What is product overload? Is it a health hazard?
Product overload is using more than you need, either (over)use of one product or using more products. An example is scrubs and exfoliators. Our skin continuously renews itself. A cell takes 30 days to get from the basal layer (of skin) to the top. So we are exposing immature cells when they are not yet ready for the function! But sometimes we just choose badly…
How much is too much? Is there a basic minimum?
Some people take pride in saying ‘We do not use anything.’ But now there is pollution, dust, dirt…and a lifestyle which includes being in an AC environment. I can tell at once whether someone works in an AC environment: even in the(ir) 20s, the skin lacks glow (due to loss of moisture).
Hair/skin products come in two categories: skincare (cleansers, shampoos, moisturizers) and colour cosmetics (lipstick, etc.). The second depends on lifestyle; the first is essential. You cannot not clean hair and skin. And then you must resupply what you remove. So the 20-something in an AC office needs a good night cream…but not necessarily an anti-ageing one.
Faced with shelves full of choice, how do you choose?
Educate yourself about your needs rather than (by) trial and error, or choosing a cream because Sushmita Sen is using it. Need changes with age and environment. In winter we use hot water and the air is so dry. “Oily hair” shampoo will be too harsh! Sit down every decade birthday and take stock… Your skin may have been oily in your 20s, but you are no longer 20.
Choose the mildest, simplest product. A mild soap is one with moisturizer; washing twice a day is enough. Choose products with no more than 10-12 ingredients.
Are we starting children off with too many products?
Babies are part of the same environment (as adults), so the idea is again to choose between ‘needed’ and ‘excess’. Even branded baby products can be too harsh in our country. Just use a mild soap, such as a glycerine one.
Do some benefits outweigh the risk of irritation from active ingredients, for example sunscreens?
First, prevent sun exposure: Don’t go out from 11am-4pm, wear clothes that cover more, carry an umbrella, use a scarf even in the car. Sunscreen is an added step, but only lasts 1½ hours. Better is calamine lotion or talcum powder, which forms a physical barrier. It won’t block pores unless used on moist skin or rubbed in.
Does “less is best” also apply to physical therapies?
There’s no harm in a massage, but pampering and skincare are different things. If it helps you relax, why not? But don’t expect miracles. Some treatments are suggested for, say, acute acne. Get at least two opinions, and avoid packages.
Your advice on clearing overloaded dressing tables?
If there is no expiry date, take it as two months from manufacture. Note changes in texture, colour and scent too. A product in a tube is more stable than one in a jar, a powder (more) than liquid. Not using it regularly? Put it in the fridge. If it’s open but unused for three months, don’t use it!
Dermatologist Shehla Agarwal is consultant and MD, Mehak Skin Clinic, New Delhi.