Natural Medicine offers plenty of ways to improve and optimize the health of your most important organ. Often diet and hormones are blamed for skin ailments; however the latest trend in natural treatment of skin problems is to look much much further into the body, right down into the gut. The digestive system is what I call The Great Detoxifier.
Article by Su-lin Sze
Su-lin is a Medicinal Herbalist, Iridologist, Nutritionist & Holistic Movement Instructor
Getting to Know Skin Problems
Many of us can empathize with the physical and psychological impact of skin conditions. Skin dis-ease can be painful, itchy, red, inflamed, dry, flakey or cystic. The skin is the largest organ in the body. It acts as a protective membrane between our internal organs and the outside world. It is composed of three major layers, a fat layer, a dermis and an epidermis which it is the top layer. For optimum skin health we need to nourish all 3 layers. Everyday our skin is confronted with toxicity, pollution and harmful UV rays. Our skin reacts to our lifestyle or way of being. It is a reflection of how you are doing on the inside. The fundamental truth is that if your skin is playing up, then something internally is not right in your body.
Natural Medicine offers plenty of ways to improve and optimize the health of your most important organ. Often diet and hormones are blamed for skin ailments; however the latest trend in natural treatment of skin problems is to look much much further into the body, right down into the gut. The digestive system is what I call The Great Detoxifier. The first bodily defence against pathogens and undesirable substances, and also the first site of elimination. Elimination is the key word here, because the skin is also an organ of elimination but it is only one part of a very sophisticated chain of eliminative organs. Also the skin comes last in the chain. Other organs include the kidneys, lymphatic system and the liver.
Common causes of skin problems include:
toxicity and auto-intoxication
acute or chronic illness
low immunity and susceptibility to infections
leaky gut or abnormal bowel flora
high carbohydrate diet
lack of sleep
So let’s look at some common skin problems:
Acne is a condition where the hair follicles secrete superfluous oils leading to congestion and a high risk of infection. Where infection does occur, a pimple is formed. These lesions can be so large in size that they a painful and unable to break through the surface of the skin. This is cystic acne. If you suffer from acne, had a close look at the appearance of your lesions. Get to know them. Are they hot? Cold? Painful? Painless? Angry? Wet? Pus-filled? Hard? This is the key to treating your individual type of acne. For example if your acne is red, painful and cystic then it is angry and congested in nature. Here I would treat the liver primarily and all of the organs of elimination. I would also look seriously at any stored or unexpressed anger, and offer some healthy ways to release that. Remember, your body is an energetic phenomenon. The emotions that live in you and the energy that they carry are vital to your health.
Dermatitis is an angry, irritated and blistering skin condition that reflects the sensitivity of the body to the invasive and toxic world that we live in. The amount of preservative in foods alone is often enough to make our skin itchy. Often allergies are implicated such as reactivity to cosmetics, metals like nickel, drugs like antibiotics, manufacturing chemicals and sunscreens. Sometimes dermatitis will swell up and ooze liquids, and it is prone to bacterial infections. Energetically think of the way that the skin hardens and cracks. You will want to look at an herb that represents softening and sealing in your treatment such as calendula, goldenseal and for the allergic component; nettle leaf.
Eczema is often associated with allergies and intolerances, which fits well into the picture of the hot, irritated dry condition. Herbal treatments for eczema are best to be cool and calming. The itchiness of eczema is important to note as well as the fact that babies who have eczema often grow up to have asthma. The picture of itchiness is irritability seeking a way to express itself. Itches don’t usually just go away when you scratch them, they get worse. So it may be worthwhile to think about any aspects of your life and relationships that seem unresolved and seeing if there may be a better way of dealing with them. The tendency for allergies to be involved with eczema suggests that there is also a weakness in the digestive system and reduced immunity. These are both important parts of treatment for eczema and should not be overlooked. Eczema is an inflammatory condition; however its picture extends more deeply into the emotions and their interplay with the physical body.
Psoriasis is characterized by red scaly patches that can cover the skin vastly. Herb-wise look at balancing the immune system as a direct treatment. To soothe the skin we use calming, anti-allergic and anti-itch herbs. This condition can be psychologically stressful and any good herbal treatment must address the nervous system. The fact that the skin appears to be uncontrollably reproducing cells is symbolic of imbalance in the body. Chickweed is a useful herb topically as well as Gotu Kola. Internally Blue Flag and Burdock are good cooling and calming cleansers for this hot ravaging condition.
Other skin conditions include rosaceae, fungal conditions like tinea, excessive sweating and pityriasis, rosea. With all skin conditions, make sure that you avoid anything you are allergic to and be wary of eating foods which have a similar picture to the condition. So for example in pustular cystic acne avoid anything cold, damp and milky such as custard and soft white breads. Instead eat crisp, warming and slightly stimulating.
Here are some of the signs of skin dis-ease that can be seen in the irises including lymphatic congestion and stress:
How to improve the state of your skin
There are lots of natural options to combat skin problems. Firstly, you need a thorough diagnosis, and this means a consultation with an Herbalist or Naturopath. Nutritional deficiencies can be improved with supplements including vitamins and tissue salts. Herbal remedies are extremely good at regenerating and nourishing the nervous system where stress is involved, and they are widely used where hormonal imbalances are wreaking havoc in the body. Movement practices and breathing techniques will centre and calm you, as well as stimulate your lungs and heart. A good beautician will be able to offer you product recommendations for your skin type, never underestimate the advice of a professional.
