19 June 2009

Natural approach to skin problems

When it comes to preventing skin problems, there are a number of things you can do that don't involve expensive visits to the dermatologist.

A natural approach to skin problems

In this series of articles, we take a look at what you can do or take to prevent, alleviate or cure common ailments naturally. As many complementary and alternative medicine therapies haven't undergone rigorous testing, we base the recommendations here on the amount of evidence that is currently available (indicated with asterisks):

Natural Steps for Skin Problems (check the Evidence rating)
*** Good Evidence of a health benefit.
** Some Evidence of a health benefit.
* Traditionally used with only anecdotal evidence.

Adopt lifestyle habits that promote a healthy skin **
  • Stop smoking
  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle
  • Moisturize your skin
  • Exfoliate
  • Ensure that medications don't have side effects

Avoid foods that aggravate the skin:

  • Refined and processed foods.
  • Dairy and high fat products.
  • Sugar and high sugar products.
  • Alcohol.

These nutrients have been shown to help Skin Problems:

  • Vitamin A **
  • Vitamin C **
  • Vitamin E *
  • Vitamin B Complex **
  • Selenium *
  • Zinc *
  • Essential fatty acids **

The following herbs are normally used for Skin Problems:

  • Aloe vera **
  • Burdock *
  • Chamomile *
  • Chickweed *
  • Cocoa butter *
  • Elderflower *
  • Honey *
  • Jojoba *
  • Lavender *
  • Marigolds *
  • Rose *
  • Tea tree oil *
  • Witch hazel **

Homeopathics remedies to help Skin Problems:

  • Aconite*
  • Arsenicum album*
  • Bryonia*
  • Nat Mur *
  • Belladonna*
  • Gelsemium *
  • Hydrastis *
  • Allium Cepa *

Alternative/Complementary Therapy
The most commonly used Complementary Approaches to Skin Problems are:

  • Herbal Medicine **
  • Naturopathic Medicine **

Please Note: This natural medicine guide does not replace the assessment and advice of your doctor.

Consultation with your health professional is extremely important if you are experiencing persistent or severe symptoms of Skin Problems.

Your skin really does take a battering from the sun, the wind, pollution and physical injury. It can also be affected by internal problems and is a major organ of excretion that helps to regulate the body's water content and chemical make-up. It is therefore important that you give the skin the attention and care that it deserves, naturally.

Some of the most common skin problems include acne, psoriasis, eczema, oily or dry skin and dermatitis. For skin to stay healthy, it needs the following: adequate supply of sebum, good hydration, healthy blood and lymph circulation, balanced hormones, a chance to repair and renew itself and protection against the sun and irritants like detergents.

Organic beauty
So you pride yourself on being a real new-age person? You only eat organic food, you take your own natural hemp bag to the shops, you only use anti-animal cruelty cosmetics and you do yoga. But you are still slathering your body with chemical-packed beauty products. Research has shown that you absorb about 2kgs of chemicals into your skin every year. Maybe it's time to go back-to-nature with your beauty regime.

The bonus of natural products is that botanicals (or plant extracts) are similar in structure to body cells so they are absorbed, broken down and eliminated quicker and easier than chemical extracts. Natural ingredients are not totally side-effect free but the incidence of allergic reactions in people using them is much lower than that of artificial products.

Big cosmetic houses have realised the health benefits of natural products and many are heralding the arrival of their new "natural" or "botanical" ranges. But one or two natural ingredients does not make a product natural, let alone organic.

Is the product organic?
According to the British Soil Association, a beauty product is organic if the following guidelines are adhered to:

  • It doesn't contain petroleum-derived ingredients.
  • If it contains less than 70% organic ingredients it cannot be labelled organic.
  • If 70-95 percent of the ingredients are organic, the product may contain the label, "made with organic ingredients."
  • Only products with more than 95% organic ingredients can be labelled "organic."

Natural remedies

What to do

1. Adopt a healthy lifestyle
According to natural health expert, Dr Arien van der Merwe, you must "follow a healthy balanced diet with plenty of raw fruit and vegetables - yellow and green, nuts and seeds. Eliminate refined sugars and carbohydrates, as well as high saturated/animal fats from your diet. Also exercise regularly." And as mentioned earlier, stop smoking.

