We sing of the scars but seldom abstain from charge.
The people who campaign for cleaner cities on plastic signs talk about how Delhi is ‘at least a little bit better than last time’. A sea of cups and plates swarm the streets and so does a pandemonium of plastic glasses, plates, and banners.
Everyone loves Diwali. The oncoming of autumn, romanticised by the West, the sweet smell of ‘raat ka raja’ delicately surrounding our homes. If it wasn’t for the onslaught of the inevitable — hazardous air quality — we could go back to loving this festival for what it was: Culture, togetherness, and felicitation of the year that has passed.
Human skin has adapted to a first-hand defence for the body. If there is an ailment on the inside, the skin will always reflect it first. Pollution, in the form of particulate matter (PM), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), ultraviolet radiation (UV rays), volatile organic compounds (VOC), cigarette smoke, oxides, and ozone, is the cunning saboteur of the human body (although being an eventual internal fate for most human beings).
As a dermatologist and citizen of India, I have witnessed many patients with dark circles who and suffering from acidity or a common cold. What do dark circles look like? Harmless melanin deposits under the eyes or internal annihilation? This is why fever, often arising due to an internal ailment, is usually followed by skin and follicular damage, often termed as ‘dullness’ and ‘poor texture’.
Delhi is an opposing symphony: On the one hand, the frontrunner of sustainability, and on the other, the most polluted city in the world as of August 2022. Just this year, there was a warning of a 15 per cent jump in landfill garbage in Delhi right before Diwali. While our obligations would encourage us to do our 1 per cent — plant a tree, take care of our health — change is often driven from the outside; you can’t help it when you are a part of a community that is just the same as you.
Looking at the pollution levels in the city, and how damaging it can be to one’s health, every individual must take agency and adopt home remedies to cure and abstain from potential ailments.
A healthy diet is a must
A healthy stomach is the key to one’s overall health. Eighty per cent of diseases in human beings start when the stomach gets affected. A good, balanced diet tackles substances harmful to the body. A healthy diet rich in Vitamin A and Vitamin C, commonly found in apples and carrots, can help fight the pollutants that result in skin pigmentation. Jaggery is also considered healthy for reducing pollutants in the system. These vitamins are very helpful in skin pigmentation and early skin ageing. Also, any food item which is red, yellow, or green, is always the easiest way to make the dish healthy.
Essential lung exercises for improved breathing were taught to many recovering patients during Covid — and cardio was the saviour. With the rapid increase of pollutants in the air, it is advisable to test your respiratory system through regular exercise. Try small changes like sleeping on your stomach, which helps your lungs to intake maximum oxygen for better functioning. Avoid going for morning walks as that is when heavy air pollutants enter our atmospheric belt. Try taking afternoon walks after lunch — you need Vitamin D!
Reducing pollution levels needs individuals to contribute too. Plant a tree, segregate your waste, educate and gift plants this season to initiate an overall social change.
Improving hygiene at home
Always wear a clean face mask when heading outdoors. N-95 or N-99 masks can be used for full protection against direct contact with pollutants. Cover yourself with breathable, full-sleeve cotton clothes to avoid inflammatory and allergic reactions to air pollutants, which can also result in skin cancer. Wash your face at least four times a day to keep your pores clean and dust-free. Avoid rubbing your eyes. Since the skin around our eyes is extremely thin, abrasion can lead to heavy dark circles.
Burn camphor for five minutes in your room, ideally before bedtime, and keep tulsi, orchids, aloe vera, and areca plants indoors. They are easy to maintain and give out oxygen 24/7. If you don’t want to invest in an air purifier, you can also keep a bowl of water near your open window.
Maintain good hair, skin
Good skincare is a must for everybody. Different skin types respond differently to pollution. Watch out for eczema and acne on your skin, which can be accompanied by an unnatural amount of dandruff and hair fall too.
Use skin and hair care products that are rich in antioxidants. Aloe vera is the best way to heal dry and flaky skin; oils such as walnut and olive oil can also be used to relieve burning sensations. A gentle scrub can also be used to tone down the pH of your skin, which often rises in the presence of pollutants in the air. Sunscreens are essential to protect your skin from harmful UV rays. Use a bandana on your hair for protection against potential damage.
An inside-out routine
Drinking at least seven to eight glasses of water helps regenerate skin cells. In times like these, our skin is most susceptible to absorbing impurities that can end up blocking our pores and fastening the process of ageing or even infecting the skin.
With skin burning outside, imagine what’s happening inside your body. The respiratory system is the first one to be attacked. Pollution-induced lung and organ damage are common problems.
Acidity is also possible due to air pollution. Pollutants cause body cells to undergo oxidative stress, which leads to consistent ageing of the whole body and early dysfunction of organs. Regular health check-ups can help you detect these issues early on.
In such times, due to the swift rise in pollution, a lot of anticipatory measures have been taken by the Narendra Modi government over the past years. However, despite its efforts, the city has a long way to go in order to be habitable.
The rapid rise in industrialisation is hastening deforestation, and the burning of agricultural waste is only aiding environmental deterioration. A citizen’s role here is to be sensitive, kind, and empathetic to public health — both on the inside and outside.
Dr. Deepali Bhardwaj is a dermatologist, anti-allergy specialist, laser surgeon and internationally trained aesthetician. Views are personal.
(Edited by Humra Laeeq)