From the lanes of Mathura and Vrindavan, the colours of Holi have spread across India. Traditional colours made from flowers and herbs have now been replaced with those made from dyes and chemicals. And the worst affected are our skin and hair.
Krity Gomti, a 25-year-old Delhi-based entrepreneur shares her story. “I underwent week-long medication to get over my skin allergies caused during the festival last year. My friends probably used grease and that led to eczema. My skin became scaly and appeared to be inflamed. Besides, it had flaking and blisters that cause itchiness of highest degree,” she says.
Dr Anup Dhir, chief cosmetic surgeon, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, says, “Holi colours are now made up of acids, mica, glass powder and alkalis, and solvents such as tetrathyline, lead, benzene and aromatic compounds. Sometimes dyes are also used in preparation of colours. These contaminated colours are quite capable of causing serious skin complications and allergies. It can also lead to skin allergies, irritation, redness, rashes, itching and bumps.”
Even though chemically prepared colours can cause problems to skin and hair, all hope is not lost. There are several ways one can protect them, say experts. Cosmetologist Dr Karuna Malhotra from Cosmetic Skin and Homeo Clinic says, “Dry skin leaves a lot of scope for these harmful chemicals as the skin layer allows the colour to penetrate easily. So the first thing on the ‘to do’ list is to oil your hair well before you start playing. Coconut oil and olive oil are fine options to protect your hair from harsh colours. As for the skin, wear waterproof sunscreen before you step out for a day in the sun.”
She suggests that oil should also be applied behind the ears, ear lobes and nails as these are points where the colour easily settles. “Use more of red or pink colours that can easily be taken off. Gaudy ones, like purple, green, yellow and orange have more harmful chemicals in them and should be avoided. Also, wear clothes that cover most of your body. Avoid heavy fabrics, like denim that don’t dry easily and cover your head with a thick scarf or bandana.” Malhotra adds that one must avoid wearing lenses while going out during the festival. “While colours cause irritability, lenses have a tendency to absorb the colour, thereby making things worse. Wear glasses and keep wiping them clean from time to time,” she says.
An important part of protecting oneself from skin allergies and hair loss is to be cautious before and after the festival. While most of us apply oil all over the body and step out, it is also important to make a checklist of what to do once you’re done playing.
Dr. Neetu Saini, skin expert and aesthetic physician from Les Cosmedics Laser Skin Clinic says, “Run through our checklist of things you must do after Holi, which means that the hair should be deep-conditioned after the wash and hair mask applied after about two days to cure the damage. Also, clean the skin and do not rub the skin vigorously with soaps to wipe the face of gulal. Instead, opt for a cleanser. Follow this up with lots of moisturiser, especially ones that are meant for sensitive skin.”
She adds that one must not bleach, shave, wax or go for facial or clean ups the following week. “Give your skin and body some time to recover from the damage. Avoid using kerosene, petrol and spirits to remove stains, as they will make your skin dry. Rather, rejuvenate your skin with a mixture of sea salt, glycerine and a few drops of aroma oil that have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal effect and can take care of removing chemical colours,” says Saini.
While taking care of the skin and hair is important, making sure you know which colours to avoid also forms an important part of playing it right. While green is obtained from copper sulphate that may cause allergies in eye or even temporary blindness, purple is obtained from chromium iodide which may cause bronchial asthma or other forms of allergy. Malhotra says, “Silver, which is so commonly used these days, is obtained from aluminum bromide, a known carcinogenic. Black on the other hand is obtained from lead oxide and may cause renal failures or learning disability. Red is obtained from mercury sulphite and causes skin cancer or Minamata disease (mental retardation, paralysis, impaired vision). And all shiny colours are a result of powdered glass being added to the colours,” she says. Experts suggest that while being aware is important, implementation can save many from harmful skin infections and hair loss. “Just follow these simple steps and enjoy the festival,” says Malhotra.
Top five skin allergies to watch out for this Holi
■ Eczema: It is one of the most common skin complications that occur due to artificial colours. In this allergic condition, skin becomes scaly and appears to be inflamed. Besides, it has flaking and blisters that cause itchiness of highest degree.
■ Atopic Dermatitis: It is another plausible allergy occurring due to chemical reaction of colours. The allergy causes severe itching, pain and blistering.
■ Rhinitis: The allergic reaction is an inflammation of the nasal membrane, wherein one experiences nasal congestion, discharge, itching and sneezing.
■ Asthma: Artificial colours can also cause severe damage to the airways, or developing asthma. In this allergic condition, one experiences breathing difficulty and breathlessness.
■ Pneumonitis: Another possible allergic condition occurring due to inhalation of chemically-treated colours is pneumonitis, wherein one experiences fever, chest tightness, fatigue and breathing difficulty.