When it comes to preventing skin problems, there are a number of things you can do that don't involve expensive visits to the dermatologist. To encourage healthy sebum production, it is essential that you manage your stress, eat a healthy diet, avoid extreme temperatures and stop using harsh soaps and detergents.

Moisturize your skin and drink at least eight glasses of water every day. You must also get adequate rest and stop smoking, because the toxins from inhaled smoke restrict blood flow to the skin and reduce the amount of oxygen it receives. This in turn lowers the skin's ability to heal and regenerate itself. Smoking also thins the skin making wrinkles more visible and deeper. Because smoking reduces the skin's collagen content, smokers seem to get wrinkles before non-smokers.

Avoid extreme stress – if necessary, seek counselling and follow a stress management programme. Stress cannot cause acne, but may aggravate it.

2. Exfoliate
Dr Van der Merwe recommends the following:

  • Give your body a good scrub with a fairly rough body brush or a loofah sponge, at least twice a week to improve circulation;
  • Use a fine facial scrub on sensitive areas and massage into your face with your fingertips;
  • Use a mild, non-greasy moisturiser afterwards. An over-dry skin exacerbates acne, milia and whiteheads.
  • Sun exposure early in the morning or late in the afternoon might be of benefit.
  • Sea salt makes an excellent exfoliator.

3. Herbal and aromatherapy cures
Consult your doctor or a professional herbal practitioner before using any of the herbs mentioned in the following section, especially if you are pregnant, suffer from a chronic disease or are on other medication. Also read the section on herb safety.

According to Dr Van der Merwe, "a good ointment mix to apply to blemishes is a combination of witch hazel, aloe vera, tea tree oil, calendula and lavender oil".

Other herbs that are excellent in the treatment of skin problems include the following:

  • Aloe vera soothes sun burnt skin and any other type of burn.
  • Burdock seeds are well-known for their cleansing properties and are used for the treatment of acne, eczema, dermatitis, boils and abscesses.
  • Chamomile has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties that will soothe the skin and stimulate repair.
  • Chickweed will soothe irritating skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. It will also soften the skin and alleviate the itchiness of rashes and other blemishes.
  • Cocoa butter softens and lubricates the skin.
  • Elderflower has anti-inflammatory properties and is therefore a natural remedy for ulcers, burns, cuts and other wounds. Distilled Elderflower water makes a great facial cleanser and toner.
  • Honey draws water into the skin and has powerful antiseptic properties.
  • Jojoba oil is actually a wax that has amazing moisturising properties.
  • Lavender oil eases inflammation and boosts the skin's overall condition.
  • Marigolds provide an excellent first-aid kit in one plant as they combat infection and reduce inflammation. Use them in the treatment of cuts, burns and bruises. It also helps to heal wounds and is best for use on sensitive or stressed skin.
  • Rose in both water and oil form is a favourite in beauty products due to its beautiful scent. The oil is also prized for its anti-ageing properties. It is a natural cleanser and toner that has also been known to smooth out wrinkles and clear up acne. Because it is astringent, rose water helps repair the skin and reduces swelling and bruising.
  • Witch hazel is an age-old remedy for the treatment bruises and varicose veins. It's astringent qualities help reduce bleeding, thereby lessening inflammation and scarring. Make sure you only apply undiluted Witch hazel to unbroken skin and the diluted version to broken skin.
  • Tea tree oil is used on problem skin because it is anti-fungal and antibacterial. It also helps skin elasticity.

4. Be vigilant
"Check all medications that you're using," says Dr Van der Merwe, "Some oral contraceptives, corticosteroids, progesterone, bromide and iodide containing drugs can exacerbate skin problems."

What to take

1. Supplements
"As supplement, use an antioxidant combination high in vitamin A, E, C, E, B-complex, zinc, selenium, copper, chromium, and bioflavonoids," continues Dr Van der Merwe, "Essential fatty acids are beneficial to the skin - use a combination that contains starflower or evening primrose oil, along with cold water salmon oil."

This article was contributed to by natural health expert Dr Arien van der Merwe (MBChB). You can order her following books, published by Tafelberg, in English and Afrikaans online at
Health & Happiness
Geluk & Gesondheid
Herbal Remedies
Kruie met Geneeskrag


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