Have Healthy Skin

The skin is the largest organ in the body. It serves many important functions including:

  • containing and protecting our internal organs,
  • providing protection against the invasion of micro-organisms,
  • enabling us to feel, touch and be informed about our environment, by its network of sensory nerve endings
  • helping to maintain a stable internal environment by protecting against the loss of water, salts and organic substances,
  • eliminating waste through sweating (it is responsible for a quarter of the body's waste products) and
  • it helps to maintain a normal temperature.

It does all of these things by continually growing and renewing itself. Many of the skins conditions are a reflection of internal imbalances. So both internal and external remedies are useful with skin problems. Without limiting the holistic approach we can categorise three areas that may lead to skin problems based on the identification of the cause. It is important to recognise however that there is overlap between the three area. The areas are:

  • internal causes, where the origins of the skin problems lie in internal conditions. Examples of this are psoriasis or some eczema,
  • internal reaction to an external cause, where the skin's problem is due to its inability to cope with the external factor, such as an allergic eczema or skin infections due to bacteria or fungi.
  • external causes where the skin problems are the direct result of an external influence, such as wounds, bruises or sunburn, and
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Internal factors

The internal problem can be genetic and have physical roots. It can be focused on the liver, kidneys, the circulation or other systems. The sources can be many but the result is the same. In order to treat these skin conditions which result from internal factors the situation of the particular individual has to be considered.

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Psoriasis

This is one of the most common skin problems and can be caused by a wide range of factors often working together. The root of the problem has to be identified.

Psoriasis is a non-contagious skin condition that commonly affects the knees, elbow and scalp but it may occur in other areas (although rarely on the face). Bright pink, raised patches covered with white scales appear on the skin. The complaint is caused by an over production of the epidermal cells and may be triggered by stress.

Some cases of psoriasis are made worse by:

  • the consumption of alcohol;
  • the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables in the diet;
  • nutritional deficiencies, including:
    • folic acid,
    • selenium,
    • zinc, and
    • calcium;
  • a sluggish liver.

What you can do to help

  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Undertake measures to manage stress levels.
  • Eat as much fresh fruit and vegetables as possible.
  • Avoid eating wheat, oats, barley and rye, to which you may have a sensitivity.
  • Increase your intake of essential fatty acids, particularly omega 3 (this is well known to help psoriasis).
  • Increase your intake of fish oils or take a daily supplement of four to six capsules.
  • Take a good multivitamin and mineral supplement, with extra zinc (30 mg per day) selenium (50 mcg per day) and vitamin E in dry form (400 IU three times daily).

Herbal remedies for psoriasis

Certain herbs are indicated in psoriasis and most of these are alteratives. That is, herbs that correct 'toxic' situations in the blood stream and restore healthier functioning. It is uncertain how alteratives actually work, but they most do certainly work and they are most often used in the context of skin conditions such as psoriasis. The herbs are often used in combination with other herbs and a change in lifestyle if this is appropriate. They include:

  • burdock root
  • cleavers
  • dandelion
  • figwort
  • mountain grape
  • red clover
  • sarsaparilla
  • yellow dock

Some of these herbs such as dandelion and yellow dock also work on the liver while cleavers and figwort act on the kidneys. The use of one or more herbs to work on the nervous system may also be appropriate if stress is an issue.

The following basic herbal formula can be added to with other specific herbs as needed.

  • 1 par burdock
  • 1 part cleavers
  • 1 part sarsaparilla
  • 1 part yellow dock

Combine the herbs. You need about as much of the combined herb as you would for a cup of coffee. Then add a cup of boiling water. Allow this to stand for 10-15 minutes and let the mixture cool slightly. Strain the mixture before you drink it. This tea should be drunk three times per day over a long period.

External remedies will ease irritation or help to remove the scales, but will not give permanent relief. Ointments for this purpose can be made from comfrey, chickweed or marshmallow.

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Eczema

Eczema covers a wide range of skin conditions involving inflamed and itchy skin. The skin becomes red, flaky and may develop tiny blisters. There are many types of eczema including:

  • contact eczema, caused by sensitivity to an allergen, such as a detergent, perfume, plant, metal or even an item of clothing, and
  • atrophic eczema associated with allergies such as hay fever, asthma and sometimes migraine.

Some of the common causes of eczema are:

  • stress,
  • allergies to foods, including wheat and sugars,
  • allergies to other substances including the body's perspiration, and
  • deficiencies in essential fatty acids and zinc.

