Keith Stelling, MNIMH
Living with a skin condition is uncomfortable. It can also be socially embarrassing.
Living with a skin condition is uncomfortable. It can also be socially embarrassing. But the good news is that a holistic herbal approach can provide a treatment that is more than skin deep-by eliminating the causes of the complaint and changing the conditions within the body that permit it.
Herbalists usually think of skin problems as having three components. First, sort out the environmental factor and eliminate any substances that come into direct contact with the skin and cause irritation.
Diet comes next. When the skin is angry, it is often complaining about junk food and chemicals that are difficult for the liver to process. Cutting out refined carbohydrates is essential.
Finally, in most skin problems there is a stress factor. The nervous system is registering this irritation. The expression, "things get under my skin," is more meaningful than you might think.
It’s a good idea to go through your house and make sure you’re not absorbing the remnants of powerful chemical cleaning agents. Most health food stores offer safe cleaning products and it is wise to use their laundry detergents and hypoallergenic natural soaps, rather than the more widely available chemical brands.
If your skin still complains, soothe it with pure cotton fabrics, especially for underwear, shirts, socks and trousers. Synthetic materials tend to prevent skin from breathing properly, trapping sweat next to the skin and exacerbating any existing condition.
Look carefully at your diet. You cannot expect improvement unless you eliminate coffee, soft drinks, sugar, white flour, milk products, synthetic additives, chocolate and excessive alcohol.
Remember as well that many prescription drugs can cause skin irritations. If your skin wasn’t complaining before you started a particular drug, check with your health practitioner. There may be a way to wean yourself off the drug. Herbal remedies usually have no side effects.
Herbal Skin Help
When the liver is not working well, toxins are off-loaded onto the skin for excretion. Herbs that decongest and detoxify the liver are usually effective in relieving skin conditions. Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale) is a good place to start. Make a tea using dried or fresh root. Use one teaspoon per cup of boiling water. Simmer gently for seven minutes. You can also eat fresh dandelion root in a salad or nibble it between meals.
Another effective plant for skin problems is stinging nettle (Urtica dioica). It gets its Latin name "urtica" because it was used as an ancient cure for "urticaria," or hives. Nettles are a safe, spring cleansing tonic for everyone. Nettle tea is made from fresh or dried leaves. Add one teaspoon of leaves per cup of boiling water. Steep 15 minutes and drink three or four cups a day. After cooling, the tea can be used as a lotion to combat itching. A nettle tincture is also available; consume three or four millilitres three times daily.
After using dandelion for a week, you may wish to add artichoke leaf juice (Cynara scolymus). This plant is credited with the power to regenerate the cells of the liver. One of the best artichoke juice products is supplied by Shoenenberger of Magstadt, Germany. (This product must be refrigerated after opening.) Take one tablespoon of artichoke leaf juice along with six tablespoons of water three times a day.
Another liver remedy that is particularly useful in skin problems is black current leaves (Ribes nigra). This is a plant much-used in modern French phytotherapy. The dose and preparation is the same as described for nettles above.
Calming The Nervous System
If you suspect that stress is a major factor in your case, as it is in many skin conditions, a strong calming remedy such as valerian (Valeriana officinalis) may be appropriate. The dose should be the same as for nettles, but can be increased to five or six times a day for a while if necessary. With most skin conditions, however, using camomile (Matricaria recutitia) or skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) is usually sufficient. Dosages for both of these are, again, the same as for nettles.
Teenagers who suffer the curse of acne will benefit from plants which help the liver, especially artichoke juice, nettles, burdock and dandelion. For young women affected by hormonal upheaval, estrogen deficiencies can be corrected using angelica (Angelica archangelica) or black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa).
Chaste tree berry (Vitex agnus castus) is a general hormone balancer. Two millilitres of this tincture can be taken upon rising with a little water from day 13 to the end of the menstrual cycle. For the intervening time, red raspberry leaves (one teaspoon per cup) can be made into a tea.
Both sexes will also benefit from the application of green clay to acne spots. It is available in most health food stores and should be mixed with water and left on the afflicted area for about five minutes. This clears the complexion by drawing out any pus or bacterial infection.
As with so many other skin problems, even acne will benefit from nerve restoratives. Vervain (Verbena officinalis), skullcap and valerian will all serve this purpose. As a dietary supplement, the long-term use of cold pressed sunflower seed oil is especially helpful in healing acne.
Draining The Tissues
If your skin condition is severely itchy, wild pansy (Viola tricolor) may be useful. The French consider this plant to be a general tissue drainer with multi-applications. It is beneficial in promoting activity in the lymphatic system. However, cleavers (Gallium aparine) is the best lymphatic tonic in the herbal materia medica and it provides a gentle cleansing effect for the whole body. Cleavers is best used when fresh. Dosages for both wild pansy and cleavers are the same as for nettles.
If you have had your skin problem for a long time, it is worth visiting a trained herbalist experienced in dermatology. Herbal medicine has demonstrated an outstanding track record in this area. As your skin condition begins to clear, the parts that were affected most recently are the first to disappear. The oldest afflicted areas fade last. It’s good to know that with a little self-discipline and the right herbs, you can at last say goodbye to persistent skin conditions.