We answer every question you've ever asked about desi skincare

We enlisted the help of a dermatologist to give us a skincare 101 that works specifically for our South Asian skin types
Updated 06 Jul, 2019

Ladies, trends come and go but glowing, clear skin is always in.

As our body's largest organ, you'd think we'd take better care of our skin. Sadly, few of us really give it the attention and commitment it requires from an early age. And no, just slapping on a sheet mask once in a while and a little sunblock isn't going to cut it (though sunblock is REALLY important but you know what we mean!).

'Desi' skin in general requires more TLC because we're prone to more hyperpigmentation, with more exposure to heat living in South Asia. And Google will give you tips on top of tips for healthy skin but there is a lack of information geared towards how to effectively take care of South Asian skin.

South Asian skin can be delicate when it comes to recovering from skin damage. Because of its high melanin production, our skin reacts to acne, skin irritation, melasma and psoriasis with increased melanin production, making it more likely to experience scarring.

Truly, the first sign of 'adulting' for us was when we stopped splurging on make-up and started investing in skincare products and treatments.

We enlisted the help of a dermatologist, Dr. Asma Qaiser Qureshi to solve some of our major skin woes with some super-detailed answers.

Images: At what age do I need to start using anti-ageing products? Which key ingredients are best for this? Could you recommend some products available easily here?

Dr. Asma Qaiser Qureshi: The sooner you start, the better it is! I tell everyone that you absolutely need to use your sunblock. Start at an earlier age so you don't get premature ageing signs. There are two kinds of sunblocks; physical and chemical, the latter obviously contains chemicals which help absorb sunlight and transform it into energy, that's how it protects your skin; it doesn't penetrate into your skin.

A physical block literally reflects the light off your skin, these are those that usually leave a white cast on your face post application. These are better and what I mostly recommend to people with oily skin; it might not work for people with dry skin because it contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide which strip your skin a little bit of its moisture.

Lots of things cause premature ageing such as nicotine use/exposure, bad dietary habits, low water and vitamin C intake and obviously, UV rays; these few things cause a lot of skin damage. People with dry skin really should moisturise their skin lots, like LOTS. Look out for products that contain hyaluronic acid and vitamin C.

I'd also personally recommend this product called Wonderful Skin by Be Ceuticals. People can use this twice a day, even under their sunblock. Or they can use Wonderful Night by the same company, this is obviously specifically to be used at night. They have another product called Absolute Repair which has a lot of hyaluronic acid in it specifically, that’s really good.

You know we love a good packaging!
You know we love a good packaging!

The collagen on our face is what makes it look plump and collagen is made up of water and hyaluronic acid and as we age, the fat present on our face regresses and that’s why we get these folds, fine lines and wrinkles that we’re always concerned about. This is why good water intake is important, your skin also gets dehydrated.

Additionally, there’s another brand called The Ordinary, it’s a Canadian brand and I think their products are brilliant! You can order these from various Facebook pages. One of the main ingredients one should look for also in an anti-ageing product is retinol but then again, these are potent and are supposed to be prescribed by a doctor so I prefer not to suggest it to people to get over the counter.

According to The Ordinary's website, this is a good retinol product to start off with (but consult your dermatologist first!)
According to The Ordinary's website, this is a good retinol product to start off with (but consult your dermatologist first!)

To sum it up, some cardinal rules of skincare you should follow are: have 12 glasses of water, get 8 hours of sleep, use sunblock and never sleep with your makeup on. All of these are "cliches" for a reason: they work!

Images: What exactly is hyper-pigmentation and how do I make it better?

Dr. Asma: Hyper-pigmentation is the reddening or the darkening of skin pigment as an after-effect of inflammation or UV radiation. To make it simpler, when you have an insect bite or you have acne, it leaves red spots or certain marks.

That spot left behind is hyper-pigmentation so it can be post-inflammatory or it can be due to a cut, an abrasion, a scratch mark or even because of hormones, as in post-pregnancy.

Always, ALWAYS put on sunblock when you're incorporating vitamin c into your skincare
Always, ALWAYS put on sunblock when you're incorporating vitamin c into your skincare

You can always make it less prominent by using sunblock and also using certain de-pigmenting creams and serums that have vitamin C in it. The sad bit about hyper-pigmentation is that it does not completely go away, so for example, if there’s hyper-pigmentation in the form of melasma due to hormones, it’s not going to away. Sorry to burst your bubble but that’s just how it is.

It can be reduced but it does not 100% go away, it’s like a constant battle.

I keep insisting with everyone to please (please, please) use sunblock! Some other things that can make it better is doing gentle peels, getting procedures done, like a very light, regular, superficial peel or a glycolic peel maybe. For this, I would say do pay a visit to your dermatologist, they will suggest a treatment plan according to what your skin needs.

(Psst, I'm a rebel and use this over-the-counter peel at home ONCE every two weeks, which works great for exfoliation!)

Images: How strong should your sunblock be? Which brand do you recommend for everyday use, again something locally available?

