We derive a fully covariant theory of the hydrodynamics of nematic and polar active surfaces, subjected to internal and external forces and torques. We study the symmetries of polar and nematic surfaces and find that in addition to five different types of in-plane isotropic surfaces, polar and nematic surfaces can be classified into five polar, two pseudopolar, five nematic and two pseudonematic types of surfaces. We give examples of physical realisations of the different types of surfaces we have identified. We obtain expressions for the equilibrium tensions, moments, and external forces and torques acting on a passive polar or nematic surface. We calculate the entropy production rate using the framework of thermodynamics close to equilibrium and find constitutive equations for polar and nematic active surfaces with different symmetries. We study the instabilities of a confined flat planar-chiral polar active layer and of a confined deformable polar active surface with broken up-down symmetry.
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