Friday, June 13, 2014

Skin (s)care!

Advice - Mind, Body and Family, Jun '14
By Dr. Tirthankar Guha Thakurta

Every season comes with its unique set of gifts and tantrums. Summer in India is not very comfortable. With a rise in the maximum temperature every year, Indians are left scorching in the hands of global warming. Given its sub-continental stretch, India has wide differences in weather patterns. In some parts, the summer is hot and humid, while in some other parts it is dry. The amount of rainfall also varies from state to state. This causes local variations in the pattern of summer-related health problems. In most parts, however, people face problems with their skin and hair. This month we turn our attention to some common summer-related skin health problems, associated myths and their medical remedies.

Acne (pimples)

Acne or pimples are a result of infection and block of the sebaceous glands that lie at the bottom of our hair follicles. Pimples are commonly caused by a bacterium called Propionibacterium acne. They are not only cosmetically disturbing, but can cause a lot of pain, irritation and scars.

There is no relationship between the food you eat and the development of pimples. Consuming oily food does not cause pimples. While it is good to avoid oily junk food for other reasons (like reducing blood cholesterol levels), there is no way that avoiding oily food will prevent or cure pimples. They occur when the bacteria get enough oil from your skin (not food, unless you are applying food on your face which many beauticians prescribe in some form or the other). So application of any oil, cream, soap or cosmetics can aggravate the problem. Some medications like contraceptive pills can cause pimples to erupt – so please check with your physician.

There is also no correlation between your bowel habits or water intake with pimples. Again, it is good to have the necessary amount of water and a fibre-rich diet to avoid constipation, but do not expect pimples to be cured by that. The liver is an organ blamed for bad skin for no fault of its own in most cases. Please spare the fellow.

If you have an oily skin, avoid all sorts of oily skin products and toiletries. Do not use so-called disinfectant soaps unnecessarily. They kill the normal (beneficial) symbiotic bacteria on skin that prevent other infections; as a result infections by harmful bacteria and fungus become easy.

Do not use food material as face-packs. They contain enough nutrients to help the bacteria grow. Instead eat some good food. The nutrients will reach all organs including your skin.

If your skin is sensitive, you can use cleansing lotions containing cetyl alcohol that help remove excess oil and clean your skin pores.

In case you develop pimples, see a doctor. Most patients will be prescribed ointments containing a medicine to kill Propionibacterium acne and heal the damaged skin. Skin formulations containing benzoic acid, clindamycin and retinoic acid derivatives are often useful when used as prescribed by a physician.

Dressing smart to beat the heat! Photo credit: Pawan Dhall
Skin rash

A large number of conditions may cause skin rash in summer. It may be a rash unrelated to summer, like a drug allergy. It may be caused by bacteria thriving on your sweat-soaked shirt. It may be a fungus that loves your humid skin. Treatments will differ for each of them. Some general rules can help prevent some (not all) of the skin rashes.

Avoid getting soaked in rain. While the first rain of the season can be fun, in today's times, it also means the first wash our polluted air is getting after a year. Be sure that it will be high in pollutants like heavy metal, acidic compounds, allergens and dust.

Take a bath after getting wet in the rain and wash and dry your clothes before using them again. Moist clothes nurture microbes. Change clothes soaked in sweat whenever possible. Wear loose dry cotton clothes to prevent sweat.

If you get a rash that looks bad, consult a doctor. Self-medicating a fungal sore with steroid cream will only increase your disease.

Fungal infections

Fungal infections of skin and hair are very common in summer because of high humidity of the skin. Ringworms, Candida infections, tinea versicolor and dandruff are all common in monsoons. Dandruff is often associated with fungal infection of the scalp.

Avoid using hair oil in case of dandruff. Oil is not a nutrition to the hair (composed of dead cells), but feeds the fungi. Wash your hair with an anti-fungal shampoo that contains the ketoconazole group of drugs twice weekly and then maintain weekly. A dermatologist should be consulted if the dandruff does not go away.

Follow these simple rules and stay cool in summer!

Reader queries

In this hot summer, sometimes we get sun burns and sun tans on the face and other parts of our body. Can you please suggest a remedy?
Madhusree Nandi

Dear Madhusree

Sun tans and sun burns are a result of the harmful actions of ultra-violet (UV) rays present in sunlight. UV rays stimulate our skin to produce melanin, the brown pigment of skin, and make it look dark.

Use an umbrella of dark colour whenever possible when travelling outdoors in the daytime. Wear large goggles and wear loose clothes that cover a large part of your skin from sun rays. Clothes of lighter colours (like white) reflect sunlight and prevent tans. Water-based sunscreen lotions with SPF values 60 or more are often useful.

Tans fade with time as we shed old skin and develop new layers. So do not panic. Avoid the sun and the tans will go away gradually. Do not rub the tanned area vigorously with any scrub, as this can cause inflammation and permanent darkening of the skin. If you develop a bad tan that is not going away by itself, consult a dermatologist. You may be prescribed a demelanizing agent that will decrease melanin and bring back the previous skin tone.

Confused? Disturbed? Just inquisitive? Write in any query on the mind, body and family to, and Dr. Tirthankar Guha Thakurta, teaching faculty at a Kolkata-based medical college, will be happy to answer them – with due respect to confidentiality.


  1. Dear Pawan Ji, I had a kind request to you. Can Varta open a friendship or relationship column for the readers? It is just a suggestion from my part. I am enjoying it.

    1. Dear Anonymous, many thanks for your suggestion! We will keep it in mind as we review the content of the blog and plan new columns. Happy reading and keep the feedback coming!