Everyone is familiar with the proverb that “beauty is only skin deep,” but unfortunately when it comes to skin health, the path to beauty actually runs much deeper. There are many different factors which influence the luster of our largest organ, including not just what we put on it, but what we eat, how much rest we get at night, our stress levels, hormones, acute or chronic illnesses… and so much more! The skin is so responsive that in the time before lab testing, traditional cultures would use changes in the color, tone, and temperature of different areas of the skin as a diagnostic method to make educated guesses at what might be going on inside the body.
Knowing that there are so many factors which can influence skin health often leaves people wondering where to begin. Others try to make as many positive changes as possible but feel defeated when they are unable to find “the answer.” Oftentimes, a great way to build upon other positive lifestyle changes is dietary supplementation using traditional herbal medicine.
But why herbs? Besides the typical nutrients like vitamins and minerals, plants produce a spectacular array of chemical compounds. Plants “have it hard”, being rooted in one spot with only four organs (roots, stem, leaves, and flowers/ fruit) and still having to do all the same things we do to live. To survive in their environment, plants have to make different chemicals to compensate for their lack of bones, muscles, nerves, blood, brains, and so on. Take the aloe plant for example, which thrives in full sun and dry soil. In order to do so, our prickly friend produces a number of different compounds with water-retaining and anti-inflammatory properties; compounds which we can use to soothe our own sun-damaged skin or inflamed bowels. Many of our pharmaceutical medications originally came from herbs; the benefit of going straight to the original source is you get the natural mix of different complementary compounds rather than one ingredient.
Here are a few well-researched herbs that are commonly used in clinical practice to treat different skin conditions:
JOB’S TEARS (Coix lacryma-jobi)
This plant produces a grain that is often mistaken for barley, giving it the common name of Chinese Pearl Barley in the supermarket. As an herb, it is not considered to have a very strong action, meaning that it is usually taken over longer periods of time, or in large doses. Two compounds in the oil fraction of the herb, coixol and coixenolide, have been found to have moderate anti-inflammatory properties, and are used clinically to help with cystic acne.
TREE PEONY BARK (Paeonia suffruticosa)
This beauty is the wilder cousin of the horticultural varieties of peony and has a beautiful bloom to match. Here, the bark is the medicinal component and contains a number of different compounds, although the most important for skin health is paeonol. This cool molecule is a phenolic compound that has been shown in studies to regulate both histamine and TNF-, which gives it anti-inflammatory and antimutagenic effects. This means that this sweetsmelling herb is often a great choice for people suffering from either allergic or autoimmune skin conditions.
DRAGONSBLOOD RESIN – (Dracaena spp. and Daemonorops spp.)
Several different plants in a couple of genera produce the blood-red sap known as dragon’s blood. Although many skin issues can be chronic in nature, the properties of the flavans in this resin are best for acute injury and trauma. Applied topically the powdered resin can stop bleeding, but when taken internally it improves microcirculation. In addition, the flavans are strong antioxidants and also have antiviral and antibacterial properties when studied in vitro. If someone is worried that scrape could turn into a scar, or if they deal with circulatory issues and recurrent ulcers, this is one of the premier herbs to consider supplementing with.
INDIGO (Isatis indigotica)
This deep-blue powder was once a rare commodity as it was one of the few blue dyes available. Made from the leaves of the isatis plant, this dye is also a concentrated mixture of that plant’s chemical compounds. Indican, indirubin, and glucobrassicins are just some of the many compounds that give indigo a rich blue color, and anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and even certain antineoplastic effects. In addition, they stimulate the body’s NK (natural killer) cells to gobble up foreign particles. Several studies have shown that the compounds in indigo exert definite inhibition on the mechanisms underlying psoriasis. This has caused a large market of natural indigo creams and ointments to pop up, but patients must use caution – as little as 3g of indigo is enough to permanently dye an outfit, so they must make sure the clothes they are wearing are already blue!
If you have further questions on how herbs can improve your skin health, feel free to call us at 1.866.REZILIR.
Dr. Peter Steele is a licensed Acupuncture Physician (AP) and Doctor of Oriental Medicine (DOM) who sees patients and runs the herbal pharmacy at Rezilir Health. The clinic currently stocks almost 200 different herbs and herbal drugs that can be processed into all-natural topical ointments to help with many skin conditions. If you or a loved one is suffering from skin issues, please contact our office to find out how we can help.