Holi, the festival of colors, is one of the most joyful festivals celebrated in India. As with many other Hindu festivals, it celebrates the triumph of good over evil while underscoring the fact that God always protects the faithful. However, you need to protect yourself and your loved ones from several health issues which this festival brings in its train. Family elders used to say that there is a reason why this festival is observed when winter ends. In quite a few places, people develop all kinds of skin ailments during winter. Some of the colors used traditionally, including air which contains microscopic particles of mica, serve to kill any kinds of pests which might be festering on the skin or minor eruptions.
Skin Allergies and Major Ailments Caused by Chemical Colors
Artificial colors which use particles of mica and lead; chemical solvents, and toxic agents like lead oxide, mercury sulfite, and copper sulfate cause grievous damage to the skin and lungs. As these artificial colors contain non-biodegradable, highly structured polymers; they can lead to other serious effects when they penetrate the skin, and could even cause cancer. Very popular colors like red (which contains cancer-causing mercury sulfate) and blue (which contains dermatitis causing chemical pigment Prussian blue) tend to be used universally. Add to that, the copper sulfate containing green which causes puffiness of the eyes, eye allergy, and even temporary blindness; and the powdered glass used in the dry powdered colors — you have a recipe for health disaster.
Prevent allergies: The commonest health issue from playing with colors — both powdered and soluble ones — is of skin allergy of varying kinds, and atopic dermatitis. Consult a doctor immediately, if you develop itching and rashes after playing Holi. It is always a good idea to rub petroleum jelly like Vaseline’s Blue Seal, or some coconut oil on your face, hands, arms, and legs before going out to play.
Use natural dyes: Earlier, natural colors drawn from ground sandal, turmeric, berries, and the juice extracted from the leaves of henna and tesu or hibiscus flowers was used to play Holi. None of these do any harm to people, while some of them like sandalwood and turmeric have an antibacterial impact, and serve as a medicine to cure minor skin ailments. Unlike the water-soluble chemical colors, these aren’t dissolved in engine oil. Rather their juice is used or is added to water which helps deep cleanse the skin.
Use natural ingredients to remove colors: Mix curds and besan (gram flour) to remove the colors which adhere to the skin and hair. For particularly resistant colors, add Fuller’s earth (Multani mitti) to the ubtan (unguents). Such urban add medicinal value to the cleansing process. Anyone who might have developed a skin condition as an adverse effect of winter, or for other reasons, often benefit from the use of these natural colors, and the unguents used to remove them.
Do this to protect your hair: Oil your hair well before playing Holi as it prevents the color from sticking to your scalp. Soak reethha (Indian soapberry) or shikakai in a bowl of cool water before going out to play. After cleansing color from your hair with dahi-besan, wash thoroughly with water. Use the soapberry water or shikakai water to rinse your hair. It will wash out any remaining color and dirt from your hair and scalp without damaging either. If you have lank, limp hair, soak methi seeds (fenugreek) overnight, and grind in the morning before going to play Holi. Use the ground fenugreek as a conditioner after washing off the shampoo or soapberry water. When your hair dries; you will be amazed to see the body in it. Don’t blow dry your hair.
Don’t Stay in Wet Clothes for Too Long
If you are susceptible to colds, you might start sneezing and coughing due to continuous exposure and staying in drenched clothes for long. Avoid playing with water balloons, liquid colors, and pichkaris (spray guns). Get out of those wet clothes fast. Take a brisk bath, and coddle yourself with some steaming hot ginger tea, or strong coffee.
Aggravating asthma: When particles of colors enter the lungs, it can aggravate asthma in chronic patients, and cause new people to acquire it when someone who has flu coming on plays with soluble colors. If perchance any of it flies into the eyes, then you might damage your vision.
Watch Out for the Sun and the Goodies
Though few people realize it, you can cause grave damage to your skin from prolonged exposure to the sun. Normally, people play Holi out in the open, under the scorching sun with skin cancer-causing ultra-violet rays beating down on you. Those who have delicate skin, or are accustomed to staying indoors most of the time, would be well-advised to use a protective layer of sunscreen before venturing out.
Digestive issues: Holi is celebrated with splendid savories, of which kanji vada is a hot favorite; and all kinds of sweetmeats from the gunjiya to lauj and imarti. You’ll need to be careful about not stuffing yourself too much with these delicacies unless you want to survive on barley water for the next few days. Also, watch out for spikes in blood sugar and cholesterol.
Celebrated with caution, Holi is a joyous festival. Happy Holi!