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The future of a pandemic-stricken world may look unsure but one thing is clear: It has triggered a shift in the self-care industry. Sales of skincare products have risen and there is a surge in engagement with do-it-yourself (DIY) and tutorial videos, with people raiding the pantry for something to put on their faces. A word of caution is called for, however—as harmless and cost-effective as a fresh cream and honey face pack may sound, natural does not always mean it’s good for your skin or hair.

“It’s unbelievable how much people are wanting to do at home. Because people are missing out on appointments, many have resorted to self-treatment. However, I have seen so many cases of people developing rashes or even severely reacting to these home remedies," says Mumbai-based Batul Patel, medical director and dermatologist, The Bombay Skin Clinic. Moreover, the effectiveness of topical application of natural ingredients cannot be compared to professional treatment.

We spoke to two skincare experts to bust DIY myths and list what you need to know before you put kitchen ingredients on your face.

Know your skin type

The thumb rule for skincare is, know your skin and hair type. The chances of your skin reacting to products which aren’t designed for a specific type are always high. It is important to research natural ingredients to understand if their active ingredients will suit you.

“Those with dry and sensitive skin should not use ingredients like turmeric, lemon or tomato juice, which are too acidic for the skin and can ruin its pH balance," says Mumbai-based dermatologist and aesthetic physician Pallavi Sule. If you have an oily scalp, opt for gel-like substances like aloe vera gel and mildly exfoliating ingredients like yogurt. Dr Sule adds that skin (and scalp) changes with the weather. So, it’s also important to know your season-specific skin type.

Natural ingredients can also be contraindicative to your skincare routine. “If you use an acidic mask, have sensitive skin and use retinol (at night), AHAs or BHAs, your skin will burn. When not paired well, the active ingredients will react with each other and harm your skin," says Dr Sule. Common irritants are lemon, ginger, turmeric, vinegar and tomato. Do a patch test a week before application. Essential oils are highly reactive and should be diluted; you don’t need more than one-two drops. “Use too much, and the absorption of these oils can increase the toxicity in your body. Pregnant or breastfeeding women need to be more careful," says Dr Patel.

Tomatoes, in turn, are rich in vitamins A, B and C, lycopene and antioxidants but will they work better than your 3,000 night serum? “We cannot quantify the active ingredients in these items. Yes, tomato is good for oily skin and can appear to shrink pores but that is not a treatment. We don’t know for how long or how much you can use as they contain acids and a concentration can be dangerous and even cause contact dermatitis," says Dr Sule.

Scrub trouble

One of the most damaging DIY solutions is a scrub. “People often use scrubs for acne and skin brightening. Scrubs should not be used more than once a week because when you scrub a lot, the skin reacts and becomes thicker and rash-ier. Tiny bumps will appear and the skin looks a shade darker as it gets pigmented due to the frictional movement. Only use very finely ground ingredients such as natural sugars or salt, more for the body than the face," says Dr Patel. Too much scrubbing makes skin prone to UV damage, and it will lead to macular amyloidosis, which gives skin a leathery appearance and makes it darker.

Check the source

Olive oil is great for skin and hair but only when the source is pure. “You need to see how oils are extracted—is it cold-pressed? Is it organic? The actives in refined versions are damaged as they have additives which might cause more harm," says Dr Patel. Also, be careful of applying oils on the face, for they can be sticky and clog your pores.

Storing it wrong

You can’t store a DIY mask for long since it has no preservatives. “The chances of bacterial growth are higher in DIY concoctions. Oils should be stored in dark bottles. DIY eye creams and masks often cause eye infection and corneal irritation. Wash your containers and grinders thoroughly and sanitize your hands, table and equipment," says Dr Patel.

Be wary of heavy masks

While natural herbal rinses are okay, it’s best not to overdo heavy masks. “Undiluted vinegar rinse will alter the pH level of the scalp and make it alkaline, which will lead to the growth of fungus and dandruff. Heavy masks create a lot of moisture, which makes the scalp more prone to stickiness and fungal infections. Use heavier masks on the ends of your hair," advises Dr Patel. If you have an oily scalp, heavy oils will clog the pores and make it susceptible to dandruff and inflammation.

Dhara Vora Sabhnani is a Mumbai-based journalist.

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