As with psoriasis it is necessary to search for the roots of the problem within. If an allergic reaction is involved the allergen needs to be identified and if possible removed. Otherwise the body has no chance to heal itself or take advantage of the herbal support that is given.

What you can do to help

Alter what you eat to eliminate foods that you may be sensitive to. These can include:

  • citrus foods,
  • cow's milk,
  • eggs,
  • wheat, and
  • artificial colorings.

Additionally, it may be very helpful to:

  • use a non-biological laundry detergent,
  • wear cotton or other natural fiber clothing,
  • try to control your stress levels,
  • take a good multivitamin and mineral supplement,
  • take extra vitamin B complex and zinc (at 30 mg per day).

Remember that fish oils and evening primrose oil have been shown to reduce itching and generally improve the condition in a large percentage of sufferers.

Herbal remedies for eczema

The herbal remedies need to be selected according to individual needs. Taking herbs that are beneficial to the liver and cleansing and detoxifying the colon often give an improvement in this condition. Herbs for the nervous system may also be needed.

Herbs like burdock root, figwort, fumitory, mountain grape, nettle, pansy and red clover have a good reputation in the treatment of eczema as internal remedies.

The following is a useful basic mixture.

  • 1 part figwort
  • 1 part nettles
  • 1 part red clover

Infusion: pour a cup of boiling water onto 1-2 teaspoonfuls of the herb mix and leave to infuse for 10-15 minutes. This should be drunk three times per day and is especially good for infantile eczema.

Initially the symptoms may apparently get worse. This is nothing to worry about, as it will soon be followed by a marked improvement.

External remedies can be used to reduce irritations and discomfort - but they will not heal unless they are used in conjunction with the internal treatments. Herbs such as burdock, chickweed, comfrey, golden seal, marigold, pansy or witch hazel can be used for compresses or ointments.

For instance, a marigold compress can be made by pouring 1/2 litre (1 pint) of boiling water on 2 tablespoons of dried flowers (or use 3 fresh flowers) and let it stand until it is cool. Use this mixture to soak a compress, then place it on the affected area. Continually moisten the compress and leave it in place for 1 hour. Apply at lest twice per day.

Burdock makes a very good and simple ointment. Express the sap of a fresh root and mix with petroleum jelly until it has the right consistency. It may be used on the irritated areas several times per day.

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Acne

Acne is caused largely by the overproduction of sebum, an oily substance that causes the pores of the skin to become blocked, resulting in spots or pimples. They are found on the face, though they may extend to the shoulders, back, arms and chest. The condition is particularly common in the adolescent years due to hormonal changes.

It is thought that acne may be caused by deficiencies of:

  • vitamin A,
  • vitamin B6,
  • essential fatty acids,
  • zinc and or
  • vitamin E.

Other factors associated with acne include:

  • food allergies and intolerances,
  • a sluggish liver,
  • a high fat diet,
  • hormones and
  • the contraceptive pill.

What you can do to help

  • Eat as many fresh fruits and vegetables as possible, preferably raw and reduce your intake of wheat and fatty foods.
  • Take a zinc supplement (30mg every day).
  • Vitamin B6 supplement is useful for premenstrual acne.
  • Take a good antioxidant that includes vitamins A, C and E along with selenium.

Herbal remedies for acne

The herbal approach to acne aims to support the metabolism of food and at helping lymphatic drainage and bodily elimination. Herbs such as figwort, cleavers, red clover, mountain grape and yellow dock are especially useful. Herbs for the lymphatic system such as poke root and echinacea should be considered as should herbs for the liver. Herbs for the liver include blue flag and dandelion.

The following herbal mixture should be taken.

  • 1 part blue flag
  • 1 part cleavers
  • 1 part echinacea
  • 1 part figwort
  • 1 part poke root

Infusion: pour a cup of boiling water onto 1-2 teaspoonfuls of the herb mix and leave to infuse for 10-15 minutes. This should be drunk three times per day.

Externally a lotion of equal parts or an infusion of marigold, chickweed and distilled witch hazel may be useful.

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Internal reactions to external factors

Sometimes the skin will show reactions to external factors such as bacteria. The bacteria have led to internal reactions that reflect on the skin rather than internally. Usually these are reactions to micro-organisms that would not occur if the body's defence mechanisms were working well.

Whilst the condition on the skin needs to be attended to the real problem lies in the weakened defence mechanism. These need to be toned and strengthened so the body can rid itself of the infections.

