A champion of self-love and self-empowerment, Charlene Chew has made a name for herself on the social media platform TikTok. She openly shares and details her journey to recovery after a fateful cooking accident in her Melbourne apartment in October 2020 that left her with serious burns from the hot oil splashing onto her skin.
All of a sudden, the athlete, kitesurfer and Masters student in Business Administration became mainly known to everyone as the burn survivor girl.
With her current identity now tied to the one incident that evidently changed her life, her courage and bravery in exposing her vulnerable recovery journey online through her digital journal not only played a therapeutic role for her acceptance of her new appearance and perception of herself, but she also sought to ally with individuals watching her videos who were suffering from the same condition and to inspire and empower other audience members in their journey towards loving yourself and making the best out of every situation.
But beauty and skincare for burn survivors is still an elusive topic for the general public, and many of us are wondering what that process of self-indulgence and self-love looks like.
Reconstructive surgeon Dr Leo of Dr Leo Aesthetic Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery, said it is important to combat dryness in the skin that arises from the sustained burns.
“Burns survivors’ skin suffers from a few problems. The main problem is that of dry skin. This happens because the sebaceous glands that produce sebum (which naturally moisturises our skin) have been destroyed by the burn injuries. Treatment for this is intensive moisturising. Moisturising reduces itch as well as decreases the chance of blisters or skin tears,” he told Tatler.
In caring for the compromised skin on a daily basis, the doctor recommends a water-based moisturiser for skin that is not too dry. For patients with very dry skin, oil-based lotions such as products with olive oil, coconut oil or shea butter are more useful. He also warns that survivors should avoid perfume and alcohol-based products on the skin as they can exacerbate the dryness.
Just like how most of us advocate the use of sunscreen before any makeup, Dr Leo also emphasises the importance of sun protection for survivors. “Fresh scars are very susceptible to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation which worsens the redness or erythema of the scars. Patients should apply sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30. When they are outdoors the sunscreen should be reapplied every two to three hours.”
He addresses the importance of makeup in burn care, saying that “as the scars take time to mature and heal, makeup techniques enable patients to conceal these scars and improve the overall mental well-being of these patients. The use of foundation is important here as it helps to create an even complexion. A pigmented concealer can then be applied.”
We sit down with Chew to talk about her journey to recovery, her tips and guide to caring for her skin and how her beauty regimen looks like.