In our quest to emulate Western fashion and beauty tips, we often lose sight of the simple fact that our skin is different from theirs. As you won’t find many Indians sun tanning on our beaches like foreigners, we are similarly not suited to most of the beauty products and advice that Western celebrities and models sell in our markets.
As two skin tones are different from each other, so are their problems. So while cocoa or shea butter-based heavy moisturisers work well for Westerners, they are not suited for us because we have combination oily skin and these products will make our skin sweat. Light moisturisers are what we should be using because we live in a tropical country.
Another piece of terrible advice that we follow from the West is using sunscreens that come with UV absorbers. The problem here is that UV absorbers are meant to absorb UV to prevent skin damage in white skin. But on brown skin they end up tanning and hurting the skin further. So, while you are thinking that you are working towards a milk-white complexion, in reality, it’s the coca-cola shade that you are inviting.
Dr Sharad P. Paul, award-winning cutaneous oncologist and skin surgeon and author of Dermocracy, For Brown Skin by Brown Skin, points out major differences between the two skin tones. “Brown skin has more melanin, the pigment that makes us yellow, brown or black. White skin is more prone to sun damage and skin cancer, whereas our brown skin type is prone to pigmentation and tanning. And of course, our darker skin makes us Vitamin D deficient, especially vegetarians,” he says.
So while certain products, treatments and care advice are good for Americans and Europeans, they may have disastrous effects on us. Apart from wrong advice, the other villains that brown skin has to battle with are fairness creams, along with “Hypermelanosis, sun damage, acne, oily prone skin, dry sensitive skin and rosacea,” says well-known dermatologist Dr Malavika Kohli.
Experts give the following advice that is best suited for Indian skin:
Diet and exercise
A regular exercise regime and balanced diet with adequate protein is the first step towards good hair and skin. Include “one orange, one green, one red, one yellow fruit/vegetable in your daily diet,” says Dr Kohli. Also eat protein-rich foods like skimmed milk, homemade paneer, soya and pulses if you are a vegetarian. For non-vegetarians Dr Kohli advises, “Fish, two eggs and chicken two to three times a week.” And on a daily basis you must have one date, one fig, five almonds, two walnuts and two fruits.
Dr Paul says raw or juiced foods are much better than cooked food. And while it’s impossible to avoid oil in our food, Dr Paul advises to avoid frying and to switch to either olive or rice bran oil. Also, chocolates often lead to pimples and acne among adolescent boys, so it’s best to stay away. Apart from oranges, which are high in Vitamin C that is good for healing wounds and repairing collagen, other “skin foods” include turmeric, broccoli, tropical ginger and green tea.
Along with right food, certain supplements too need to be consumed to ensure that our skin and hair get the vital vitamins and nutrients they need.
Dr Suma Hariprasad advises one multi-vitamin, one vitamin E supplement and for women over 35 years, a calcium supplement. Dr Paul adds, “Vitamin D is important, I advise 50,000 I.U per month. He also adds that Omega-3 helps vitamin D levels.
Drinking lots of water throughout the day is also something many people advocate for healthy skin. But experts say that it’s a myth. Save yourself endless trips to the loo everyday as Dr Paul says, “There is no benefit to drinking more than two litres a day. On another note, coconut water is good as its pH is close to that of bodily fluids.” Also cold showers, just like hot ones, are best avoided. Stick to lukewarm water. “Very hot or very cold water causes thermal injury and can increase pigmentation, or make skin uneven or prone to dryness,” reveals Dr Paul.
Always follow the cardinal rules of using a face wash, moisturising properly and using sunscreen. Dr Paul advises, “You need to tailor your sunscreen to your lifestyle. If you are going to be indoors all day and only have a few minutes or half-an-hour in the sun, you don’t need sunscreen — otherwise SPF 15 will do or 30 if you are staying out longer. If you are playing sports like cricket or spending the day at the beach, then you’ll need to reapply sunscreen every few hours.”
And Dr Kohli adds that men should follow the same regimen as women as the skin types are the same.
