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Experts weigh in on the effects of using harmful artificial colours on the
skin as well as the environment; urge to opt for eco-friendly alternatives

Dubbed the ‘Festival of
Colours’ or the ‘Festival of
Love’, Holi marks the victory of good over evil. But unlike
the earlier happier times when
colours were made out of natural
sources like plant leaves and fruit
pulps, packets of chemical-laden
colours are being sold in the market. The appeal for using ecofriendly colours isn’t new. Rashmi Bharti’s testimonial might
make you rethink your choices.
“I know people who are struggling with skin-related issues after having played Holi with artificial colours,” says Bharti, cofounder of Avani — an Uttarakhand-based voluntary organisation working towards developing
sustainable livelihoods in rural
communities. “It is frustrating
rather that the so-called urban,
educated population still doesn’t
know the repercussions of using
hazardous colours packed with
industrial chemicals.”
What is the difference?
Dr Ravindra Khaiwal is the professor of environment health and
faculty nodal officer for the Centre of Excellence on Climate
Change and Air Pollution-related
illnesses, Ministry of Health and
Family Welfare.In March 2022,
his team at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and
Research, Chandigarh, launched
an awareness booklet on celebrating an eco-friendly Holi. The aim
was to motivate the general public to celebrate the festival
using healthy practices to ensure
environmental sustainability and
to promote human well-being.
He says, “Some of the chemicals
used in making synthetic colours
include lead oxide (black colour),
mercury sulphite (red), copper
sulphate (blue), aluminium bromide (silver), Prussian blue (dark
blue), malachite green (green)
and rhodamine B (pink).”
It’s proven that these chemicals
can cause skin irritation, rashes,
and allergic reactions.
“They can also be harmful if
ingested or inhaled, leading to
more severe health problems like
asthma, nausea, and even cancer.
Additionally, when these colours
are washed off, they can contaminate water sources and harm
aquatic life. They can also be difficult to dispose of properly and
can pollute the environment,”
Dr Khaiwal adds.
So, what are eco-friendly
colours and how are they made,
we ask.
“They are made using natural
ingredients like plant extracts,
minerals, and non-toxic chemicals, and are biodegradable,
meaning they don’t contribute to
pollution,” he continues.
However, it is important to note
that not all packets sold under
the tag of “eco-friendly colours”
are authentic and safe for
use. “Some companies may use
the term as a marketing ploy
without actually using environmentally friendly practices,”
he warns.
Don’t get conned
Aparajita Ashish is the director
of the Animal Climate and
Health Save Foundation (India)
— a community that promotes
veganism and sustainability.
Every year, they organise vegan
Holi events across India. In order to maintain safety standards, the organisation prepares
colours in-house.
“The colour red is obtained
from dried hibiscus flowers or
madder root,” she says, adding,
“Turmeric which has a natural
deep yellow hue is used to make
yellow colour. Green colour can
be obtained from neem leaves or
spinach. Indigo is used to make
blue colour. To make the colour
purple, beetroot can be used.
Pink colour comes from beetroot
powder or rose petals.”
After the natural ingredients
are ground into a fine powder,
they are mixed with water to
create a paste. “The paste is then
left to dry, and once it is completely dry, it can be used as an
eco-friendly colour in powder
form, paste or liquid as you
fancy,” she adds.
But as Dr Khaiwal warned, it
is very difficult for a buyer to differentiate between harmful and
safe colours. So, she offers a tip:
“Look for products that have a
clear label indicating the ingredients used. Look for certifications like USDA Organic, EcoCert, or Green Seal on the packet. Check online reviews of the
product to see what other customers have to say. If a lot of
customers complain that the
product is not eco-friendly, it’s
probably true.”
Or best, you can make your
own colours at home using natural ingredients. The benefit? It is
“It is also a fun activity to do
with family and friends, and you
can customise the colours to
your liking,” she says.
And for those who think ecofriendly colours are a “farce”,
trust us when we say, they
are not!

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