What is a Holi without colours? Playing with colours is one of the main attractions of Holi, followed by the Holi-special feast that comprises of malpua, dahi vada, poori-chhole, gujiya and a variety of other traditional delicacies. The vibrant and colourful festival of Holi is loved by one and all. For at least two days – on Choti Holi (March 7) and Holi (March 8) , people put all their worries aside to enjoy this riot of colours with a lot of enthusiasm and fervour. However, unfortunately the colours we play Holi with nowadays are full of chemicals, mercury, asbestos, silica, mica, and lead which are toxic to skin and eyes. Apart from ENT issues from ear pain, ringing of ears, hearing loss, eye issues, respiratory problems like asthma, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are also common due to exposure to toxic colours. (Also read: Holi 2023: How festival of colours is celebrated in different states of India)
“India portrays a bold image of its carnival of colours – Holi. Riotously vibrant – smeared and sprayed. As the day of Holi dawns the fervour is unmistakable. Regular colours jostle with metallics and neons (throw in some eggs too!). Well into the day neither faces nor clothes recognize themselves or each other. The next few days are spent trying to get rid of the unforgiving colours stuck mercilessly to the skin,” says Dr Atul Kumar Mittal, Principal Director – ENT, Fortis Memorial Reseach Institute, Gurugram in an interview with HT Digital.
Why Holi of earlier times was healthier
Dr Mittal says the gulaal used in earlier days was made from natural colours extracted from flowers, spices and trees etc and had medicinal properties beneficial to the skin.
“Yellow was made from turmeric, blue from Indigo plant, green came from henna leaves, red from flame of the forest tree, and many others. These colours were non-toxic and environment friendly. But the advent of synthetic dyes and pursuit of higher profits has contaminated the purity of the colours making them hazardous for human use. Chemicals, toxic metal-based pigments, mica, glass granules, asbestos are some of the substances used in making these colours,” says the ENT expert.
Apart from other health ailments, toxins in Holi colours can cause a plethora of ENT (ear, nose, throat) issues. Use of water balloons too can impact our ears and eyes in a variety of ways.
“Playing wet Holi with water-guns or water-balloons can harm the ear. Water may enter the ear and cause itching, earache or blockage. Impact of water-balloons when the ear is hit can cause a perforated tympanic membrane or a ruptured eardrum. The gush of water entering the ear or trauma to the ear can cause the eardrum to rupture. Ear pain, discharge from ear, hearing loss, ringing in ears are some of the symptoms of a ruptured eardrum. In severe cases surgical repair may be needed,” says Dr Mittal.
Chemicals in colours can cause respiratory issues
“Dry colours when thrown in the air come down very slowly and may look beautiful. But in fact, it is an indication of the presence of heavy metals and contaminants in high concentrations of particles under 10μm (micron). This is the threshold below which lung penetration and health effects become a concern. Research has shown that 40-80% of particles in Holi colours have diameters under 10μm (micron).
Contaminants in colours can enter our mouth and airways causing respiratory problems. Particulate chemicals in colours can aggravate conditions like asthma, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) which can in turn lead to wheezing, coughing and mucus production. These particles can also irritate our nasal cavities and trigger rhinitis or allergic cold and may cause our airways to become hypersensitive. Also, people with compromised immunity or prone to asthma should avoid playing Holi,” says Dr Mittal.
Dr Mittal concludes by saying that we need more awareness on harmful effects of colours and opt for organic or herbal based colours.