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Beware! Don't try these beauty treatments at home

Last updated on: September 2, 2009 

Image: Actress Katrina Kaif is rumoured to suffer from severe acne, for which she is on medication
Photographs: Manav Manglani/Reuters Dr Parul Kolhe

Whenever we hear a term like 'home remedy' or 'herbal' or 'kitchen cure', we gravitate towards it with the assumption that it's a safe and inexpensive treatment without the side effects attributed to prescription medication. Though home remedies are good for certain small problems (like treating mild acne with besan and turmeric packs, or using glycerin and rose water for dry chapped lips), there are certain conditions which are best tackled by your dermatologist and one should not attempt to treat these with grandma's cures. I have mentioned a few such conditions, but honesty speaking, any skin or hair problem which is severe and unresponsive for a few weeks to home remedies or is steadily worsening, must be checked out by a doctor.

Nodulocystic Acne

This is a condition where pimples become red, swollen and filled with pus as they are badly infected. Fiddling with your skin, trying to drain out the pus or applying acidic substances like lemon juice or mud packs in such a condition can only spell disaster and spread the infection. I can never forget an 18-year-old girl who came to my clinic with severe chemical burns on her face as she had applied garlic paste for such a problem. After 6 months of intensive treatment, we could control the acne but the burns caused by the garlic left a few permanent marks on her face. Severe acne needs proper treatment under a dermatologist's supervision.

Skin tags

Image: Skin tags and moles like Cindy Crawford's should only be treated using lasers or cauterisers
Photographs: Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Many of us have small brown or black projections of skin on our face, underarms or neck. These skin tags or 'acrochordons' as they're medically known must be removed with laser or a radiofrequency cauterising apparatus by a dermatologist. People try to cut them off with scissors or tie a horsehair around the base hoping it'll die and fall off. Stop! You are not a surgeon! A blood vessel in the stem of the skin tag could bleed copiously if cut, or strangulating the tag could cause a bad infection and swelling.

Home peels for fairness

Image: You may love Preity Zinta's fair complexion, but chemical peels are not to be tried at home
Photographs: Manav Manglani/Reuters

Beauticians are doing it, housewives are doing it, college girls are doing it. We jump at any 'fairness' treatment offered to us without thinking of the consequences.

Chemical peels like alpha hydroxyl or salicylic peels are complex procedures that kill off outer layers of your skin. It takes years of training to perfect the technique. A complete understanding of skin structure, peel composition, mechanism of action and possible side effects have to be understood. The potential for causing skin burns, post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (black marks) and lifelong scars is very high. Please leave it to the experts.

Clipping ingrown toenails

Image: Well-groomed toenails like Jennifer Love Hewitt are a must
Photographs: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

Home pedicures are fine, but if you have an infected nail (discoloured, irregular, abnormally shaped) then a medical treatment is necessary. Also, ingrowing nails (that grow sideways into the nail folds and cause pain and swelling) must be treated surgically. Using pedicure implements to try to dig out the ingrown part and clipping it can cause a severe bacterial infection that can be terribly painful.

Cooking up your own cosmetics

Image: Sonam Kapoor is the brand ambassador of a famous makeup label -- she doesn't make hers at home!
Photographs: Punit Paranjpe/Reuters

A strict no-no. I have seen endless allergic and irritant reactions with homemade kajal (from smoked ghee) or scraping out leftover lipsticks and melting them with beeswax to make a new stick, or using hydrogen peroxide and ammonia to make your own bleaching solution for skin lightening or highlighting hair.

Our kitchens are not chemistry labs and we are not pharmaceutical experts. Cosmetics are a delicate blend of chemicals and cosmetic giants like L'Oreal and Revlon spend millions on research and employ the best chemical scientists to arrive at skin-safe blends. Trying to do this yourself at home is nothing short of inviting trouble.

So sometimes, knowing what NOT to do can be more important than knowing what to do. Whenever in doubt, play safe -- don't play the doctor.