There can be many reasons for the lowering of a person's resistance, but the treatment will always consist of anti-microbial herbs plus herbs that will assist with efficient elimination through the kidneys and bowel.

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Boils and carbuncles

A boil is an inflammation of the hair root. It is caused by a bacterial infection.

A carbuncle is a hard pus filled painful inflammation. They are similar to boils, but are larger and more deeply rooted and have several openings. They are often a symptom of poor general health.

If you frequently suffer from boils or carbuncles you need a general assessment of you health, lifestyle and diet. You need to look at improving your body's resistance to disease. Make sure that your diet contains plenty of fruit and vegetable and take a vitamin C supplement to assist in fighting the infection. In addition to this you need to take:

  • plenty of garlic.
  • herbs that can boost the immune system such as:
    • echinacea
    • huang qi
  • herbs to fight the infection such as:
    • myrrh
    • thyme
    • dandelion root
    • burdock

The following remedy is considered a specific for boils, as it will aid the lymphatic system:

  • 2 part echinacea
  • 1 part pasque flower
  • 2 part wild indigo
  • 1 part poke root

Combine all the ingredients. Take 1 teaspoon of the herb blend and place into a suitable sized saucepan and pour on a cup of boiling water. Allow this to stand for 10-15 minutes. Strain out the herbs. Drink 1 cup three times per day.

Externally an ointment or poultice should be used to draw the pus from the boil. A poultice can be made from:

  • marshmallow leaf
  • cabbage leaf

To make the cabbage leaf poultice take a few of the inner leaves of the white cabbage. Wash them well and dry them lightly. The large ribs can be removed and the leaves tapped with a rolling pin to soften them. Place the leaves on the affected area and hold them in place with a loose bandage. Leave for half an hour and then replace the old leaves with new ones.

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Warts

The treatments for warts are surrounded by folklore and myth or are associated with the drastic removal methods of conventional medicine.

Warts are caused by a viral infection. The herbal treatment aims at creating a clean internal environment so the virus is unable to take hold.

You need to look to the diet and lifestyle as these provide the basis of a clean and healthful internal environment.

The following herbs will be useful for cleansing the lymphatic system.

  • cleavers
  • garlic
  • poke root
  • prickly ash
  • wormwood

For external treatment and quick removal of the wart greater celandine and thuja are the herbs to use.

Greater celandine is used by expressing the juice from a fresh stem and applying it directly onto the wart. Thuja is made into a lotion and should be used often.

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Herpes simplex (cold sores)

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus. The first infection may have the symptoms of swollen glands, a general feeling of being unwell and painful mouth ulcers. Subsequent attacks occur mostly when the person is run down and they start with a tingling and itch on an area around the lips and nostrils, then tiny blisters appear. These blister break and weep. They then crust over and gradually disappear. Scratching will spread the virus and it can lead to a bacterial infection. The virus lives permanently in the nerve endings of many adults and children. The following may activate the virus:

  • poor diet,
  • dietary triggers such as chocolate and peanuts,
  • mental or physical stress,
  • rubbing or chafing of the skin,
  • menstruation and
  • depleted immunity for being 'run down'.

When treating cold sores it is important to boost the immune system - thus assisting the body to combat the virus. Make sure that you eat a diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and have plenty of garlic and vitamin C (take 3-5 gm daily). Take a good multivitamin and mineral supplement to assist you in getting the nutrients that you need. Also be sure that you have plenty of exercise.

The following herbs will support your immune system and should be taken in conjunction with the recommendations above:

  • echinacea
  • golden seal
  • cleavers
  • plantain
  • bayberry
  • burdock
  • huang qi
  • nettle
  • wormwood
  • calandula
  • myrrh
  • poke root
  • dandelion root
  • licorice

The following mix will be most useful:

  • 2 parts cleavers
  • 2 parts echinacea
  • 1 part oats
  • 1 par poke root

Combine all the ingredients. Take 1 teaspoon of the herb blend and place into a suitable sized saucepan and pour on one cup of boiling water. Allow this to stand for 10-15 minutes. Strain out the herbs. Drink 1 cup of this tea twice per day.

Externally a lotion of echinacea with or without myrrh will prove useful.

The following can also be applied externally:

  • melissa oil
  • lavender oil
  • calandula tincture
  • myrrh tincture
  • golden seal tincture
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Ringworm

Ringworm is caused by a fungal infection of the skin. It can occur in various parts of the body and it gives rise to the symptoms of athlete's foot. It commonly occurs between the toes, in the groin or in circular patches anywhere on the body.

