The skin is our body’s largest organ. It is our first line of defense and is responsible for both the assimilation of nutrients and the elimination of waste. As such it works in concert with the liver, and is directly related to the digestive system, the nervous system and the immune system. It follows that care of the skin is of primary importance to our over-all health and well being.
Several years ago I had the privilege of working in a free clinic in Bhopal, India, the site of the Union Carbide chemical spill over twenty years ago. During that time I was seeing patients who were affected by the chemical waste and also teaching herbal medicine classes to health care professionals and doctors who worked directly with the community.
Unfortunately, within days of my return home I appeared to have carried with me nearly every skin disease that I had helped to treat. Thus I found out through personal experience just how difficult it is to reverse skin dis-ease, especially when activated by multiple chemical exposures and/or allergies and pathogens.
It took nearly five years for me to eradicate my skin problems, and one result of my exposure was a seemingly permanent, though controllable, skin condition my dermatologist diagnosed as eczema.
Because of my experiences, I made a point of learning all I could about the care of the skin. During these past five years I have worked within the realms of herbal and holistic health as well as with allopathic medicines, and used everything from common herbs to intensely powerful steroidal compounds in an effort to ease my considerable distress.
I’d like to share with you here some of the basic information that I have found to be most helpful in caring for the skin and preventing skin discomfort and disease.
MOISTURIZE - The single most important thing you can do for the health of your skin is to keep it well moisturized. Adequate moisture helps our skin function optimally, prevents irritation and speeds up the healing process. Dry, irritated skin is itchy, and scratching damages the skin, leading to more irritation, itching and scratching. Moisturizing the skin needs to be a daily routine.
Hot water can be very drying to the skin. Luke warm baths and showers are best as they allow water to be absorbed and retained by the skin. Commercial soap can also be very drying to the skin and is best used sparingly rather than as part of your daily cleansing process.
Handmade soap contains all the vegetable glycerin in the oils and can be made so that there are extra oils in the soap that moisturize the skin. After bathing, gently pat the skin dry with a clean towel. Avoid rubbing the skin. The best time to apply a moisturizer is while the skin is still moist from your bath as it will tend to hold the water in the skin.
One of the simplest and safest moisturizers you can use is infused oil of rose. To extract the benefits and retain the scent of the roses we use pure olive oil. Italian women use olive oil as a daily cleanser and moisturizer and they are famous for their beautiful complexions.
Other herbs that are wonderful for moisturizing the skin include lavender, calendula and St. John’s wort. Any of these can be safely used daily for this purpose.
Infused oils of rose, lavender, St. John's wort and calendula all made with MOFGA Certified Organic herbs grown on our farm
Baltic amber is renowned by Europeans to enhance the health and beauty of their skin and also for the relief of skin problems. It rejuvenates skin cells and promotes healthy, well moisturized skin.
Baltic amber tincture and oil
AVOID SKIN IRRITANTS – this is the second most important aspect of preventive care of the skin. Wear natural fibers such as cotton, linen and silk next to your skin. Avoid synthetic materials; they are abrasive and can irritate the skin. Synthetic fibers prevent the skin from breathing, and this in itself is harmful. Use cotton or linen sheets and soft, cotton blankets. Wash new clothes before wearing them to remove any chemical residues left over from the manufacturing process.
Try to locate a mild laundry detergent that is free of dyes and additional scents. Liquid detergents rinse out much better than powdered ones do and if you tend toward irritated skin be sure to double rinse the wash to get out all the detergent. Shower or bathe after engaging in sports or other activities such as gardening or hiking that make you work up a sweat. Avoid perfumed or artificially scented lotions and don’t use bubble bath. the dry winter months you may need to use a humidifier in your home.
ALLERGIES – In the last few decades, the number of people with allergies has been increasing. One of the most common of these allergies is eczema – a skin condition that causes redness and itching. One in every five children is now affected by this skin condition. Many of them will grow out of it by the time they are teenagers, but for some, eczema will be a lifelong problem. Many adults are affected as well.
Some researchers have suggested that the primary cause of eczema is basically genetic; an inborn tendency toward dry skin and allergies. Others say that environmental factors could be having a significant impact. We do know that some cases of eczema have been set off by chemical exposure.
