We’re used to hearing about our skin in connection with beauty, rather than health. The Skin however, is a remarkably complex organ (it is the largest organ of the body), which reflects our total health. Treatment for common skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis, eczema and rosacea, therefore, often include a closer look at what’s going inside the body, especially at the digestive system and the liver; In addition we need to recognise the effects of factors such as injury, over-exposure to sunlight, environmental pollution (including cosmetics and household cleaning products, damp and mould, WiFi, LED light and traffic emissions), smoking and diet.
Experts at the College of Naturopathic Medicine share their top tips:-
Get a naturopathic diagnosis
According to naturopathy, conditions of the skin point to an imbalance in the body:
Oily skin (where the sebaceous glands become overactive) – try a liver detox/diet
Excessively dry/flaky skin – deficiency of blood or body fluids and essential fatty acids
Sweaty/clammy palms – irregularity of adrenal glands
Cracked skin – lack of vitamins A and C, zinc and essential fatty acids
Hard skin – lack of essential fatty acids
Thin skin – can occur from long-term steroid use. Bioflavonoids, especially rutin, could help
Get your nutrients
The quality and health of the skin and its repair and rejuvenation processes require specific anti-oxidant nutrients such as vitamin A. This nutrient is necessary for healing and construction of new skin tissue and, alongside the other anti-oxidants, vitamins C & E, the minerals zinc & selenium, and the B vitamins, is important in helping protect against free radical damage, stress-related skin conditions. It is also required in all cellular functions that help maintain healthy skin. Zinc, levels of which are often found to be lower in people who suffer from acne, is particularly important to skin health. This key mineral is involved in wound healing, immune system activity, inflammation control and tissue regeneration. Alongside vitamin B6 and magnesium, it supports normal hormone production.
Cool down with acupuncture
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) skin diseases may be classified as ‘hot’ conditions, which often correspond to an inflammatory or hormonal disturbance. Acne for example, is often considered as ‘heat in the stomach’ (caused by food and drinks, which are heating, such as fried food, spices, alcohol, drugs, and junk food). Eczema is considered as ‘heat in the blood’, which may be caused by environmental toxins (including medications), stress or hormonal disturbances. Rosacea, on the other hand, may be caused by ‘kidney yin deficiency’, often corresponding to menopausal or hormonal problems in western medicine.
For any kind of skin disorder, acupuncture can help cool the body down by altering the hormonal balance, calming the patient, and reducing the amount of adrenaline in the system. There are also many specific acupuncture points, which can reduce itching immediately.
Give your skin a detox
Skin, a major organ of detoxification, is a two-way membrane, allowing toxins (which are associated with common skin problems) both out and in through its layers. The expression “If you can’t eat it don’t put it on your skin” is very accurate. So it is very important to consider the cosmetics and washing products we use as well as regular ‘skin maintenance’. This involves removing dead skin cells that may clog up the pores making it difficult for proper elimination via the skin. Skin brushing (remember to always brush in the direction of the heart) is an effective activity with the added bonus of helping stimulate lymph flow. A tepid shower or detox bath following a skin brushing session will enhance its effects. Adding Epsom salts, magnesium chloride flakes, Himalayan salt or apple-cider vinegar to a hot bath will aid detoxification.
Make sure the temperature of the bath is not too hot, you have a glass of water before entering the bath and do not stay in the bath longer than 10-15mins. Certain health conditions may need practitioner advice before you embark on a detoxification protocol involving baths, so check with your naturopath or other health professional.
Foods and herbs can also aid the cleansing process. Raw and lightly steamed vegetables such as carrots, beetroot, peppers, pumpkin, yam, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, watercress and cabbage all contain antioxidant qualities, whilst onions and garlic should be eaten for their detoxifying and anti-bacterial actions. Drink appropriate amounts of pure or filtered water for your weight, age, activity levels and time of year – this will support your detox activities.
Support your liver
The liver being another very important detoxification organ, if overwhelmed with toxins, may be less effective at removing them from the circulation. This increases the likelihood of toxins passing into the blood stream causing or aggravating skin conditions.
