Herbal skin care: put something on it!

Hammamelis
Hammamelis

I would like to address a few common ideas in the world of skin care. One thing that I notice amongst us humans is  the idea that we always want to put something on it, whatever “it” is. WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING!!!! Maybe not. So before we decide what to do, we may want to ask “Should I do anything at all?” Think it through. Many skin conditions are temporary, self-limiting conditions that need time, fresh air and/or  just a little extra nutritional support to resolve themselves. So I advise that we do not always go nuts putting things on other things in the interest of feeling like we are productive people.

But I get a lot of questions about skin, and sometimes we do want to participate more actively in resolving a condition. Here are a few frequent questions I am asked, and my brief response.

Hey, how about a little contact dermatitis?
Hey, how about a little contact dermatitis?

1.Wound care.”How can I stop bleeding naturally?” Ok, if you are bleeding a lot, consider whether or not you need medical care please. If not, consider whether or not stopping all bleeding is ideal. What role is bleeding playing in the healing? It may be flushing out the germs or rabies or fangs or whatever that don’t belong in there. So be wary of suppressing that action.

Additionally, while I am a fan of natural stuff, remember that natural is not always the best. Use what works, whether it is a chemical shit-storm or not. We don’t always HAVE to suffer for our ideals.

It is my experience that most wounds that are not hospital-worthy will stop bleeding within a reasonable amount of time all by themselves. But if not, Yarrow is a favorite. I love a good fresh yarrow poultice. But look at the wound–is it better to use a strong decoction or diluted tincture? Remember, before you put some plant matter into a wound ask yourself how you’ll get it out.

Clean it out and use the proper fist aid techniques and products to protect yourself.

2. Fungus! I get a lot of inquiries for an anti-fungal salve. Here is my thought: NO. I believe that oil-based products are a great way to encourage fungus. So I do not personally recommend any oil-based product on your fungal problem.

I suggest powders to keep the area dry–clay, or clay mixed with herbs. Sometimes you hear X herb has anti fungal properties. That’s cool, but is it going to fix the problem? Probably not all by itself. Having properties against fungus does not mean cures fungal breakouts. So if you wish to include powdered herbs in your anti-fungal blend, try Barberry root, Black Walnut (yes, it stains), Chaparral, Thyme, Monarda, Sage.

I will suggest soaking the affected part in white vinegar and/or salt water often, like daily, too.

But more importantly, try to work on your Microbiome. Supporting the body’s bacterial balance may go further towards healing chronic fungal issues than anything applied externally.

And here is a question–I hear often that we should use flip-flops to prevent ourselves from getting fungus is a public place. Can anyone explain to me what kind of flip-flop prevents spores from splashing onto you in a shower? And then what, you are carrying around these fungi-ed up flip-flops? I just don’t know about this.

3. Rashes. OMG, there are sooo many reasons for a rash to appear. I don’t have a one-size-fits-all rash product. First, determine the cause. Is the rash a symptom, or is it the problem? Treating a chronic symptomatic  rash externally with an herb is not all that useful. Deal with the underlying condition.

4. Acne. Importantly with acne, as with many skin issues, let’s take a moment and address the cultural issues. There is so so much pressure to present with perfect skin, lighter, darker, shinier, un-shinier, and the judgement that comes with acne or any other kind of skin issue just needs to back. off.

Ok, so here is another issue where we can ask about underlying causes. I  see a lot of herbal acne products, usually washes and spot treatments. This may work for an occasional breakout but it is unlikely to fix anything chronic or long-term. In my experience,  Bitters to support the liver and its clearance, especially of hormones, Goldenrod to support the kidneys, and hormone balancing herbs to reduce hormones that swing about wildly are some places to start. I am also a fan of oil-cleansing, I use coconut oil but I suggest you experiment with your own oil combo. (I feel the need to  to mention here that coconut oil is not actually a cure or everything.) I am a fan of probiotic cleansers too. Many of the so-called antibacterial washes do more harm than good. It is not always bad bacteria that is causing your imbalance, and killing all bacteria leaves us with a bacterial vacuum. Bacteria can be great! I have seen yogurt work as a probiotic cleanser if you are not up for spending 50 dollars on such things.

5. Cellulite. Cellulite is not a pathology, it’s not a disease. It is what people actually look like. Get over it. You’d be better off spending that money on a nervine and a nice pair of undies than “cellulite-melting oil”-I call bullshit.

6. Scrapes and stings. I generally think we should allow these things to heal on their own, and I do not make an all-purpose scrapes salve. This is like heresy amongst herbalists, and I am not saying don’t, but I am coming out: I do not currently make or use a plantain or calendula or comfrey salve. If I need something, I’ll use a tincture in a spray bottle, and it is usually more for the purpose of cleaning a wound than speeding its healing. This is usually a combination of Wild Rose, Yarrow and Barberry. I use Propolis tincture on occasion too.

7. Sunburn. I use Rose hydrosol.

8. Windburn. I use oil– Jojoba oil  or a blend.

9. Dry skin. I use the cacao-y-est, dankest, smelliest Cocoa butter I can find. I like butters in general, Shea butter too. I might mix it with a little bit of herb-infused oil. Or not. I add a few drops of Cacao EO (optional) and rub it all over-lips, too. But don’t forget to eat good oils and fats too!

And screw those ads that make us feel inferior for having a freakin dry patch. “oh, don’t be like a lizard”. Trust me, the one thing standing between you and hot sex is not a little dry skin, OK?

10. Poison Ivy. If you read herbal groups and blogs, you may notice a near-universal love of Jewelweed. I admit, I do not care for it as a Poison Ivy treatment. I like the combination of Sassafrass root, Grindelia and Menthol popularized by Herb Pharm. I like Sweetfern as a wash or tincture. I like salt water, the cheapest and most widely available skin solution. Soak in it, swim in it, spray it on.  And I will use a lymphatic like Cleavers internally. But remember, the best treatment is prevention–learn to ID it! However, even fabulous botanists get drunk and stumble into a patch to urinate on occasion.

I believe we should be aware of not pathologizing the normal, varied aspects of our bodies and our aging processes. Wrinkles, “uneven skin tone”, whatever that is, dry skin, oily skin, a failure to present as glowing and perfect are actually just part of alive-ness. Your skin and its appearance are partly a reflection of your genetics, your nutrition, your age, your hormones, your environment, your life experience, your resilience. What your skin is not is a reflection of your moral character.

You are not “toxic”, you are just reacting to life and it is usually normal and temporary. There are situations where skin issues are a sign of a food  or other allergy or sensitivity, of a particularly tough time, or of an inability to manage chronic stress in a way that works and it is great to work on these issues. But this takes time and support and management skills-not quick fixes. I see no need for miracle products,  harsh cleanses or juice fasts to force yourself to appear perfect.

And don’t forget to eat some good fats and gelatinous bone broth, get enough sleep and rest, keep your lymphatic system flowing with movement and massage.( And lymphatic herbs if desired!) Manage stress, consider taking it easy on the alcohol, drugs and smoking and get a little pleasure in your life.

And ultimately, explore the feeling of having a little faith in your body’s ability to heal, the empowerment of being able to handle minor skin issues at home, and the strength to give the finger to those who wish to sell you something “as seen on TV” to fix it all in 30 days or less.

"I have this weird skin thing"
“I have this weird skin thing”

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