While you cannot change your genetics or what you’ve already come in contact with, you can work on preventing flare-ups by noticing what foods, environmental allergens and skin irritants may be triggering the flare-ups.
If you find yourself dealing with recurrent skin problems such as acne, rashes, dry, itchy skin and eczema you will want to consider the possibility of some underlying allergies as a cause. When exposed to certain allergens, the skin over-reacts and breaks out in a rash.
Food allergies play a major role in causing skin problems. There are six common foods that cause 90% of allergic reactions. These are milk, egg, soy, peanuts, fish and wheat. Additionally, many people are allergic to foods in the Solanaceae family of plants, which include tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes. Eliminate all of these foods for 2 to 3 weeks. If you notice dramatic improvement, slowly re-introduce each food, one per week to determine which is causing the allergy. This process takes time and attention, but is well worth the effort.
Environmental allergies are commonly caused by dust, mold, pets, household chemicals and seasonal allergens such as pollen. Environmental allergens are more likely to instigate nasal allergies and asthma rather than skin disorders. However, they can contribute to rash and itchy skin conditions as well. Identifying and preventing these allergies is a very complicated process.
Throw out all your cleaning chemicals for a start. Use vinegar, lemon and essential oils instead. They are far better for the environment, your skin and the health of everyone in your household. Eradicate any mold from your living quarters and vacuum thoroughly to rid the house of dust and animal hair that may cause irritation and rash.
ECZEMA is the common diagnosis for especially dry and itchy skin. With eczema, the skin does not retain moisture very well, thus giving it a dry, slightly rough texture and making it prone to irritation. You may be able to see and feel tiny white bumps as you run your fingers across the skin. There may also be scaly, dry, white patches.
From time to time you will see some areas of the skin become more irritated and flare up. These will look like raised, red, slightly oozing patches. Flare-ups generally occur near skin creases, though not always. The most common sites are often the inside of the elbows and behind the knees, on the neck, behind the ears, on the wrists and backs of the hands and on top of the feet. Eczema can also occur anywhere on the trunk of the body such as across the back and chest and along the arms and legs as well.
CONTROL THE ITCHING – Dry, irritated skin itches, so you scratch it to relieve the itch. The scratching further irritates the skin, which causes the rash to flare up. This itches even more so you scratch even more to help relieve the discomfort. If you can keep the skin well moisturized you will decrease the rash and prevent the itching and scratching, thus avoiding this endless cycle.
Keep fingernails cut short and very clean – when you scratch the skin, the bacteria that live under your nails and on the skin get pushed deeper into the rash. This can lead to skin infection. Shorter nails also will lessen the trauma to the skin. If your skin is itchy it may help to wear long sleeves and pants, weather permitting, as it keeps the skin covered so you won’t scratch as much.
Treatment during flare-ups – Virtually everyone with eczema will experience flare-ups from time to time. These can vary from a mild to moderate rash or a severe flare-up all over the body.
If your eczema is usually well controlled, with very little itching and rash, the herbal suggestions below will be more than adequate. However, if the eczema is severe and you continuously have a rash and itching despite using all these methods to minimize it, you might want to consider internal use of one or several herbs listed below containing natural anti inflammatory steroidal saponins to try to improve the condition.
HERBAL ALLIES - Doctors usually prescribe antihistamines to help control the itching. Nettles are an excellent antihistamine. Try drinking 2-4 cups of nettles daily to relieve the discomfort or take 30 drops of nettle tincture three or four times daily. You will want to take some nettles before going to sleep as itching is often aggravated during the nighttime hours. Other herbs with natural antihistamine properties include licorice, chamomile, wild marjoram, oregano, basil, tarragon and fennel.
MOFGA Certified Organic nettle; licorice and chamomile tincturess
Infused oils of rose, lavender, calendula, chamomile, plantain, comfrey and St. John’s wort can all be used to help moisturize the affected skin, ease the eczema and promote healing. A salve, cream or butter created with any of these herbs, of a combination of several, will be exceedingly helpful and should be applied several times daily and before going to sleep at night.
rose, lavender, calendula, St. John's wort infused oils
All Purpose Healing Salve
Soaking in an oatstraw bath, or using an oatstraw wash or poultice may also help ease the itch. Oatmeal is an effective alternative. Try putting some into a washcloth or small towel and gently applying that to the affected area.