The herbal remedy consists of internal and external mixtures that raise the body's resistance and increases lymphatic drainage. The following mixture should be useful for internal treatment:

  • 2 parts echinacea
  • 1 part cleavers
  • 1 part poke root
  • 1 part wild indigo
  • 1 part yellow dock

Combine all the ingredients. Take 1 teaspoon of the herb blend and place into a suitable sized saucepan and pour on one cup of boiling water. Allow this to stand for 10-15 minutes. Strain out the herbs. Drink 1 cup three times per day.

Externally anti-fungal herbs such as the following can be used:

  • echinacea
  • garlic
  • golden seal
  • marigold
  • myrrh

These can be applied as a lotion or as tinctures. Marigold is the most effective especially if it is used 50:50 with myrrh. The tincture is applied undiluted three times per day.

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External causes

There are many herbs that are able to help us heal the everyday traumas of living in the physical world. There are herbs that are able to assist with cuts, abrasions and bruises. One of the most effective herbs is marigold. The value of this herb cannot be overstated when it comes to treating skin problems such as wounds, bruises and burns. It reduces redness and inflammation whilst also acting as an anti-microbial.

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Cuts and abrasions

Clean the area with a herbal antiseptic to prevent infection and aid in healing. Use 4-5 drops of tincture of any of the following herbs in a little warm water or a decoction or an infusion of the herb.

  • marigold
  • golden seal
  • calendula
  • St John's wort
  • myrrh
  • witch hazel

Comfrey also has a very good reputation for the healing of wounds. It has compounds that stimulate cell division and so speeds up scar formation and total healing. If there is any danger of an infection an anti-microbial like echinacea should also be added.

If it feels very painful bathe it regularly with diluted St John's wort tincture or an infusion of peppermint or lavender.

Use a few drops of the following essential oils in water - they are antiseptic, pain relieving and healing:

  • lavender
  • eucalyptus
  • geranium
  • peppermint
  • tea tree

The following, used as ointments, are suitable for minor cuts and abrasions:

  • marigold
  • echinacea
  • St John's wort
  • calandula
  • comfrey
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Bruises, sprains and compressions

To help the body heal bruises, sprains and compressions herbs like arnica, daisy, marigold, witch hazel and yarrow are useful as compresses applied externally. Sprains occur when the ligaments around joints are over stretched and sometimes tear.

To help, apply cold compresses using any of the following:

  • distilled witch hazel.
  • comfrey - apply bruised leaves directly to the affected joint.
  • arnica - 2-3 drops of arnica tincture in 1/2 pint of water.
  • hyssop - bruise the leaves until the juice runs and place on the painful part.
  • calandula, yarrow, St John's wort - use 1-2 teaspoonful of the tincture in a little water and use as a cold compress or apply fresh leaves.
  • cabbage - bind the leaves over the painful part.

Useful poultices for bruises and sprains are make from chopped parsley or fresh cranesbill leaves held in place with a loose bandage.

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Burns and scalds

These can be treated at home if the area involved is small and the burn only involves the top layer (that is, only a minor burn). If you are in doubt consult your health professional. Do not break any blisters and if the burn becomes more painful or infected consult your health professional.

Immediately following the burn immerse it under cold water for at least 10 minutes or until the pain subsides.

Every 15 minutes apply a remedy to minimise the swelling and prevent infection. Use one of the following:

  • fresh aloe vera juice - the leaf should be opened out and applied to the burn.
  • marigold,
  • St John's wort oil, and
  • comfrey ointment.

Once the pain has diminished cover the burn with a loose, dry, clean, non stick dressing. It needs to be non stick otherwise damage to the wound may occur when the dressing is being removed. If it does become stuck soak it with a warm golden seal or echinacea infusion to loosen before removal.

References

Duke, J. A. 2000, Anti-aging Prescriptions. Rodale.

Hoffmann, D. 2000, The New Holistic Herbal. Element Pub.

McIntyre, A. 1995, The Complete Women's Herbal. Henry Holt Reference Books

Mills, S. Y. 1989, The A-Z of Modern Herbalism: A Comprehensive Guide to Practical Herbal Therapy. Thorson.

Shaw, N. 2002, Herbalism. Element

Tyler, Y. E. 1993, The Honest Herbal: A Sensible Guide to the Use of Herbs and Related Remedies. Haworth.

Woodward, P. 2003, Grow Your Own Herbal Remedies. Hyland House.

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