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Beauty’s dark side: Trending skin treatments that could be harmful

Charcoal masks, micro-needling and oil pulling are all over social media. But are they safe to try? 

more lifestyle Updated: Jun 24, 2017 21:28 IST
Anubhuti Matta
Many trending remedies like charcoal masks (above) are designed for Caucasians. So using them on Indian skin may cause blotchiness and marks.
Many trending remedies like charcoal masks (above) are designed for Caucasians. So using them on Indian skin may cause blotchiness and marks. (Shutterstock )

Every day seems to bring a new viral video on how to clean up your face and rejuvenate your skin. There’s the black charcoal peel, the micro-needling procedure, suction rollers, oil pulling, magnetic masks, bubble masks and peeling gels.

How many of them are really good for you, and how you can you tell?

One thumb rule, says dermatologist Dr Devang Soni, is never order online, or try something new that you discovered online, without checking with your doctor first.

Meera Pandey, 33, a front-desk manager at a five-star hotel in Mumbai, saw the numerous videos of people doing the charcoal peel and decided to give the mask a try. That’s how she and Dr Soni met.

“The mask promised to suck out blackheads and open blocked pores. It sounded like pore strips but better,” says Pandey. “The vlogger I watched recommended extra facial glue for better results. I don’t know if it was the glue or the mask I ordered online or both, but all I remember next are three painful hours. The mask took off the outer layer of my skin. The redness and irritation were so bad I had to see a dermatologist.”

Micro-needling creates micro-tears in the top layer of the skin and dermatologists warn that it may lead to minor scarring and bleeding. (Shutterstock )

In addition to a layer of skin, the peel stripped Pandey’s face of its natural oils and baby hair, says Dr Soni. “You end up exposing your skin to more harm. It can take a month to heal, and your skin may never be the same.”

Misadventures are as likely to happen to men, say dermatologists. A man walked into Dr Shehla Agarwal’s Mehak Skin Clinic in south Delhi’s Sarvodaya Enclave with severe bruises on his nose.

“He had bought a pore-suction cleaner online to remove blackheads, which led to severe excoriation and lesions,” she says. “These gadgets are too harsh for the skin. Along with grime, they suck out natural oils and damage and break capillaries, leaving the skin bruised and blotchy. If he hadn’t sought help, it would have left permanent parks on his nose.”

Another technique that should be shunned is micro-needling. This is a cosmetic procedure where hundreds of fine needles are used to create small invisible punctures in the top layer of the skin.

It is expensive and can cost about Rs 20,000 a month, but people are opting for it because it eases active acne, erases acne scars and shrinks open pores.

What micro-needling also does is removes parts of the top layer of the skin to reveal softer skin beneath. That’s why your skin looks clearer and softer; that is also why it is unhealthy.

“These remedies have been designed for Caucasians. The skin type of Indians and south Asians is prone to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, which makes it prone to blotchiness and marks after skin intervention are used,” says Dr Agarwal, who has treated five cases of skin damage as a result of microneedling.

Then there are overnight masks that claim to rejuvenate your skin while you sleep by hydrating it and infusing it with herbs, oils and vitamins ranging from aloe vera and Dead Sea salts to tree-tea oil and Vitamin C. These exfoliating masks often contain bleaches and peels that make the skin sensitive to sun damage, especially in older women.

Delhi corporate executive Preeti Patel, 37, was initially thrilled with the Vitamin C-enriched overnight mask she bought online that promised to soften her skin while fading sun spots. “What could go wrong, I thought,” she says. “I had my answer at the end of three weeks. I spent a few hours in the sun last month and by the time I got home, my skin was burning. From red it turned to a burnt brown and then began to peel. Apart from being a social embarrassment, it was incredibly painful.”

Skin treatment is best left to a doctor, says Dr Soni. “Approach a doctor before you ‘do it yourself’. Clinical supervision will at least promise a safe, controlled and clean environment.”