Vitamins and nutritional supplements
Vitamins and nutritional supplements range in quality, price and efficacy. For the skin, vitamins C, A, E and B are important. Vitamin C is important for skin collagen health, and as a strong anti-oxidant it will help your body eliminate toxins. Vitamin A is an important skin vitamin often deficient in those with cystic acne. Vitamin E is another anti-oxidant and the B-group is involved in digestion and stress function. Depletion in vitamin B will leave you fatigued, and your skin depleted. When using vitamins be aware that the dosage you take will determine how the level of effectiveness. It may be worthwhile seeing a professional to determine which vitamins you are deficient in, and which ones you only need a small increase in.
Essential Fatty Acids
Essential Fatty Acids are important in skin healing. They provide additional substance and nutrition to your cell walls while also reducing inflammation. They help to heal the gut, which you now know is a key contributor to skin dis-ease.
Carbohydrates are important sources of fuel for our bodies, however if your diet is primarily composed of these then it is important to look at the types of carbohydrates you are eating and the amounts. It could be aggravating your skin. Refined carbohydrates are healthy only in small amounts while complex carbohydrates are much better for you because they provide you with more nutrients, roughage and stimulate the hormonal system. Basically the three sorts of foods we eat are either fats, carbohydrates or proteins. Where carbohydrates outweigh both proteins and fats significantly, skin problems will ensue, because the digestive system becomes toxic, and the superfluous glucose imbalances the hormonal system. Conditions like insulin resistance and NIDDM (Type 2 diabetes) are linked to such dietary patterns. The immune system also reacts to diet becoming aggravated and depleted. For example Chocolate is a common trigger to many health conditions. The ingredients of chocolate (such as the amino acid arginine which encourages cold sores) aggravate the immune system causing an immune reaction. This fires up your nervous system and adrenals causing an adrenalin buzz in the body. Either your mind or body can become addicted to this and continue to crave the food. However this is not a healthy craving, it is actually causing more toxicity and depletion for your body. Start to observe the foods that you crave and see how you feel after eating them. 30mins later, hours later. Do you feel nourished? Or do you feel toxic and congested? Was it your mind or your body that craved that particular food?
Medicinal herbs are classified into different groups according to the activity they have in the body. They can be used internally as teas or better yet tinctures, and also externally.
Where skin health is concerned the herb groups we use include the purifiers, alteratives and anti-inflammatories. Depending on your individual case, your herbalist will go further into the herb groups to treat your general constitution as well. This would involve treating your digestive and nervous system as well. For the sake of simplicity I will just write about the main skin herbs.
Echinacea is an example of a powerful skin herb. It works by purifying the blood, cleansing the lymph and strengthening the immune system. It is especially useful in pustular acne.
Liquorice is a powerful anti-inflammatory and I often use it in treatment of red, itchy and inflamed skin where there is hormonal imbalance and disharmony in the body.
Burdock and Cleavers have been traditionally used to clean the lymphatic system, thereby reducing the need to eliminate through the skin. Blue Flag helps to cleanse the blood and the lymph and is great in teas.
Nettle leaf is useful where there is an associated allergic tendency.
Herbs like calendula, Echinacea and liquorice can be used topically too. For extremely uncomfortable skin conditions like psoriasis, you can use peppermint on the skin. The image of psoriasis is hot, angry, out of control, while the image of peppermint is cool, calm and stablizing. Make sense?
It is through our breath that we provide our bodies with life-force and oxygen. In my experience, patients with eliminative problems often are not breathing to their full capacity. It makes sense that reduced breath will lead to reduced vitality and nutrition for your cells. Yoga is a fabulous tool for bringing you into your breath. It also has the positive side effect of tonifying your muscles and calming your mind. I’ve recently started to offer a Tibetan practice called Kum Nye in my movement classes. This is an ancient form of strengthening and centering that is not competitive or perfection-seeking. It strengthens the body and relies on finding calm and harmony in each pose. The duration of each pose is counted by the breath. I love the harmony and resolve that this movement form brings me. There are a number of breathing techniques around that you can try to start to revitalize your skin this way.
Want to get started on a skin cleansing program? I would recommend highly the following activities in this order from top to bottom:
Dynamic meditation (Osho)
Dancing and moving with authenticity
Deep breathing as often as you can remember to do so
Kundalini meditation (Osho)
Kum Nye Visit Metta.org.uk to learn more about Kum Nye
Meditation including Dance Meditation Herbalwell – Movement & Meditation
Above all else, get at least 8 hours sleep a night, as while you are sleeping your nervous system unwinds and allows your body to enter into the healing realm.
I would also suggest:
- Avoid cleansing products that contain sodium lauryl sulphate and excessive perfumes as you may be allergic to some. For Man’s Best Friend try oats-based products.
- Get yourself some useful teas such as Chamomile, Liquorice, Cleavers, Red Clover and Burdock.
- Avoid foods that you have allergic reactions to. These may include excess sugar, dairy, chocolate, salicylate-containing foods and preservatives.
- Drink up to 2 L water per day. If you are an avid tea or coffee drinker, you need to supplement with extra water, because most teas and certainly coffee are diuretics and dehydrating in the long run.
Our skin is such an important organ, and in today’s world has much to deal with in the way of pollution, UV rays and toxicity. So it is important to try to nourish it through diet and medicines. With skin dis-ease, the question that has always fascinated me is: Why is so much of the body’s elimination happening through the skin – the final barrier between us and the world?