Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Skin deep

This was my column yesterday.

I receive quite a number of press materials in my email inbox—data about certain products and launchings, answers to frequently-asked questions about this and that advocacy, even campaign materials from politicians and political parties—all sorts of information, most of which just get filed in various folders as materials for future columns.

I don’t have anything against feeding columnists with stuff to be written about as long as there are no strings attached. I will state this for the record for the first and hopefully the last time: I only write about stuff that I care about so no amount of persuasion can make me consider writing about causes that I don’t believe in, or feel anything towards.

But every now and then, someone does send material that strikes a chord such as the latest skin safety campaign of the Philippine Dermatological Society (www.pds.org.ph).

It’s a campaign that’s timely because it’s summer and in case you haven’t noticed, going to some fancy beach around this time of the year has become a status symbol for many Filipinos. It’s the time when lots of people get worked up in getting a tan. And because they do so for the sole purpose of showing it off, they try to hasten the process and fail to protect their skin in the process. I’ve met quite a lot of people who do look good resembling lobsters but who privately complain of burning pain in their skin and being uncomfortable in the process. Ah, what a price for beauty, indeed.

The society is advocating the use of sunscreen daily, particularly if one intends to stay under the direct heat of the sun for extended periods of time.

The other social factor that makes the campaign relevant today is this continued fascination with white skin as if it’s the ultimate measure of beauty. One of my good friends will disagree with this vehemently, but the heydays of Nora Aunor are long gone and we’re all stuck in this white-is-beautiful paradigm. And it’s a phenomenon that’s unfortunately not limited to the younger generation, as I am aware that lots of people in their middle age are also into it. I am not going to go into specifics for the sake of domestic harmony but there are people in my house who slobber their skins with all kinds of whitening products from soap, to lotion, to astringent, to moisturizers, all in an effort to look like Kristine Hermosa or, okay, at least Cory Quirino.

Sadly, the products that they use contain Hydroquinine a chemical that’s been around for more than 50 years and has been used widely for the treatment of darkened skins or for skin lightening.

One of the most popular astringent in the market today contains hydroquinine and while the formulation contains the legal concentrations required per bottle, there are many people out there who overuse these products, unaware of the dangers posed by hydroquinine when used in large concentrations.

There is a personal element to this piece. My favorite aunt learned the lesson the painful way. In her desire to have fairer skin, she smothered herself with products containing hydroquinine several times a day. The result was that she damaged her skin and for quite sometime, she actually had dark discolorations on her skin. She spent more money correcting the side effects and sadly, her skin never really returned to its healthy state.

Thus, “beware of what you put in your skin,” which is the tagline of the PDS campaign sounds like a reasonable warning really. After all, the skin is the body’s largest organ and it’s the part of the body that is most prominent and noticeable. It makes sense for us to take care of it. In addition, the skin functions as the body’s main protective layer against—well, everything.

I can imagine the kind of pressure the PDS is getting from manufacturers who are making a killing out of selling products laced with hydroquinine. Certain quarters that stand to benefit from a campaign to ban hydroquinine (perhaps because their own products don’t contain hydroquinine) have gone to town misquoting the PDS and taking its skin safety campaign out of context. Society president Georgina Pastorfide clarifies that what the PDS is pushing for is stricter regulation on the use of hydroquinine as proposed by the Bureau of Food and Drugs including making all concentrations of hydroquinine available only upon the presentation of a proper prescription.

The PDS re-issued its guidelines, which unfortunately, will strike many people as gobbledygook. It also requires that people read the labels of the products they use—something not a lot of consumers do.

But for those who are diligent in this aspect, here are the PDS guidelines: The PDS reiterates that preparations containing less than or equal to two percent hydroquinine can be dispensed without the supervision of a licensed pharmacist. However, the PDS maintains that preparations containing more than two percent (2%) but less than or equal to four percent (4%) hydroquinine must be dispensed under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist while those containing more than four percent (4%) but less than five percent (5%) hydroquinine must be dispensed only by licensed pharmacists of registered drug outlets upon the presentation of a proper prescription.

I am not really a vain person but I do try—and the operative term here is try—to take care of my skin. Unlike many people, I don’t like going to the beach to soak up the sun. The last time I sported a tan was more than two decades ago and that was a painful experience I will never go through willingly again. Let’s just say I was young and stupid then. My idea of a perfect summer is staying in the shade, preferably curled up in a hammock with a good book (or with my Kindle). So come Holy Week, you won’t see me in some beach frolicking under the sun, as I’d be happily content cocooned inside my air-conditioned room trying to catch up on my reading.

I do understand that many people have no choice but to work under the sun in this tropical country. My father who was a farmer all his life didn’t really have much choice either so he now has dark pigmentation in his skin in his old age. Fortunately it’s something that’s not life threatening and he wears his skin like a badge anyway.

I have fair skin and lots of people presume it’s because I slobber myself with all kinds of lotions and moisturizers. Not true at all. I simply stay away from the sun and don’t use harmful chemicals. I also eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. Taking care of one’s skin isn’t rocket science. One should simply stay away from harmful chemicals and when necessary as when prescribed by a dermatologist, not overuse them. People should stop using products without the benefit of good advice from experts. And more importantly, one should stay away from direct sunlight and eat healthier food.

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