One of my hidden passions is skin health. The majority of my patients have so many other initial complaints that skin is the least of their concerns at the first visit, but nearly everything I do with my patients helps clear up skin complaints as a side benefit along the way.
If you’re battling a skin condition, here are a few things you should know:
Skin is the largest organ in the body.
Skin is an organ of elimination (detox), along with lungs, kidneys, liver and intestines.
The skin has a microbiome all of its own, which means it's susceptible to imbalances in bacteria, fungi and viruses.
One of the key misconceptions people have about skin conditions is that they are limited to the skin itself. This is actually quite untrue. Generally skin conditions are a result of internal weakness in digestion and assimilation of nutrients, imbalance in the microbiome, or problems with the detoxification system.
As with any disease, the first step is to identify causes of inflammation- infection, toxic burden or nutrient deficiency, mostly likely. Then once the obstacles to cure are removed, we can tonify and heal damaged tissues. For skin issues, that can mean we need to heal infections, support the liver in breaking down toxins or support the GI tract in eliminating waste, support an overactive or under-active immune system to function properly or replete nutrient deficiencies.
I talk a lot about the microbiome and how important it is to constantly work to strengthen the little ecosystem living in and around us, but what does that really mean? It means we need to eat real foods, rich in fiber and nutrients to feed the good bugs and starve out the bad bugs. We also need to consume good bacteria (through raw organic produce and fermented foods). But more importantly we need to avoid toxins and harsh chemicals that kill our microbiome. So many of the soaps and body care products we use are toxic to our microbiome, and sometimes even to us!
Remember that your skin absorbs anything that it touches, so if you wouldn't eat it, you shouldn't put it on your skin. If you’re unsure where to start, check out EWG.org ‘skin deep’ for resources about specific ingredients to avoid. Also consider filtering your entire home water system or getting a shower water filter. You absorb more chemicals through your shower water than you do in a whole day of drinking water! What?!!
Reserve harsh chemical cleansers and antimicrobial soaps for instances when you really need it, like caring for a sick family member or working with body fluids. Otherwise, just use a gentle cleansing soap for everyday hand-washing. The act of scrubbing your hands with plain water is generally enough to wash away the majority of dirt, grime and germs. Doing this regularly will strengthen your overall immune system and leave you less susceptible to germs anyway!
Finally, from a conventional perspective, the treatments are pretty limited. If the rash isn't a bacteria or fungus the general treatment of choice is topical steroids. I'll do a whole segment on the dangers of steroids at some point, but for now what you need to know is that steroids work by shutting off your immune system response to the irritant. This means that instead of putting out the fire, they are simply turning off the fire alarm and shutting the door. That doesn't sound great, does it? Eventually the house will still burn down, even if you cant see the flames. So don't suppress your skin condition with steroids, instead get to the root of the problem and be surprised what else improves along the way!