Urban Indian women are constantly out and about. Whether commuting to work, college, or just a fun filled day with friends – women use trains, buses, auto rickshaws, cabs, or simply walk every day. Our lives are a complicated mix of daily events – work, home, kids, friends – we juggle a lot. And, let’s face it, we like taking care of ourselves too! Except, maybe, we don’t really get to pay attention to our own needs as much as we should.
Today, on International Women’s Day, YBT’s Afshan Shaikh chats with Dr. Sonal Khade Ahuja of Tvak Skin, Hair and Laser Clinic. An MD in Dermatology, Dr. Sonal talks about some of the skin and hair issues that women face because of their lifestyle today and what they can do to make things better!
Afshan: Thank you for joining us today Dr. Sonal. Let me begin by asking you, what are some of the skin and hair issues that modern working women in India face today?
Dr. Sonal: Working Indian women, particularly in major cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata and Bangalore, all face a set of common skin and hair problems. Hair fall and dandruff are hair issues that worry them a lot – you can tell by how prominently anti hair fall and anti-dandruff products are marketed and advertised! Facial pigmentation or Melasma is a skin related issue that women in India take very seriously. Again, you can see the impact through the plethora of over the counter fairness creams available in the market today. Acne and acne scars are a problem that women face from their teenage years and often well into their mid-twenties. Finally, excessive hair on the body or Hirutism is something that troubles working women.
Afshan: These are all such common problems! What causes these issues to arise among working urban women? Let’s begin with the big dandruff and hair fall problem.
Dr. Sonal: Well, dandruff and hair fall are interlinked – one leads to the other. Work timings, stress, lack of sleep, and exposure to pollution all contribute to an unhealthy scalp. An unhealthy scalp leads to dandruff, which in turn weakens the hair follicle, leading to hair loss. A big mistake that women make is that they avoid washing their hair hoping it will reduce hair fall. However, this only makes things worse! Dandruff is a cosmetic disease. It is not contagious or dangerous but it does require treatment. Once you treat it, the scalp becomes healthy and the hair you lost will probably grow back. Not shampooing regularly will lead to accumulation of dirt and grime on the scalp causing further damage and infections. Working women should shampoo their hair at least every alternate day.
Afshan: What about facial pigmentation? What are its common causes?
Dr. Sonal: Facial pigmentation or skin darkening can be the result of various factors. The most common cause, of course, is sun exposure. Women also undergo hormonal changes during pregnancy that can cause dark patches on the skin. Medicines such as oral contraceptives have also been known to trigger facial pigmentation. Finally, skin darkening or facial pigmentation appears among women between the ages of 20 to 35 years. I always recommend working women to use a good quality sunscreen on a daily basis.
Afshan: Acne is a problem that most teens can relate to. What causes them in working women?
Dr. Sonal: There are four main causes of acne: 1) Oil production in the skin, 2) Dead skin cells, 3) Clogged pores, and 4) Bacterial infections.
Your body produces natural oil called sebum to lubricate your hair and skin. If it starts producing this oil in excess, it might mix with dead skill cells and build up around hair follicles. This eventually clogs the pore through which the oil ideally releases. This environment breeds bacteria which then lead to inflammation and infection. This is what is commonly seen as acne or pimples not only on the face, but often just below the neck, on the back, and even arms. The most common cause of acne is hormonal imbalances, reaction to medication, poor diet, and stress. As with any other infection, acne needs to be treated. The longer you leave the problem untreated, the deeper the infection dives into your pores, making it difficult to treat. The scars of old infections are also more difficult to remove.
Afshan: And Hirsutism, or excessive hair on the body, is that really that common? What causes it?
Dr. Sonal: We have seen increasing cases of Hirsutism. It is a condition where male-pattern hair growth is seen in women. Hirsutism results in excessive growth of dark, course hair on body areas where men typicallu have hair growth, that is, face, chest, and back. At am emotional level, Hirsutism can be very distressing. I have treated patients who displayed high levels of depression as they had been unable to treat the condition for a long time. Although Hirsutism does not lead to major physical complications, the underlying cause of hormonal imbalance can have severe effects. For example, if a woman has Hirsutism as well as irregular periods, she may be suffering from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or POS. This in turn can inhibit fertility.
Afshan: That is an eye opener. So, problems that we often perceive as being purely related to beauty can actually have a much deeper impact on our physical and mental well-being. How does dermatology help women combat these problems?
Dr. Sonal: Dandruff can be treated with a simple antifungal shampoo. If the condition is severe then we prescribe medicated shampoos along with topical medications. Women suffering from extreme Melasma can undergo the NDyag laser treatment. It targets the melanin in the epidermal and dermal layer of the skin which eventually reduces pigmentation significantly. Chemical peels help fight acne generation as well as acne scars. Acid peels such as salicylic, glycolic mandelic and azeliac are used to treat acne prone and pigmented skin. It’s a 10 minute non-intrusive procedure. However, patients have to observe a strict sun protection regime before and after each treatment session. Hirsutism can be treated by permanently removing unwanted hair. This can be done through Electrolysis, where individual hair follicles are destroyed using electro pulses. Women can also opt for laser therapy. Both treatments are perfectly safe, effective and fast.
Afshan: It’s great that these treatments are available to women, however, as the saying goes ‘Prevention is better than cure’! Would you recommend a daily routine that working women can follow to prevent these skin and hair conditions?
Dr. Sonal: Working women have very little time to focus on taking care of their skin and hair. They can begin by using a conditioning shampoo so they don’t have to spend extra time using a conditioner for their hair. Shampoo your hair every alternate day. If the hair fall is more than a handful for over 15 days, consult a dermatologist.
Working women should use a good quality, broad spectrum sunscreen. A dermatologist would prescribe a sunscreen which would be suitable to your individual skin type. You should use the sunscreen every 2 to 3 hours as the effect generally wears off within that time. Just wash your face and reapply the sunscreen at regular intervals. If you wear makeup and can’t wash your face, you could opt for sunscreen sprays.
Women should choose their face wash based on their skin type. If you have an acne problem, use a salicylic acid based face wash. Women with oily skin often make the mistake of washing their face too often. This only leads to more oil production. Use tissue paper to wipe off excess oil instead.
Finally, always drink lots of water and keep yourself hydrated. Women should use a good hydrating cream at night that will help their skin restore itself.