“I’ve tried everything!”
When patients first come in to my holistic dermatology practice, this is the first thing so many people tell me.
From those who have taken a myriad of pharmaceutical medicines to others who have drastically changed their diet in order to heal the skin, it’s common for people to feel like they’ve simply run out of options.
Frustration and upset go hand in hand with having a skin condition.
Eczema patients can feel like they are going out of their minds with constant itching – many of them caught in a rut from years of overusing topical steroids.
Acne, rosacea, or rashes affecting the face can make people feel horrible about the way they look. Many don’t want to socialize or even leave the house because their skin condition overwhelms them with a feeling of shame. When antibiotics, hormonal treatments, or creams and ointments from the dermatologist aren’t working, it can leave them feeling helpless and distraught.
The strength of holistic medicine is it addresses the whole person – treating the skin itself while also taking into account the emotions. Skin conditions typically go hand in hand with emotional symptoms like stress, anxiety, frustration and depression. There’s often a domino effect where the skin condition causes anxiety, for example, and the anxiety causes the skin to flare even more.
Chinese Herbal Medicine
Holistic dermatology is one area where Chinese medicine shines. As an acupuncturist and herbalist, I prescribe Chinese herbal medicine to get to the root of skin disorders, healing the skin from the inside out.
Herbal formulas typically consist of 12 to 18 different herbs – each one chosen to meet the individual needs of the patient. This means that no 2 patients will be given the exact same blend of herbs. Looking at eczema as an example – some eczema will weep or ooze, other types are dry and scaling. Itching may be severe, minor, constant, or just at night. The lesions can be deep red in appearance, or pink, pale, or purple. All of these variables indicate different herbs to be included in the customized blend.
Each herbal formula will also include ingredients to address other symptoms that are part of the overall health picture. Typically with eczema, there is often gut involvement with digestive problems. Many patients are unable to sleep, because itching is at its worst at night. All these things make them irritable, angry, depressed or anxious.
Every symptom is taken into consideration when treating the patterns (or areas of imbalance) Chinese medicine recognizes. The long term goal of treatment is to bring balance by addressing these patterns. Herbal formulas evolve over time – with the ingredients changing as the skin changes. In this way, each person is treated as a whole over time.
Many patients come to my practice feeling frustrated that the many diets or eating plans they’ve been on haven’t healed their skin. Although these diets may not have been enough to heal the skin, healthy eating is a key factor in healing from the inside out. The challenge comes when people want to try out every fad diet they hear about from friends or read about online.
In my opinion, when it comes to eating, we are all unique beings with unique gut flora. A diet that helps one acne patient may do nothing for another. It can take work to figure out the best eating plan for you. Testing food through an elimination diet can be key to providing the best answers.
It’s best to steer clear of extreme diets or eating plans that are impossible to stick to over long periods. When beginning to change eating patterns, start out by cutting out inflammatory foods like sugar and spicy foods.
Although holistic dermatology focuses on healing from within, topical creams and ointments can be an essential part of treatment.
Natural topical products contain oils, herbs, essential oils and butters that soothe the skin locally and expedite overall healing. But – just because a product contains natural ingredients, this doesn’t always mean it will be tolerated by everyone. Essential oils, even in small amounts, can cause redness and irritation when someone’s skin is flaring. For patients with sensitive skin, I recommend keeping it simple. Start out with single ingredient oils to see how the skin responds. Sunflower oil is a good choice for eczema, Argan oil a good choice for acne-prone skin.
Ointments that are infused with herbs or essential oils have a stronger therapeutic benefit, and should be used when well-tolerated. Ointments provide valuable healing benefits for psoriasis, eczema, and some fungal conditions. I prescribe herb-infused creams for conditions that affect the face like rosacea, acne and peri-oral dermatitis.
Pharmaceutical topical products, such as steroids for eczema or benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid for acne, often provide only temporary relief. Holistic medicine treats the skin from the root, bringing balance to the whole person with lasting results.