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Bursting with a bounty of colours, Holi brings loved ones together and infuses them with a vigorous spirit. Marking the victory of good over evil, the Hindu spring festival is celebrated with enthusiasm and gaiety on the full moon day in the month of Phalgun. Friends and family play with colours that day, throw water balloons and munch on a variety of snacks.
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Traditionally, spring flowers were used as a source of colours for Holi, but with time artificial colours have replaced these natural ingredients. For yellow, turmeric powder was used, hibiscus flowers made for the red colour and henna was for green. But today, markets are flooded with expensive artificial colours with chemical solvents mixed in them. In the name of fancy products, dark shades like green, violet and black are bottled-up copper sulphate, mercury sulphite and lead oxide in high content.
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A few dermatologists share why it is best to stay away from chemical colours and simple methods to use natural colours without missing out from the fun and frolic of the festival.
Drawbacks of artificial colours
These colours are actually industrial chemicals — black (lead oxide), green (copper sulfate and malachite green), silver (aluminum bromide), blue (Prussian blue, cobalt nitrate, indigo, and zinc salts), and red (mercury sulfate). Occasionally, additives such as mica dust and glass particles are added to the colours to give them a shine. These again are very harmful to the skin. The sale of such products is largely unregulated.
“All of these are strong colours, which cannot be washed off easily. Liquid colours available in the market are even more harmful than powder colors as they tend to collect in fold areas such as groin and armpit area,” dermatologist Shital Poojary said.
“Instead of naturally made colours from flowers and herbs, chemicals and dyes are used which contain harmful chemicals, heavy metals, acids, mica, glass powder and dangerous alkalis,” Deepali Bhardwaj, a Delhi-based dermatologist said.
Side effects of Holi colours
“Side effects include itching, dryness, exfoliation of skin, erosions of skin and eczema. Skin abrasions can occur due to scrubbing of skin to remove the colours,” Poojary said, adding, “Secondary bacterial infections and aggravation of acne and pre-existing eczema can also occur. People with dry skin and pre existing skin disorders need to be extra cautious.
“Chemical colours when applied to the skin can cause loss of hair (alopecia). Contact of chemical colors in eyes can cause irritation, watering of eyes, corneal abrasions and conjunctivitis. In rare cases, systemic side effects can occur due to chemicals which can manifest as breathlessness and cyanosis,” she added.
“The chemicals can cause serious injury to the skin upon scratching besides leading sadly sometimes even to life long impairments like blindness, skin diseases like vitiligo.” Bhardwaj said.
How to get rid of the harmful effects
“It is essential that people switch to natural organic colours or home-made colours from the kitchen or garden. Chemical colours need to be avoided completely. In fact, there is an urgent need for the government to totally ban the sale of these colors at the time of Holi,” Poojari said.
She also suggested ways to prevent your skin from getting damaged: Apply oil on the skin as well as hair; wear nail enamel so that the colours cannot go inside the nail bed; wear protective glasses while playing Holi, splash eyes with clean water multiple times; do not scrub aggressively while removing; and use a mild soap to wash off the colors. The persistent colors will fade over a period of time.
“Also, if any open wound or cuts are there on body before Holi then band aid or bandage should be done prior to playing Holi so as to avoid entry and absorption of the harmful chemicals from it which can even lead to dangerous effects like internal cancer, blindness due to being absorbed in the blood stream. The toxins used in colours can result in a range of diseases, including skin allergies, irritation leading to chronic skin eczemas,” Bhardwaj quipped.
When to seek services of a dermatologist?
“Excessive redness, itching, burning sensation, blistering, erosions, facial swelling, photosensitivity, sudden loss of clumps of hair, exacerbation of pre- existing skin disease, systemic symptoms like breathlessness, bluish discoloration of finger tips, lips etc call for serious action,” Poojari said.
Bhardwaj also took to share tips for Holi — for the preparations, before and after the festival.
It is difficult to make out differences between a natural colour and a dye. Taking precautions is, therefore, necessary. Try to use only herbal colors or else home-made colours from kitchen or garden like tesu flowers, genda flowers to beet root juice maybe.
* Try to use home-made colours from kitchen
* Use flowers from the garden like tesu flowers, genda flowers and beet root juice
* Tomato juice and turmeric can be used as colour
* If anyone forcefully applies permanent colour or black grease, avoid it on face and try as far as possible to get their hand prints on your clothes
JUST BEFORE PLAYING
* Always oil the body with coconut oil, olive oil or vitamin E oil and massage hair with mustard oil.
* Oiling at places like behind the ear, between finger tips, near finger nails is very important.
* Paint your nails with the darkest colour possible so that the Holi colours cannot go inside nail bed.
* Wear protective glasses while playing Holi. Even an old pair of sunglasses is a good idea
* Wash your eyes clean with cold water and see an eye specialist if the irritation persists after few hours of Holi.
* Standing under running water for 5-10 minutes and do not scrub or scratch aggressively.
* Use liquid soap gently and home remedies on the stubborn colours
* Applying lemon juice, curd and sandalwood mixture. Adding turmeric and white flour will also have good results.
* For face, use olive oil on cotton to remove the make up by Holi colors after lavishly washing with running water and then home remedies with white flour.