Dr. Asma: I wish there was a simple answer to that but it’s a little complicated. Basically, there are two kinds of UV rays, one is the UV-B rays, the other is UV-A rays.

UV-B rays are the ones that cause sunburn and may play a role in developing skin cancer. The SPF number on a sunscreen basically refers to the amount of UV-B protection it provides. The UV-A rays are the ones that cause skin damage which leads to ageing and wrinkles so they’re kind of doing more harm.

When sunblocks are categorised as 'broad spectrum', this means that your product has ingredients that can protect you from UV-A rays as well as UV-B. That's what you need to incorporate into your skincare routine.

As for how strong the sunblock should be, it's important to know that SPF basically tells you how long the sun's UV radiation will take to redden your skin when using the product exactly as directed versus the amount of time spent without any sunscreen.

Some locally available sunblocks (left to right): For oily skin, normal to dry skin and all skin types
Some locally available sunblocks (left to right): For oily skin, normal to dry skin and all skin types

If you go out in the sun, it takes you about 5 minutes to go red and burn; when you apply a sunblock it’s obviously going to prolong that time. For example, if you go out in the sun, you get burnt in 5 minutes but if you’re wearing a 50 SPF sun block, multiply 50 by 5 and so now it’s going to take 250 minutes for your skin to burn.

If a 30 SPF sunblock allows about 3% of UV-B rays to hit your skin, a 50 SPF would allow only 2%. According to the weather in Karachi, I would say a person should use a minimum of 50-60 SPF.

When you’re out in the open air near the water, you need to reapply your sunblock every two hours and if you’re in the water or if you sweat, you should reapply immediately. If someone goes swimming or to the beach, I tell them to apply sunblock every hour but according to the FDA guidelines, applying it after every two hours suffices.

Images: I have major under-eye bags. What can I do to get rid of my dark circles and puffiness?

Dr. Asma: Most people have dark circles because they have low haemoglobin so they need to check their haemoglobin levels. The second reason is that it can be hereditary, excess strain on eyes can also be a third reason. One locally available product I recommend for under-eye discolouration would be Light Eyes by Isis Pharma.

If you're looking for something locally available, this one's a great eye cream
If you're looking for something locally available, this one's a great eye cream

Then there’s puffiness that also has a lot of causes such as bad kidney function, low in-take of water or sometimes, puffiness also runs in the family so they need to rule out why they are having all of these problems.

Under-eye bags are usually removed surgically but now, we have more innovative, minimally invasive or almost negligibly invasive procedures. One of my current favourite procedure for under eye bags is HIFU, which is High Intensity Focused and Ultrasound -- just one sitting and it makes your eye bags go away, it’s a brilliant procedure and it does wonders for your skin.

Images: I have oily skin. Do I really need to moisturise? Can I use essential oils on my face?

Dr. Asma: A moisturiser is designed to hydrate skin, it does this by increasing the moisture and hydration levels and repairs its natural protective barrier, which when damaged, lets water evaporate out. What we may not know is that skin already has its own natural moisturiser, it’s called sebum.

Yep, it’s that thing you hate because it makes your skin look shiny like a frying pan. When your skin produces too much sebum or too little of it, then your skin dries out but when it makes your skin just the amount it need, it’s able to perfectly moisturise itself on its own.

If it can, then you can skip the moisturiser and use anti-oxidant serums instead but it’s not like people with oily skin should not use a moisturiser. Even if you have oily skin, you can still benefit from using a moisturiser daily and no, moisturisers don’t have to leave your skin feeling greasy and shiny, the trick is to find the right product.

Since moisturisers are used to improve the skin's hydration, just think water content of the skin, not the oil content. That answers part two of your question: if you have oily skin, I will not recommend you to use oils on your face. What you can look for, for oily skin, is something non-comedogenic meaning it won’t clog your pores.

Other skincare ingredients that an oily or acne prone skin should steer clear of are mineral oils, cocoa butter, lanolin or petrolatum. Alternatively, to avoid clogging your pores, you do want to reach for moisturisers that contain glycerine, hyaluronic acid, aloe vera or squalene.

For people with oily skin, your skin can dry out and in turn rebound with more oil production which can actually cause more breakouts.

Images: Seriously though, what is a serum and do I really need to use one?

Dr. Asma: Serums have formulas tailored to specific skin concerns like acne, hyper-pigmentation or wrinkles, and can include potent ingredients like glycolic acid, vitamin C and peptides.

Serums also tend to have the lightest consistencies of all your skin care products, ranging from water-like essences to gels and even oils. The texture is usually lighter than a moisturiser, which allows for it to be used as a stand-alone product for someone with oilier skin, or used under a moisturiser for someone with normal to dry skin.”

Images: At what age should one start getting cleansing/facials done and how often?

Dr. Asma: A facial is like a skin treatment that cleanses the pores, exfoliates away dead skin cells and treats common skin concerns with those masks. It’s kind of like a multi-step process which is meant to rejuvenate and nourish your skin making it appear healthier. It is a very popular spa treatment that people just go out to get, to pamper themselves and relax.

