Skin is the largest organ of the body and the primary barrier against disease and infection of any kind.

The dream of fair and bright skin is packaged and sold piecemeal by a huge section of an unchartered cosmetic industry today. They're available everywhere--in stores, on the streets, in beauty parlours, even sold by vendors door to door, often touted as fairness creams that produce instant results. "These unbranded creams are a real health hazard and can be very dangerous for your skin," says Dr P. Narasimha Rao, Associate Professor at Bhaskar Medical College and the General Secretary, The Indian Association of Dermatologists, Venereologists and Leprologists in Hyderabad.

"These creams are often laced with a cocktail of steroids, especially Betnovate, which even after a few applications, can turn skin thinner and more translucent. It can make acne worse and give rise to severe rashes, giving your skin a burnt appearance." Dr Rao treats at least 2-3 patients in his daily practice, whose misuse of fairness creams have created more serious skin disorders.

"I personally feel that the promotion of all fairness creams, even the branded varieties are downright unethical, because of the stigma and stereotypes that they reinforce. " says Dr Saumya Panda, MD, Associate Professor, Department of Dermatology, KPC Medical College, Kolkata and the Executive Editor, Indian Journal of Dermatology." In many cases, fairness creams are wrongly used to treat hyper pigmentation and often mistakenly touted as a cure for black patches on the face or to lighten a woman's skin after childbirth. Steroid creams are meant to be used for a specific period in a specific context and are best prescribed by the physician--it is a pity that such dangerous chemicals are available freely without a prescription." The bottom-line is to be aware and choose healthy skin over the 'fair' variety!

Hydrate from the outside

Many people believe that the more water you drink, the more hydrated your skin will be, but this is just a myth says Dr Narasimha Rao. "If you have a constitutional tendency for dry skin, which is a genetic condition, you will have dry skin regardless of the amount of water intake. So while hydrating yourself from the inside could do wonders for improving your other bodily functions, it cannot give you relief from dry skin. You will need to combat the condition by applying a thick cream regularly--petroleum jelly or Vaseline will work well. If you live in a humid climate though, your skin will tend to be fairly well-moisturized rendering any cream unnecessary." So, before you treat dry skin, take into account factors such as weather and your basic skin type.

Investigate adult acne

You had pimples as a teenager and you weren't concerned then. So should you be wary now, when they make their reappearance? Absolutely, say experts. "Adult acne is an indication, a warning symptom if you will, that something is wrong and requires deeper investigation," says Dr Saumya Panda. "For women, it could indicate an underlying hormonal problem like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. It could also be indicative of endocrine and menstrual disorders. Sometimes it could be as simple as people applying cosmetics without taking into account their skin types--for instance, you may have oily skin but instead of opting for water based oil free foundations, you may be applying thick creams that can suddenly cause an outbreak. Whatever the case, the condition deserves more attention and care. Also, one must be aware that some of the medications used to treat adult acne (such as Isotretinoin) are derived from vitamin A and these could create severe birth defects in pregnant women, so they are never usually prescribed for women of child bearing age."

Also, most upscale beauty parlours offer you anything from a papaya to chocolate facial, with several other 'anti-oxidant' rich vegetables thrown in. But doctors say that this has little or no effect on your skin. Save your supermarket produce for where it truly belongs--the refrigerator. "On your sensitive facial skin, it can truly do more harm than good. Fruits and vegetable produce can clog pores, irritate the skin lining and sometimes even cause secondary conditions," says Dr Panda. "The skin cannot absorb vitamins from vegetables directly and neither is this desirable, so it really is a waste of time."

It's called housewives' dermatitis, but it's a surprisingly common condition among all sections of society. If you wet and dry your feet several times a day, the thickened skin here is more prone to severe and painful cracking. "Another cause for this is the kind of footwear that you opt for," says Dr Panda. "Polymer related footwear, rubber rexine and plastic slippers all create a very high prevalence of allergic dermatitis. While canvas shoes are the best for your feet, you can also use high-quality leather. However, the dye used in leather is a major irritant so you must be wary about using the best brand."

When it comes to skin care, remember, less is more. Just staying natural will help you glow!

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A mirror to your healthSeptember 2, 2012