Is there anything that can help with dry skin conditions like psoriasis?
Psoriasis is one of the hardest skin conditions to treat, both from the perspective of a herbalist and a physician. I have psoriasis myself, and I was convinced when I first started my program in herbal medicine that by the end of the three years I would be rid of it. When that didn’t happen, I admittedly got a little frustrated. It seemed like every plant profile we looked at said that it could be used for psoriasis, and yet none of them had cured me. I remember looking at my own arm one day and saying out loud to myself “herbal medicine is stupid”. That’s quite the admission, coming from a herbalist. But I take it back. Herbal medicine isn’t stupid. It’s actually really clever, and sometimes because of this intelligence, things take a little more patience to treat. This might sound confusing – let me explain.
Dry skin can present because of a number of reasons – cold weather, eczema, hormone imbalances, even stress. Each of these reasons has their own etiology (meaning the way that the condition has come about). The etiology of psoriasis is autoimmune. This means that psoriasis is caused by the immune system attacking itself. At some point, your immune cells have mistaken one of your own cells for a foreign invader, and decided to attack. Because of the way the immune system communicates with itself, this mistake is very hard to undo. It leads to chronic inflammation, which leaves the skin multiplying many times faster than regular skin cells, which leads to the characteristic plaque build-up that you see in psoriasis.
Conventional medicine usually initially administers corticosteroids topically. This works to reduce some of the chemicals responsible for the inflammation. It can have a wondrous initial effect – many people report their psoriasis clearing with a couple of weeks. But the steroids can’t be used forever (they thin the skin, and can have other damaging effects on the body, including reduced adrenal function.) The next step on the ladder is usually either light treatment or immunosuppressant drugs, which have a huge list of harmful side effects.
So it’s not surprising that people often look for another way. Unlike conventional medicine, herbal medicine looks to approach psoriasis from a variety of angles. We firstly always assess what the triggers are (most commonly tress, alcohol, smoking) and try to reduce those, we then look at what helps the skin (most commonly sunshine, relaxation and baths) and try to increase them. We apply herbal emollients, which are herbs that keep the skin lubricated and soft, such as chickweed cream and olive oil.
We then look to a range of herbal actions to help the skin. This can get a little complicated, so I’m going to keep it as simple as possible. Firstly we use alteratives, which are herbs that help us clear inflammatory debris from the body. Examples include nettles, yellow dock and calendula. Secondly we administer immunomodulators, herbs that help us regulate our immune response. Examples include Echinacea and reishi mushroom. We then look towards general anti-inflammatories such as turmeric, willow and angelica. Also important is looking after the liver with herbs such as dandelion and milk thistle. Additionally, nervine tonics are herbs that help us cope with stress and these include herbs like verbena, passionflower and gotu kola. Of course, not all these herbs are prescribed at once, and a herbalist takes into consideration the unique situation of the patient before prescribing anything.
So how can you take this information and apply it at home? Firstly, start by making yourself a herbal oil or salve that you can use on your skin (see question below for recipes), if you’re feeling lazy just use olive oil on wet skin out of the shower – this will keep the skin itch and crack free. Try adding chickweed to your spring salads as a simple alterative (you can harvest this all over Devon, it’s delicious and free). Next, try some herbal medicines. It’s really hard for me to recommend a specific set of herbs without seeing the patient, but my top herbs would be milk thistle capsules (for liver support), burdock tincture or tea (for its alterative action), and turmeric (for its liver and anti-inflammatory properties). I’d also recommend a reishi tea or capsules daily to try and modulate the immune system.
As you can see, the herbal approach is ten-fold more complex that the conventional approach. This is because herbs are dynamic. Unlike steroids, they’re not masking the symptoms of inflammation, but looking to address some of the causative factors at the root of the issue. Whilst my psoriasis is by no means gone, it’s dramatically improved since I’ve started addressing it with herbal medicines. Try these simple steps first, and always remember to consult a herbalist if you’r looking for a more tailored approach.
Which herbs could I put in a homemade lip balm to help chapped dry skin heal quickly?
The key herbs that you want to look towards for healing dry skin are emollients. Emollients are herbs that protect, soften and soothe the skin. They usually have some kind of oil or mucilaginous component that helps them to achieve this.
Some of my favorite emollient herbs include:
- Plantain (Plantago spp.)
- Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis)
- Chickweed (Stellaria media)
- Mullein (Verbascum thapsis)
- Comfrey (Symphytum procumbens)
- Borage (Borago officinalis)
All of these herbs grow locally in Devon.
So, how would you go about getting them into your salve? The best way is by extracting them in oil. You can either try the folk method (fill a jar with the dried or fresh herb, fill to the top with oil, and leave in the sun for 2-3 weeks, shaking daily), or you can put the herb and the oil together in a bain-marie on a low heat for 1-2 hours to do a quick extraction. Once you have your oil you can go ahead and set with beeswax (recipe at the bottom).
Of course, the type of oil that you use for the extraction can also make a big difference. Olive oil, almond oil, and apricot oil are my favourites for dry skin. Avoid using coconut oil, which can be overly drying.
One thing that’s also beneficial for healing dry lips is reducing inflammation. You know how your lips almost feel swollen when they’re cracking? That’s because they’re inflamed. My favourite anti-inflammatory herb is blue chamomile, which I think is best added as an essential oil. When adding essential oils to salves, wait until the salve is poured into its pot and add 3-4 drops per 30mls. Just before the salve hardens, give a thorough stir to ensure equal distribution.
Vitamin E can also be really useful for healing parched skin. Try adding 3 drops per 30mls.
Below is a recipe for you to make a salve at home. If you don’t fancy your hand at being a kitchen witch, take a look at our Wild Medicine Devon dry skin salve, which is made from olive oil, local beeswax, blue chamomile and vitamin E.
Dry Skin Salve
Take 30mls of herbal oil of choice (see above)
Bring to a gentle heat in a bain-marie with 4g of grated beeswax
Once melted, dip a teaspoon in and put in fridge, once hardened test consistency, and add extra oil or beeswax as necessary
Pour into containers
Add any essential oils, stirring thoroughly right before hardening stage
Apply liberally to lips as needed!
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