The benefits of a basic facial are that it deeply cleanses the skin and it may help fight certain skin problems such as mild acne and even dryness, leaving your face glowing and it’s typically very relaxing. It also increases blood circulation, which helps make your skin better.

You can start getting facials early as the age of 11, about once a month, if you've started to get blackheads and whiteheads, which are more common here due to excess pollution.

Images: What is the best way to get rid of blackheads/whiteheads?

Dr. Asma: Blackheads or whiteheads form when your pores are clogged with dirt and debris. Since your skin produces sebum and oil, debris, etc gets clogged in your pores. If you're not cleansing your face enough or thoroughly (but still gently!), you will notice these blackheads or whiteheads.

They are the first sign of acne; if you don't nip it in the bud, it'll become acne so the best way to do that is to avoid makeup that clogs your pores, to regularly cleanse your skin and to go see your doctor for a prescription or let them extract the blackhead or whitehead out, do not self-extract or self-medicate (as this can often result in scarring) – that’s the best way to go about it.

Images: What are some super-foods available locally that you can eat for better skin?

Anything with vitamin C, go for it! Oranges, lychees, berries, even water melons. They hydrate your skin and they have a good amount of vitamin C, which is anti-aging and proteins like fish are really good for skin and hair.

This information serves as a guide only. Be sure to consult with your dermatologist or physician if you have specific problems with your skin or before using any of these products.

This article was originally published on September 28, 2018.


Kauser Fatima Sep 27, 2018 11:39am
Very helpful article. However, all recommended products are very expensive to buy in Pakistan.
Habiba iqbal Jul 06, 2019 12:14pm
@Kauser Fatima
Shazam Jul 06, 2019 01:26pm
Well well well. Good advertising thou. For someone who has lived in Europe particularly in spain, let me summize the article; good skincare starts from eating healthy. Not Mirchi masla. No extra Lal Mirch the garam masala. Go natural with your food and you will start glowing yourself. All these gimmicks are expensive (been there, done that, burned my money on it) they simply don't work. Cut the masala from the food. Add olive oil in your diet. Get out of Indian curries and gravvies the good skin will follow it self.
Qaseem Jul 06, 2019 02:27pm
I definitely appreciate the effort you put into this article, however, it's utterly ridiculous, and unethical to promote certain brand names publicly. General advice could suffice.
WISE one Jul 06, 2019 04:59pm
Try something natural
Awan Jul 06, 2019 05:04pm
Folks who say they eat European food and that is how they revived their skin, may I ask you to look around. Caucasians have the worst skin. Blacks and to some degree Latins have clear skin. One group loves to fry their food and the later eats massive amounts of fat. So your theory falls flat on its face.
Laila Jul 06, 2019 06:45pm
I appreciate the advice given in this article but there is a big problem nobody mentions, In Pakistan we get fake cosmetics/creams. We excel at copying the way they look even down to the scent of perfumes but not the content itself. All my creams I bought abroad. I wouldnt put anything made in Pakistan on my skin. The same goes for sun screen creams. We must stop the makers of fake/counterfeit products and make it profitable for foreign brands to actually sell in Pakistan without the risk of being copied. Until we do all of this advice wont help. Even foods like olive oil and honey are fake. I dare you to sample any product and take it to a lab and have it tested for its content and properties. The result will be its fake and contains toxins and harmful ingredients like acid not suitable for human skin. There is reason established foreign brands wont sell in Pakistan. So either buy your creams from official brand website or have family or friends living abroad buy it for you.
Fawz Jul 06, 2019 07:41pm
Hello. Moisturiser doesnt hydrate the skin. This is very basic. It does not increase the moisture and hydration level of the skin. What it does is that it prevents the evaporation of water from the skin. There is a difference between moisturisers and hydrators!
ahmed Jul 06, 2019 07:44pm
Good for people with lots of money. Poor folks hardly get decent meals and have no time or resources to pamper their skin. You have given free ads to companies. Can you help the ordinary folks?
NA NA Jul 07, 2019 12:47am
Indian sub continent has tried and tested beauty secrets
Laila Jul 07, 2019 01:48am
@Awan Not European food per say but they way they cook. Like in the Middleeast the Europeans don't overcook their foods and today European food has really been come a fusion and Mish mash of Desi Latin Middleeastern foods. So it's about understanding food components and how to use their nutrients. If you overcook veggies in salan like we do its not healthy. We use ghee when olive oil is healthy, we don't use cheese or dairy in a healthy way. Our breakfast even is fatty and empty calories like paratha, poori, white bread etc. But you are right that food alone doesn't determine your skin. Genes are important too. So is exposure to sun without sunscreen, smoking incl hookah, drinkingx pollution, lack of exercise, and stress. We don't have enough focus on these factors and our women are too overworked to care for themselves. On top of that we can get pure creams which aren't fake/copies, hazardous and toxic. I feel sad that our basic foods are not pure. Honey, oils, milk etc milawat.
Sameer Jul 07, 2019 10:09pm
I'd rather have a happy meal and a good night's sleep.