MOFGA Certified Organic dried Oatstraw (milky stage flowering tops and stalks)
Aloe vera is also highly recommended as it both soothes and heals. It is anti inflammatory and a specific to counter dry, itchy skin.
Chamomile is anti-inflammatory and also especially soothing. Chamomile tincture, oil, lotion, butter or salve may work wonders to bring down the inflammation and control the rash and itching.
MOFGA Certified Organic dried chamomile
Seaweeds, especially kelp, can be exceedingly helpful. Place a piece of kelp in your bath water, or wet it thoroughly under the shower. Then gently massage the soothing gelatinous seaweed over all of your skin, especially the affected areas. This will greatly ease the discomfort and help to speed healing.
Baltic amber is traditionally used to counter skin irritation, itch and rash. You may want to regularly apply a small amount of diluted Baltic amber oil directly to the affected skin. You may consider wearing a Baltic amber bracelet or necklace as a protective and healing amulet, as I have learned to do.
Baltic amber necklaces, tincture and oil
Some herbs that contain NATURAL ANTI INFLAMMATORY STEROIDAL SAPONINS include black cohosh, wild yam, licorice and American ginseng. These substances present your body with the building blocks for its own production of cortisone and will help to counteract inflammation and irritation. You might consider internal use of any of these herbs to help control your dry, itchy or inflamed skin affliction. Try 30-60 drops of tincture three or four times daily in a bit of water.
MOFGA Certified Organic dried ginseng, licorice
MOFGA Certified Organic wild yam, licorice, ginseng, black cohosh tinctures
Adaptogen Blend - ALLERGY EASE
SKIN INFECTIONS – When the skin is dry, irritated, rashy, inflamed and/or itchy you are more susceptible to bacterial skin infections such as impetigo and staph, especially in areas where the rash is the worst.
Increased redness around the rash and a honey-colored fluid oozing from it or forming a crust over the rash indicates that you have an infection. You will need to apply a remedy to combat the infection and it will help to support your immunity internally as well.
Pure, unheated honey is an excellent external treatment in these cases. Simply apply a bit of honey to the infected area several times a day. Use just a little bit and massage it in well.
Rose water combined with a bit of hyssop tincture is another very effective treatment. Use this frequently as a wash, spray or soak.
MOFGA Certified Organic rose water
MOFGA Certified Organic hyssop tincture
And of course, Aloe vera contains many infection fighting compounds, so will be especially helpful here as well.
Baltic amber has a centuries old reputation for healing skin infection. Use as advised above.
Other common, helpful herbs for combating bacterial infections include Usnea, Echinacea, St. John’s wort, calendula, rosemary and wild marjoram. You can use either an infused oil or a tincture - 30 drops in half a cup of water used as a wash.
MOFGA Certified Organic usnea, Echinacea, St. John's wort, rosemary tinctures
Calendula, St. John's wort, rosemary oils made with MOFGA Certified Organic herbs
FUNGAL INFECTIONS – If you have an active fungal infection of any sort on the surface of your skin you will not want to use an oil based treatment. In my experience, oil or preparations made with it seem to nourish and spread the fungus rather than eliminate it. You will want to use a water based application instead. Some particularly effective anti-fungal herbs include Usnea, borage, calendula, St. John’s wort, Echinacea, Aloe vera, thyme rosemary and hyssop.
Any of these can be used as a topical wash, spray, soak or bath, compress or poultice. You can also use 30 drops of any of these tinctures in a half cup of water for external application.
MOFGA Certified Organic Usnea, St. John's wort, Echinacea, thyme, rosemary & hyssop tincturese
A powder made from finely ground herbs mixed with a bit of green clay and frequently dusted over the affected area can also be a great help.
Raw, unheated honey is also a powerfully effective treatment for fungal infection.
Baltic amber tincture diluted in water and applied topically as a wash is exceedingly effective to counter fungal infection.
MOFGA Certified Organic Baltic amber tincture
SUPPORT YOUR IMMUNITY – If your skin is over reacting to substances resulting in itching, rashe, hives and acne, your immune system needs support. You will want to be careful to nourish your immune system rather than stimulate it.
