In an episode of TV series Friends, Rachel hits the roof when Phoebe suggests that her toddler enter a beauty pageant. In the end, however, Rachel expertly makes up the baby’s face, even dabbing on lipstick, only to have Ross scream at her about the ill effects of beauty products on an infant’s skin.
Babies and make-up? The Friends episode is only a slight exaggeration. In the US, according to market research firm Experian, 43% of six-nine year olds are already using lipstick or lip gloss, 38% are using hairstyling products, and 12% are using other cosmetics. Such surveys are not available for India, but parents say children are increasingly becoming beauty conscious. In Chennai, eight-year-old Shreya Thomas, a Class III student, loves lipstick and would like to use it “like Mama does”. She has a “safe for children” make-up kit, but her mother wonders if lip gloss is all right.
Thomas is not alone. It’s fairly common to find young girls—and increasingly, boys—heading to a beauty salon or spa for face and hair “treatments”. It could be the result of changing cultural mores (such as televised contests where children dress up as “stars” and underage beauty pageants, even in schools), or peer pressure. For example, spa media and marketing company SpaFinder’s forecast of hot new trends for India includes sessions for teens and tweens. So where do doctors stand on this?
Old enough for war paint?
“Till 18, don’t touch beauty treatments,” says Snehal Sriram, head, medical services, Kaya Skin Clinic, Mumbai. “Young children should not use beauty products at all, because their immune system is not fully developed,” says Ajita Bagai, consultant dermatologist, Max Healthcare, New Delhi. But what are the specifics? What is okay, and when?
This is probably the aspect of puberty that make teens most self-conscious. However, most dermatologists agree on hair removal beginning only three years after the onset of puberty. In recent years, Dr Bagai says, more girls are attaining puberty at an average age of nine, which may well put that age at 13. Other doctors are more conservative. “Wait till your body’s hormonal pattern has stabilized,” says Dr Sriram—and that’s 18 or above for most.
Options and myths abound. Mahua Chatterjee, head, sales and customer service, dermatology, VLCC Group, says waxing is the most suitable method as it has no harmful effect if done hygienically (using disposable strips). But for young and sensitive skin, doctors advise against it. And no, it can’t “reduce” hair growth, nor can tweezing and epilators.
Hair removal cream can darken and irritate skin, so both beauty professionals and doctors advise against it. Shaving may not damage skin but leaves a stubble that can trouble self-conscious adolescents (see Know, below). Laser can be a permanent method of hair reduction (note that the promise is not one of zero growth), but it is only advised after 18 years.
Acne is another common complaint among adolescents, who try to deal with it through cosmetics and beauty treatments. Instead, visit a dermatologist and take medication, if advised. Hormones can make you acne-prone, but the inflammation is caused by bacteria and not just oil glands. So it is important to keep skin clean, says Dr Chatterjee. Even home remedies and herbal treatments such as fuller’s earth and sandalwood paste must be allergy-tested first.
Serena Spa’s vice-president of operations Sabrina Hougaard says, “In the Orient, we have a culture of oil massages for children.” However, she adds that a spa massage can “induce feelings” which young teenagers are not emotionally equipped to cope with, so it is best to have a parent present and a same-gender therapist (of course, this ignores the possibility of same-sex attraction).
Chemicals in hair dyes can lead to severe allergic reactions. Also, hair colour, perms and ammonia bleach make hair dry, render it fragile and prone to breakage. Is it worth it? Adults can ask themselves the same question too.
Take off the trinkets
Dr Bagai treats many young girls with nickel and cobalt dermatitis, caused by wearing artificial jewellery. It is treatable, but it is best to stop wearing junk jewellery.
Doctors suggest children opt for temporary tattoos. Quite apart from the problem of changing your mind too late, it is less risky. The ink in permanent tattoos can lead to skin irritation or allergies. However, taking into account the current craze and peer pressure, dermatologists suggest taking proper precautions. Hygiene is critical, says Dr Sriram. Equipment must be disposable or properly sterilized. Always do a pinprick test first; wait 24 hours for reactions before going ahead.
The beauty of self-esteem
Children should be made to understand, even professionally counselled if need be, that while looking good is important, overall personality development is more crucial, says Dr Chatterjee.
Here is what some salon professionals have to say for younger clients. But can a salon be trusted to offer unbiased advice, especially if it means turning clients away?
• Children can have body wraps, oil massages or head packs from 11 years.
• Steam, shower and jacuzzi sessions should be shorter: If it’s okay for an adult to steam for 20 minutes, a child should only be allowed 5 minutes.
• Mini-facials using natural products (fruits, vegetables, herbals) are okay for pre-teens. Full-fledged facials— peels, serums, glycolic acid or retinal treatments, dermabrasion, radio frequency, and intensive pulse light (laser)—are not advisable (some therapists advise clients to wait until 21).
