Holi, the colourful festival of our country, essentially bids goodbye to winter and heralds the arrival of spring. Holi matches the riot of colours of spring in full bloom and traditionally was played by making colours from the flowers blooming at that time and even herbs etc. The fragrant natural colours also had therapeutic value and were beneficial for our skin and health.
But over the years, natural colours have been replaced by synthetic colours to the extent that most Holi colours sold in the market are oxidized metals or industrial dyes (like those for dyeing our clothing). All these are toxic and can result in anything from skin allergies to cancer, eye irritation to blindness… and much more. When washed, they enter our water and soil, and cause even more pollution.
Are Holi colours safe?
Regrettably, most of the Holi colours sold these days contain many harmful chemicals. In fact most are dyes meant for industrial uses like dyeing textiles and are not meant to be applied on humans. These colours include heavy metals, acids, alkalis and powdered glass. The black paste has lead oxide, green contains copper sulphate, red is mercury sulphite etc. All these are toxic and can result in anything from skin allergies to cancer, eye irritation to blindness and much more.
Even the base in which these chemicals are mixed are highly toxic. Several powder or dry colours use a base of asbestos talc, chalk powder or silica. Asbestos is a known human carcinogen which gets built up in the body tissue, even micro quantities can result in cancer. Silica may dry as well as chap the skin. The shine in the colours is due to addition of powdered glass or mica. Many water colours have an alkaline base capable of causing severe injuries. If it enters the eyes, it can pose a great danger to the vision. Colours in the form of pastes have toxic compounds mixed in a base of engine oil or other inferior quality oil, capable of causing skin allergy, temporary blindness.
Why are the eyes so unsafe in Holi?
The eyes can get injured easily during Holi because of their placement in the body and also due to the use of harmful chemicals in colours these days.
Some Helpful and Safety Tips for the eye:
• Protect your eyes at all times. Use clear glasses or if in the sun, sunglasses to protect your eyes from coloured water and powder.
• Use a hat or cap to protect your hair and eyes.
• Apply a thick layer of cold cream on your face especially around the eyes so that the colour doesn’t stick and it can be easily washed. While washing off the colour, keep your eyes tightly closed and use warm water.
• If you are travelling, keep the car windows tightly shut. If you are commuting by bus do not use the window seat. It makes sense to avoid travelling on the day when people use colours.
Patients should visit the eye institute regularly every year on Holi day.
Leads to… What to do?
Eyes and skin Contact Irritation of eyes & skin especially around the eye with, pain, swelling, undue sensitivity to light] Wash eyes and exposed skin area with room temperature clean water. If it’s burning use milk. It works great as it neutralizes any acidity.
High-speed balloon / stone eye injury Can be very dangerous with cornea and lens and even retinal injury. If high velocity can cause rupture of the globe Do not ouch the eye with any water, rush to the nearest eye doctor or hospital
Powder rubbed in the eye Corneal abrasions, corneal ulcers and even tattooing of the cornea leading to permanent fall in vision Wash the eye immediately and if vision is blurred rush to your nearest doctor. Important to never wait. It will not away with time, only get worse.
Contact Lenses and Holi
Contact lenses do, in a way provide protection however due to its Hygroscopic properties (takes up water) it will absorb and concentrate solution to the eye. Thus while aniline dyes used alone will cause irritation, used on the surface of a contact lens enhances its exposure and thus its side effects and lead to a total loss of epithelium from the eye and even uveitis or inflammation of the brown iris of the eye leading to severe pain and long lasting eye problems.
It is imperative to discard those contact lens which are used when the dye enters the eye. It is virtually impossible to clean the dye off. For Holi if you do wish to wear lenses it is best to use the disposable daily wear lens and discard. Your contact lens specialist will be able to provide you lenses which you may use and discard.
Eye Care and Holi
It is important to caution your friends when they play Holi that you do not want any powder, or paste or even liquid in the eye. In case it goes inadvertently, ,wash the eyes out immediately with copious water which will dilute the side effects of the irritant. If redness persists or if the vision seems to be affected it is vital to consult your eye doctor immediately.
About the author
Padmashree Dr Keiki Mehta is Director and Surgical Head Mehta International Eye Institute and Colaba Eye hospital
Padmashree Dr Keiki Mehta