- Milk thistle has the ability to improve liver function, inhibit inflammation and reduce excessive cellular proliferation, which is especially relevant to psoriasis
- Dandelion root is a tonic for the liver and increases the flow of bile which has a laxative effect
- General systemic treatment may include burdock which, in small quantities, has some action on the liver, supports skin drainage and has anti-microbial action on the tissues
Follow an anti-inflammatory diet
Skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, acne and rosacea are all inflammatory responses that can be helped by eating certain foods. Include in your diet oily fish and/or some form of plant derived Omega 3 source (e.g. salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines or, for vegetarians, linseed/flaxseed and vegan O3). Omega 3 essential fats possess potent immune modulating activities and play an important role in the production of powerful hormone-like substances called prostaglandins which can help regulate production and movement of inflammatory chemicals. Hypo-allergenic foods such as pears, apples, rice, most vegetables (except the nightshade family), most beans and legumes (except peanuts) and the non-gluten grains (for example, millet, quinoa, and amaranth) will also help.
A variety of homeopathic remedies can help treat acute skin conditions. Try:-
Kali brom 6c – for acne that’s worse on the chest, shoulders and face
Hepar sulph 6c or 30c – for eczema or dermatitis where the skin is very sensitive and easily infected
Petroleum – 6c or 30c – for eczema or dermatitis where the skin cracks easily
Rhus tox 6c or 30c – for eczema or dermatitis where the itching is always worse at night, during sleep and is better for warmth
Sulphur 6c or 30c – for psoriasis that consists of dry, red, scaly, itchy patches that are worse when hot
Arsenicum brom 6c or 30c – rosacea with violet papules on nose, worse in spring
Graphites 6c or 30c – very useful for crusty, moist, yellow, weepy, sticky eczema, especially in the folds of joints such as the elbows, knees or groin
How to take homeopathic remedies: You can order homeopathic remedies via one of the homeopathic pharmacies, like Ainsworths or Helios. The normal homeopathic remedy potency (strength) you will find in shops is 30C which will work in most cases. For acutes, allow one grain of the appropriate remedy to dissolve on the tongue away from food and drink, every half hour x 6-8 doses, or until symptoms subside sufficiently (so you might find you need fewer than 6 doses, or maybe 9-10). Only repeat one dose on the tongue if symptoms return. If after 8-10 half-hourly doses, no sufficient relief has been obtained, seek advice from your homeopath or homeopathic pharmacy for a more tailor-made approach.*
(*) Some homeopathic remedies can have a broader action and can be taken without an accurate symptom match.
Enjoy the sunshine
Skin conditions frequently improve when the skin is exposed to sunlight. This is partly because the sun promotes the growth of skin cells, along with all living organisms. Getting out and about in the sunshine is especially well known to help conditions like ezcema and psoriasis. To these ends, modern allopathic treatment uses UV light along with chemicals called psoralens, termed PUVA treatment, to treat psoriasis, for example. The same chemicals can be found in herbs like katuki (Picrorrhiza kurroa) and vakuchi (babchi) (Psoralea corylifolia) seeds, which have been used historically by both Ayurveda and Chinese Traditional Medicine for the treatment of psoriasis.
- Turmeric has an anti-inflammatory action and protects skin by quenching free radicals. Adding small quantities of either ginger or black pepper to turmeric makes the curcuminoids in turmeric more bioavailable to the body
- Frankincense is an anti-inflammatory herb used in diseases (such as psoriasis) characterised by elevated levels of leukotrienes
- Ginger can be used to improve circulation and digestion and to enhance the effectiveness of other herbs and spices. It’s also been shown to modulate biochemical pathways activated in chronic inflammation
- A cream of Calendula, Chamomile or Chickweed will be soothing and healing and essential oils of Peppermint or Lavender can be used to help ease itching
- Aloe vera, used topically, can help soothe and cool inflamed skin. Aloe vera leaf gel, taken internally, can support the gastrointestinal tract which can also help towards a reduction of skin toxin overload
With special thanks to Sarah Williams, Henry McGrath, Elle Fox, Lisa Smith and Stephen Langley.