• Waxing is the gentlest hair removal method, suitable for all.
• Manicures/pedicures are a must for children as “hygiene must be taught early: Boys especially need to be taught that dirty toenails are not cool”.
Sources: Rema Devi, Thai Sabai Wellness Spa, Bangalore; Sabrina Hougaard, vice-president (operations), Serena Spa, New Delhi
THE DOCTORS’ GUIDELINES
• Gentle body lotions or moisturizers are okay at all ages.
• Young skin is vulnerable, so avoid sun exposure; use a good sunscreen.
• Deodorants and perfumes for both sexes (again, try to find a gentle formula: avoid alcohol and parabens) can start at 12-13 years as sweat gets thicker during puberty.
• Waxing is widely thought to be gentler than shaving or depilatory creams, but is not advised for sensitive skins (which teenagers often have; acne medications can also make skin sensitive). Those with diabetes or poor blood circulation should also avoid waxing.
• Secondary hair growth starts at around 15. Trimming of armpit or pubic hair can start at 16, shaving only at 18. Don’t start shaving earlier; give hormones (and hence hair growth patterns) a chance to settle down first.
• Avoid hair removal creams. At most, a gentle one can be used on a special occasion, after a patch test.
• Leg waxing should start only at 14-15 years , arm waxing only after 16 (skin is softer and hair thinner then). Those with varicose veins (or a genetic predisposition to them) should avoid this entirely.
• Laser hair reduction treatments must wait till 18.
• Facials should be done only after 18 (until then skin hasn’t settled into oily, dry or combination categories, which treatments are tailored to). Facials and deep cleansing too early spoil skin texture for life. Some therapists advise waiting as long as 21.
• Gentle facial bleaches are okay after 13, as they only affect the superficial layer of skin and hair.
• For manicures and pedicures too, wait until 18.
• Nail polish is okay at any age, but be aware of potential irritants.
• Lipsticks and other colour cosmetics are strictly grown-up stuff.
Sources: Shehla Agarwal, consultant dermatologist, New Delhi; Snehal Sriram, head, medical services, Kaya Skin Clinic, Mumbai; Ajita Bagai, consultant dermatologist, Max Healthcare, New Delhi
Kavita Devgan also contributed to this story.
Walkers, canes: risky or safe?
About 47,000 elderly Americans are treated in emergency rooms each year after falls associated with walkers and canes, says a new study, suggesting improvement in the use and design of walking aids. The study, to be published in this month’s ‘Journal of the American Geriatrics Society’, found that 87% of fall injuries involved walkers, 12% involved canes; that fractures, bruises and abrasions were the most common injuries, almost a third of which affect the lower trunk, including the hip; and that 60% of fall injuries associated with walkers or canes occurred at home, while 16% of falls involving a walker occurred at nursing homes.
©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Intense exercise may be dangerous
A stitch in the side usually happens during intense exercise or an activity that your body is unaccustomed to. They occur more frequently in novice exercisers and people who are shallow breathers, although even well-trained athletes may experience stitches at some point. Exercising in extreme cold, trapped air and/or gas below the diaphragm, eating a meal too soon before exercising, or working out too vigorously may cause your diaphragm to spasm or cramp, causing pain under the rib cage. One immediate treatment is to take a deep breath as quickly as you can, hold for a couple of seconds and then forcibly exhale through pursed lips. Bending forward can help you expel more air. For some, slowing the pace for a few seconds while concentrating on deep breathing helps. Others find that a slight backward leaning of the body provides relief.
©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES
As early as 1928, researchers busted the myth that shaving causes darker and coarser hair to grow back. But that can seem like evidence to the contrary, especially in youngsters, when more hair sprouts because their hormones are yet to stabilize—typical when a youngster starts shaving before his/ her hair growth pattern settles, which can take up to 18 years and even beyond.
Hair that grows naturally is tapered off at the tip, which is bleached by the sun as it grows, so it seems finer and lighter. Shaving cuts it off at an angle, which feels prickly as a result, and because the hair now grows without a sun-bleached tip, it appears darker and coarser, as a 2007 paper published in the ‘British Medical Journal’ explains.
— Staff writer
Gargle with licorice to prevent sour throat
One annoying consequence of surgery is the painful sore throat that follows recovery from anaesthesia, but a small study suggests a simple and cheap solution: Gargle with licorice just before going under.
Licorice has been used for thousands of years to treat inflammation and allergies, so a group of Indian doctors decided to test it for treating post-operative sore throats. In their study of 20 patients who gargled with a licorice solution five minutes before anaesthesia, only four reported soreness on swallowing right after waking; by the end of 24 hours, only two still found it painful to swallow, as reported in the July issue of ‘Anesthesia and Analgesia’.
©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES
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