of practical tricks to promote energy efficiency, without getting hot. The most important aspect has to do with the selection of temperature. This is key not only in terms of savings, but also to avoid unexpected summer colds. De la Fuente states that “the Institute for Energy Diversification and Saving (IDAE) recommends keeping the temperature of the air conditioning in a range between 75 and 78ºF during the summer.”

This thermal variation of three degrees — much more significant than it may seem — will depend on the room. The expert points out that “[75ºF] would be an ideal temperature for a living room, so that it can have more range.” This is somewhat less than the 78ºF recommended “in a bedroom.”

Trying to reduce the heat in the house progressively is much more efficient than adopting sudden changes in temperature. To reduce your energy bill, it’s therefore best to set a stable temperature throughout the day. Along with the usual practices of bunkering the home — that is, lowering the blinds and deploying awnings to prevent direct sunlight from entering — the experts advise making sure that the home has good thermal insulation (also key for the winter). Nor would it hurt, if possible, to program the AC in order to adjust the temperature at all times, without necessarily having to be at home.

While there are many factors that make it difficult to accurately measure how the use of air conditioning affects our pocket (temperature, orientation of the room, type of device...), the Organization of Consumers and Users (OCU) calculates that one hour of operation is equivalent to about $0.35. Of course, one must always take the variable cost of electricity into account, depending on the time of day.

Clean the filters to protect your health (and your wallet)

Good maintenance of air conditioning equipment has a direct impact on an energy bill. This is why Mitsubishi Electric insists on the importance of having a specialist “perform periodic checks and cleaning the filters to achieve optimal equipment operation. This leads to savings, since the accumulation of dirt in the filters makes the device consume much more electricity.”

Additionally, to further reduce the household budget, cleaning the filters before AC season starts — along with adequate daily ventilation — will prevent dust and allergies.

How does AC affect the skin?

On the other hand, if you’re regularly exposed to air conditioning — either at home or in your workplace — you may have noticed the clearest and most immediate consequence that air currents have on your skin: dryness. The absorption of humidity present in the environment is the reason why “dehydration occurs in the nasal mucosa, as well as in the skin” explains Dr. Maria Florencia Vera Morandini, an expert in dermatology. She adds that “when the environmental humidity is low, the skin loses moisture, altering the hydrolipidic layer, leaving it dehydrated, pale and dull.” To recover some of the lost moisture, you can choose to turn on a humidifier, which can counteract the effect of dry air. However, if you’re looking for a direct effect on the skin, the expert recommends “keeping the skin hydrated with topical products such as hyaluronic acid, as well as components such as ceramides, cholesterol stress and fatty acids, among others, since these are the components that are present in our skin’s lipid barrier.”

The same skin changes observed during winter can develop in the height of summer if proper use of an air conditioning system isn’t observed. From the point of view of Dr. Morandini, “the decrease in temperature and humidity characteristic of winter and cold environments causes a decrease in the water content of the stratum corneum, producing a greater susceptibility to itching and mild redness.” This is even more pronounced in the case of those with sensitive skin.

In the absence of a beach or pool, air conditioning is our best ally to avoid sweltering heat. But to get the most out of these devices, there’s nothing better than using them efficiently.

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