Skin and the city

There are times for natural remedies, and there are times to for professionals to step in. This is the first in a three-part series with Dr Kiran Sethi of Isya Aesthetics where we’ll be talking about how to marry the holistic and the high-tech for your best skin yet.

Living in Delhi means that home remedies often just don’t cut it when it comes to my skin. All the besan and ubtan in the world isn’t going to dislodge the grime that this city deposits. Disclaimer: I love ubtan and I use it (not as frequently as I once did) but the grot on my face sometimes feels like it needs the attention of a JCB excavator, not a gentle sloughing with chickpea flour.

I’ve written often about my rosacea and eczema. Both flare when I’m stressed or eating badly, but it isn’t just those two things; daily exposure to Delhi’s arid, dry air, all that aforementioned pollution, and flitting in and out of air conditioning all contribute to a tender, tender face that visibly and volubly complains. Some of it can be soothed with a generous swaddle of Aesop’s camellia nut cream. Some of it cannot.

I’ve been going to Kiran Sethi (of Isya Aesthetics) for years, and it was her who first identified my inflamed and irritable skin as rosacea, and then instantly prohibited beauty parlour facials (I was so bereft at the time) and the heavily-fragranced products they employ in their too-vigorous massage. She also scared me into actually using sunscreen every day, instead of just buying it with good intentions and then tossing them when they went off.

Her clinic is also the only place here in Delhi I’ve had proper extractions. I say proper because we’ve all had those parlour extractions and we’ve all, also, emerged either with angry red Rudolph noses, or with angry red noses that... still bear all the indignities that harsh extraction was meant to remedy. Not so when a professional does it right, you see. Still hurts in places, I will admit, but your skin is clear and clean, not damaged, and the pinkness recedes as quickly as it appears. Try it. You’ll be amazed. (Aren at Isya is incredible at extractions, but go quickly because they’re actually phasing them out altogether).

The grot on my face feels like it needs the attention of a JCB excavator, not a gentle sloughing with chickpea flour

Sethi’s practice increasingly marries more holistic tools with the high tech lasers that she was previously known for (they’re still around and in abundance) and she is in talks with a nutritionist and food prep company about a possible meal delivery service that will add another layer to the inside-outside support she offers her clients. In consultations she will often talk about addressing skin woes with food, or chat with clients about self-acceptance, steering them away from more radical procedures, which is a vibe I’m entirely on-board with. 

“A routine gives you agency,” she said to me. “I’ll have clients come in who want to do all these things to ‘fix themselves’ which makes me so sad, and I’ll send them away with a little toolkit - a three-part skincare regime - and tell them to do just that, morning and night, and then come back and see me in a couple of months. There is a drop-off rate, some people never come back because they just want to do the treatments, but for the ones who do follow-through, it’s a way to give them agency over their own care, like a ritual twice a day that’s just for them and it’s a small step in reframing this idea: I’m here to help enhance things and to make people feel good, not to change them, make them look like someone else or to ‘fix’ them.”

Her own skin is luminous, I mean insanely megawatt poreless and glowy and she also lives in the same grimy city I do, which is why when we last met I asked her about how to deal with pissed-off skin when you live in the most polluted city in the world. She gave me a great set of tips to put into practice at home, as well as recommended one in-office treatments that’ll give you a little helping hand if things are looking particularly grim.

First up, what is pollution actually doing to your skin?

Besides the obvious grub and soot it deposits on your face, and things like blackheads and whiteheads, pollution also triggers hyperpigmentation, sensitivity, allergies, and can, in extreme cases, even cause skin cancer. A study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology compared women living in urban and rural environments in the United States over 24 years and found that those in the urban environments had more wrinkling, aging, and dark spots; those microscopic specks of smoke, soot, and other pollutants that are wreaking havoc on our lungs are also, thanks to the tiny size of some of this particulate matter, infiltrating the deeper layers of your epidermis causing inflammation and dehydration, yes, but also cellular-level reactions that lead to lost elasticity and firmness.

What you can do at home

Cleanse. Really, properly cleanse.

After your first cleanse, use a treatment like Biologique Recherche’s P50 which cleans topically, has a heavy dose of antioxidants and also alpha hydroxy acids which increase skin permeability, allowing whatever you put on your face next to absorb better. Most topical treatments, Sethi told me, have about a 7% absorption rate. Treatments like this increase permeability, and in-office procedures like microneedling actually bump that permeability up to 80% (we’ll get to that in a bit though).

Then create a physical barrier

Sethi recommends topicals with high doses of antioxidants, like products with 10% vitamin c, and things like ferulic acid at night. Look for products with silicone which creates a barrier and prevents water loss (she recommends BeneFit’s Porefect), and make your own pitera water to splash on your face at regular intervals. Pitera, if you haven’t heard of it already, is the active ingredient in SKII’s famed products, but you can make your own at home incredibly easily. All you need is good, organic white rice. Boil it, strain it, and leave the rice water out for five days to ferment. Once that’s done, bottle it and use it every day, as toner or a splash, a face or hair wash... easy peasy.

Treat it from the inside out

Vitamin A, Sethi said, is fabulous for skin. Ideally, get yours via your food, not in a supplement. You’ll find it in eggs, leafy greens, tomatoes... plus get your collagen via bone broth (or paya soup). Include omega 3 (nuts and seeds, seafood and oily fish), cook in coconut oil... Sethi also takes spirulina and vitamin c, and recommends that everybody take trace minerals which helps the skin barrier (aka helps fortify it against relentless environmental assault).Conventionally grown produce has a lower vitamin and mineral count (due to the depletion of minerals in the soil from industrialised agriculture) and most of the water we drink today is similarly depleted. Before urban life, city filtration and the general degradation of agriculture, we would get these minerals from our food and water. Since we don’t, supplement.

What you can do at Isya

Plus like I said, there are times for natural remedies, and there are times to entrust a professional. For when you need a little extra help, the Good Genes treatment (an Isya special) marries microdermabrasion, microneedling with a serum infusion, and LED light therapy into a triple-whammy that addresses everything from the grot to skin laxity.

It sounds hardcore, with ‘dermabrasion’ and ‘needling’, but don’t be deterred because it really is just the deepest and most thorough facial, no pain involved.  It isn’t painful at all, in fact; I thought I’d be super-pink after the microneedling but nope. Also, at-home microneedling rollers or dermarollers exist, but just… don’t. Or if you are, be very, very careful because you really could end up doing significantly more harm than good. Sethi walked me through a litany of possible horrors (snapped-off needles that stay in the skin and end up infected) and also flagged the pointlessness of it: the microneedling is meant to allow for product permeability, but if the picture wound is smaller than the ingredient size in the serum you use… again, pointless.

The science says that Good Genes “works through the micro-channelling and suction component that gently lifts the skin, allowing deeper perforation” and “aiding the best delivery of your choice of serum without any discomfort.” It takes an hour, and I was told results really come through a couple of days later, but the night of my skin was LIT FROM WITHIN. Really poreless and sparkly. One session will set you back Rs 14,500 (cheaper if you get a package), but think of this more like an investment in your skin than a one-time facial.

Isya Aesthetics is at E12/7 Vasant Vihar, Delhi. For more information or to book a consultation,  call 96673-77709 or visit their website.

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