Not fair and not lovely
Though we love to use them, most fairness creams in the market are harmful. Dr Paul explains, “Bleaches or fairness creams are inherently unhealthy; having said that many of the products I have seen make you look whiter temporarily. Bleaching or using hydroquinone (which indeed does whiten skin) can be harmful — the latter is banned in Australia, Europe and New Zealand as it may cause skin cancer, but is used in the USA and some of those products are available in India. I personally would avoid hydroquinone.
Before any event or just to spruce up the skin, we regularly go in for facials and expensive treatments. How good are these? “Facials have some benefits when done properly but overdoing things may make matters worse,” warns Dr Paul. And what about chemical peels? “Gentler peels can be done at home — but it is dangerous to use stronger ‘medical-grade’ peels at home as you may end up with uneven pigmentation.”
To oil or not to oil
There is a big debate out there on the advantages and disadvantages of oiling one’s hair. At beauty salons, one is discouraged to oil the hair as they invariable try to push expensive hair spa treatments. The logic given is that we need to use loads of shampoo to remove the oil and in the process all the goodness is lost. “Oil is good, especially before a bath or shower as it preserves natural oils. In our type of hair, we should use conditioner before shampoo, in my view,” advises Dr Paul.
Why so expensive?
Have you noticed that whether it is your local pharmacy or dematologist, everyone only asks you to use foreign brands when it comes to moisturisers, facewash, creams or even shampoos. And these products are so pricey. Are our Indian products not good enough? Dr D.B.N Murthy, a leading dermatologist from Hyderabad, says this is because unlike our medicines which are very good, desi beauty products don’t match up to their Western counterparts in quality because no one spends enough money on research. But then if brown and white skins are so different, how do products meant for the West work for us? They do work, but we just need to be careful about using the right ones, he says.
What should the men be Doing
Guys, you should be doing almost everything the girls do. Dr Kohli says, “Skin and hair care for men is same as women. Microdermabrasion and hydrating facials help maintain skin texture. And when it comes to hair, detergent free shampoos help maintain hair, as men tend to wash hair everyday.”
It’s okay if we don’t spend too much on skin or hair products. Fruits and vegetables work wonders on our skin and hair. Dr Paul’s book Dermocracy gives us some recipes for a few beauty products that one can whip up in the kitchen
A South Indian grandmother’s recipe to treat armpit pigmentation
Lemon juice (Vitamin C helps reduce pigmentation) Turmeric (anti-bacterial and anti-fungal effects, which can help reduce odour in armpits) Sandalwood oil drops Mix lemon juice and turmeric with sandalwood oil and apply in armpits overnight. The sandalwood works as a perfume.
To soothe skin and avoid irritation — use one cup of rolled oats (not instant) mixed with a cup of mineral water and blended to create a consistent paste). Apply to skin and leave on as a mask for 20 minutes.
- One tbsp of pure honey
- One tbsp of lemon juice
- Half a cup of spring or distilled water
- One tbsp of brown sugar
- One tbsp of vegetable glycerin or vegetable glycerol (available in pharmacies)
Mix these together and you have a good home-made cleanser. To remove heavy make-up, you’ll need to add more glycerin as you would for dry skin. This one works well once you’ve learnt to titrate (or measure and adjust) the glycerin content up or down to suit your skin’s level of oiliness.
Take equal parts of papaya and pineapple and blend with equal part of coarse sea salt. You can use this as a facial scrub. Papaya and pineapple contain enzymes that act as good chemical exfoliate.
Blend half a cup of pureed cucumbers with a quarter-cup of vodka. Dab this toner on your face using a ball of cotton.
Oil your hair with olive oil. Then steam it and leave for 45 minutes. In a bowl pour hung curd (this way it won’t drip too much when you put it in your hair) and beat an egg into it. Apply this mixture to your hair and leave it on for another 45 minutes. Wear a shower cap to prevent it from leaking onto your face. Rinse off using shampoo. Don’t use a conditioner. Let the hair dry naturally. Do this once a week. (Courtesy Dr Suma Hariprasad)