Stimulating the immune system in these cases will initiate what is called a cytokine storm. Basically this is an entirely counter-productive inflammatory response process, the exact opposite of what you are looking for. Therefore, it is best to avoid internal use of Echinacea and astragalus among other herbs that act as immune stimulants.
Hyssop, medicinal mushrooms such as reishi and shitake, American ginseng, St. John’s wort, burdock, Baltic amber and elder berries are all excellent substances for supporting and nourishing the immune system without over-stimulating it.
MOFGA Certified Organic dried American ginseng, St. John's wort, elder berries, reishi mushrooms
MOFGA Certified Organic hyssop, ginseng, St. John's wort, burdock, Baltic amber tinctures
Elderberry syrup made with MOFGA Certified Organic elderberries
Adaptogen Blend - ALLERGY EASE
DIGESTION – We’ve already discussed avoiding foods that cause allergic reactions on the surface of the skin. But what foods do we eat to support the health of our skin?
Fermented foods and beverages can be excellent daily additions to the diet. They help to balance intestinal flora and create a healthy biosphere within the body that is reflected in vibrantly healthy skin. Fresh fruits and vegetables are critically important as is plenty of clean water.
Nourishing herbal infusions will also help provide your body with the nutrients it needs for healthy, radiant skin. Adequate levels of vitamins A and E are also very important and a lack of these vitamins can be a cause of skin problems.
MOFGA Certified Organic Herb Tea Blends
Adaptogen Blend - DIGRESTION/LUNG SUPPORT
Your liver is the major organ responsible for keeping your blood free of toxins and your skin clear. If your liver is not functioning optimally your skin has to take over for it and this results in pimples, rashes and itchy skin conditions. Dandelion and milk thistle are two of the best herbs for supporting your liver.
MOFGA Certified Organic dandelion & milk thistle tinctures
Adaptogen Blend - LIVER SUPPORT
THE NERVOUS SYSTEM – Stress will exacerbate problems with the skin. If you find yourself dealing with recurrent skin problems, rashes, itches, acne, etc., try your best to eliminate stress. Allowing yourself to become irritated, angry, easily upset, overheated emotionally, nervous, anxious and stressed out as a regular occurrence is counter-productive and you will need to take steps to change this pattern.
Herbs will help a great deal. Skullcap, oatstraw, St. John’s wort, lavender, lemon balm and rose are all excellent for nourishing the nervous system and when used regularly will help to ease stress and nervous excitement. However, herbs are not the entire answer here. You may want to seriously consider meditation, maybe doing some yoga as a regular practice and learning some deep breathing techniques to help ease stress and ground your emotions. Doing so will help a great deal in clearing your skin condition, especially if it seems to worsen during times of stress and nervous anxiety.
MOFGA Certified Organic dried oatstraw (milky stage tops and stalks), lavender, St. John's wort, lemon balm, roses
MOFGA Certified Organic skullcap, St. John's wort, oatstraw, lavender, rose, lemon balm tinctures & glycerites
MOFGA Certified Organic dried Herb Tea Blends containing most of these herbs
MOFGA Certified Organic Nerve Tonic
Adaptogen Blend - STRESS FREE
ADAPTOGENS – There is a unique class of herbs known as adaptogens and there is another article posted here on our website discussing them. These herbs, when taken daily over a long term, alter the body’s chemistry and move it toward homeostasis and good health.
Three of my favorite adaptogens for the skin are reishi, licorice and American ginseng. If you are dealing with long term skin problems such as acne or a persistent, itchy rash, no matter what the cause, diagnosis or prior treatment, chances are excellent that daily intake of one of these herbs will help a great deal. You will have to stick with your chosen adaptogen and commit yourself to its consistent use. Tinctures, infusions and syrups are excellent ways to use these herbs internally.
MOFGA Certified Organic dried reishi, licorice, American ginseng
MOFGA Certified Organic licorice, American ginseng tinctures
Mushroot Deep Immune Tonic
Adaptogen Blend - ALLERGY EASE contains reishi, American ginseng and licorice
copyright 2010 by Gail Faith Edwards
no part of this article may be copied or reprinted without permission of the author