- Holi, the festival of colors, welcomes the
season of spring with its new colors and life.
- On the day
of holi celebration, people get together in a common place and throw colors on
one another. Originally, the holi colors were made up of the bright new flowers
that blossomed during the spring season.
- Modernization and
industrialization have replaced the natural sources of the colors with cheap
industrial dyes that are synthesized via chemical processes giving rise to
Holi, one of the traditional
Indian festivals marks the celebration of fertility and good harvests. It is
also called as the festival of colors
or the festival of sharing love as it welcomes the season of spring with its new colors and life.
There is a ritual during the festival, where people throw colors at one
another. It is to be noted that although playing with holi colors is a
celebration of festivity and fun, it could however, end up turning into a
misery affecting people's health, and sometimes causing health hazards as well.
On the day of holi celebration,
people get together in a common place and throw colors on their family members,
friends and even total strangers. Kids and adults come out of their homes and
smear each other with bright shades of colors. People exchange sweets and
snacks among neighbors and friends. People also dance to the beats of Holi
songs and popular folk music. The festival also marks the event from Hindu
mythology where prahlada's aunt "Holika" who had been blessed with immunity
against fire gets burnt in the process of trying to kill her nephew. People
also burn huge bonfires as a symbolic commemoration.
‘Beware of the hazardous ingredients that are involved in the making of holi colors and their consequences before you smear or splash them on your dear ones!’
The act of throwing colors at
each other marks the central ritual of the festival and the colors used come in
various forms such as powders, pastes and water colors. The colors are usually
smeared over each other's faces and/or thrown at each other with the help of
balloons filled with water colors or with the help of pichkaris (long
The spring season, during which
the weather changes, is believed to cause viral fever and cold. Originally, the
were made up of the bright new flowers that blossomed during the
spring season. Different shades of colors were made from those flowers, which
acted as the raw materials. The colors were traditionally made of neem
, and other medicinal herbs. Also, the trees from
which the flowers were taken possessed medicinal properties that were
beneficial to people's skin.
industrialization have replaced the natural sources of the colors with cheap
industrial dyes that are synthesized via chemical processes. This results in
people suffering from various health hazards after the celebration. The colors
are made up of chemicals and the dry color powders are made up of 2 components
- a base and a color giving substance.
Here's a List of Popularly Used Colors and Their Chemical Ingredients
Green: Malachite green &
Blue: Prussian blue
Red: Mercury Sulphate
Black: Lead oxide
Silver: Aluminium bromide
Purple: Methyl violet
Orange: Orange II
The base is usually either wheat
flour or starch and their contamination could be hazardous. Sometimes to give
the colors a sparkling effect, Mica dust is added to the dry powders.
Major Health problems encountered
after the celebration of Holi:
- Dermatoses (skin diseases)
occur very frequently after the celebration using
colors where people experience burning sensation and irritation. The face is
the most affected part of the body mainly because it is where people commonly
apply colors. Hands are also affected as they are involved in the preparation
of colors and smearing them on people. Apart from these, people also scrub
vigorously in order to get rid of the colors post celebration, which causes
skin abrasions. The dermatoses that follow holi celebration are mainly due to
allergic or irritant contact skin inflammations (dermatitis). There might be
cases when people experience worsening of skin diseases that they already
exhibited like eczema, acne and paronychia.
The major symptoms noted are Pruritus
(Itching), burning sensation, pain, scaling, oozing, eczematous
When colors are splashed and smeared over the face,
it is likely that they enter the eyes and cause problems like conjunctivitis
or corneal abrasions. The
major colors reported with higher incidence of ocular toxicity are green or
bluish-green which are made up of malachite green which could cause ocular
irritation and sometimes epithelial defect.
Major symptoms noted: Redness,
watering and grittiness.
Holi Celebrators Who Turned Victims of Life-threatening Hazards
Reasons Why Holi is Becoming a Festival of Misery
- There has been a case where a 4-year-old boy was
diagnosed with methemoglobinemia (a condition where methemoglobin or
oxygen-carrying metalloprotein hemoglobin instead of the normal
haemoglobin is present in the blood). When methemoglobin levels are higher than
70%, it could be fatal. In this case, it happened due to an accidental
ingestion of paint thinner that had been mixed with the colors used in holi celebration.
- There was a case when a 57 year old patient who had
symptoms of excessive watering, redness and foreign body sensation in both his
eyes along with skin ulcers and painful and swollen eyes. He was diagnosed with
a fatal inflammatory infection called periorbital necrotizing fasciitis after
celebrating the festival of colors. The above mentioned disease usually occurs
only after trauma, especially in cases of chronic alcoholics, diabetes or
immunocompromised patients. This uncommon tissue infection affects lower
extremities and the abdomen is caused by streptococcus & staphylococcus. It
has a high mortality rate of 12.5%. The patient had no history of any systemic
disease, but just that of having played holi three days earlier. The use of mica
dust for shine in holi colors could cause microtrauma of skin and cause
infections. Use of contaminated wheat flour/starch can also increase the
chances of skin
and eye infections.
There have been no quality checks
on the holi colors that are manufactured in India. The colors that are either
sold freely or in packets at the market give no information about the their
source contents or any possibilities of toxic effects that they might cause.
Recently, there have been quite a number of NGOs who campaign on safe practices
to follow while using colors during holi celebration
Some of them have also been making safer colors sourced from natural ingredients
like flowers and vegetables and marketing them.
We can prevent health hazards after holi celebration only when we take
efforts at a large scale such as
- Increasing awareness among the public regarding the
health hazards caused by harmful colors.
availability of alternative colors that are safer to use, sold at affordable
- The government should perform regulatory checks on
the production and marketing of hazardous chemicals.
- All doctors
should caution the public against the use of synthetic dyes during holi
- The manufacturing process of colors should go
under the guidelines of the Food & Drug cosmetic act according to the
Indian Bureau of Standards.
Chatterjee, and Debabrata Sahathe 'Holi' Dermatoses:
Annual Spate Of Skin Diseases Following The Spring Festival In India Indian J Dermatol.
2009 Jul-Sep; 54(3): 240-242. Doi: 10.4103/0019-5154.55632
MS,corresponding author Ritu Arora, MD, Sima Das, MS, Daraius Shroff, MS, and
Ritesh Narula, MBBS Bilateral periorbital necrotizing fasciitis following
exposure to Holi colors: A case report Indian J Ophthalmol. 2007 Sep-Oct;
Velpandian T1, Saha K, Ravi
AK, Kumari SS, Biswas NR, Ghose S Ocular hazards of the colors used during the
festival-of-colors (Holi) in India--malachite green toxicity. J Hazard Mater.
2007 Jan 10;139(2):204-8. Epub 2006 Jun 23.
Sankar J1, Devangare S,
Dubey NK. Survival with 98% methemoglobin levels in a school-aged child during
the "festival of colors". Pediatr Emerg Care. 2013 Oct;29(10):1102-3.