When I practice Holistic Dermatology, I work with my patient to find the solution to their skin condition. Natural skin care means that we are both working like detectives to identify the cause, and clear the patient by removing it.
But when the possible causes seem overwhelming, and my conventional dermatologist colleagues simply prescribe cortisone-derived creams, or more powerful immuno-suppressive, our practices differ greatly. And when this is repeated for weeks, months, or years, I strongly believe that the wiser course is to figure out what is likely to be causing the skin problem, and treat it with gentler, more natural means.
Just as different people react to different substances, they also tend to have different kinds of reactions once the “trigger” is pulled. One person may get redness and rapid overgrowth of the skin, leading to the thick plaques of psoriasis, and another my develop inflammation of the oil gland/hair follicle structures, leading to acne. More on this in part seven.
That we currently consume 140 lbs. of sugar, per person, per year in the U.S.is one glaring example of our population following the pleasure of their taste buds in their departure from homeostasis (or stability, or equilibrium). In my practice of natural care of the skin, I invite people to examine what their taste preferences may mean for their skin. Sugar is a major cause of inflammation. And inflammation is a major underlying cause of skin disease.
Where my fellow dermatologists use their knowledge of immunology, exposure, and industrial chemistry to identify which chemicals are causing a “contact dermatitis” (inflammation of the skin that occurs due to exposure to some form of irritant), so that they can remove the allergic substance from someone’s life to clear the problem, there is tremendous overlap between my holistic dermatology and conventional practice. More on this in part six.
As I mentioned in part three of this series, inflammation is a key issue in skin disease, as well as many other conditions. To treat skin naturally, one must discover the cause of a patient’s inflammation. When I do that, I have a chance to get the individual to remove that provocation, or help his body’s own systems to do so.
Those systems include organs of excretion like kidneys, liver, intestines, lymphatics, and lungs, cells that do clean-up work, and chemical “machines” known as enzymes, which have the ability to break down specific unwanted substances.
If some of my treatments bear similarity to each other, it is because we live with a number of cultural and environmental imbalances that take a similar toll on a wide variety of individuals in a variety of ways. Awareness of this is natural skin care. Not only are individuals unbalanced, but the norm for our whole society is unbalanced as well.
In part two of this series, I discussed how healing most skin diseases involves looking for inflammation. This investigation is a cornerstone to natural skin care, or Holistic Dermatology. What is inflammation?It’s an attack by white blood cells and other chemicals at the site of an irritation, injury, or infection. These chemicals and blood cells have good intentions; they are actually there to facilitate healing.
But as with too much of any good thing, they often end up causing heat, redness, swelling, pain, and sometimes loss of function. It is our body’s defense system gone awry.
And unfortunately, inflammation has been found to play a significant role not only in dermatological conditions, but in common health issues such diabetes, heart disease, allergies, asthma, and arthritis, to name just a few. More on inflammation in part three.
What is natural skin care, from the point of a Holistic Dermatologist? An essential part of the dermatologist’s training and knowledge is about the serious internal disorders that may be indicated by a particular change in the skin. Holistic Dermatology extends that to looking for relationships between more common skin disorders and the “concert of conditions” that brought those conditions about.
Because dermatologists normally deal with diseases of the skin, many people think that I deal with surface issues. But the truth is I look at patients’ insides to find out the cause of what is happening on the outside.
Since foods, chemicals, infections, and stress often lead to inflammation, and inflammation is the process that causes allergy, autoimmunity, and many of the diseases of the skin, my burning passion is to identify whatever it is that provoked the immune system to start its virulent attack in the first place. More on this in part three of the “what is natural skin care” series.
One of the first questions I get from people upon hearing that I practice natural skin care, or Holistic Dermatology is, “What do you do in Holistic Dermatology that is different from regular dermatology?”
In short, I treat the underlying cause(s) of your skin condition. I treat the “causal factors” that aggravate the unique individual I am seeing. And I keep digging deeper into those causes, like peeling off the layers of an onion, to get to the core.
As often as possible, my prescription for natural care of the skin focuses more on diet, nutritional supplements, and herbs than on drugs and surgery, but I use western modalities when they are the best option for the situation. Also, hidden infection and environmental sensitivity and toxicity are also sought out and remedied as gently as possible. So are emotional conflicts that eat up the individual’s health from the inside out. More on this in part two of this post.
Even the experts don’t agree. Chinese medicine says don’t eat cold food, Ayurvedic medicine says don’t eat spicy food most of the time, raw foodists say heat kills the best enzymes in the food. Some say soy is out of the question, others say chicken makes the body alkaline. With so many conflicting kinds of advice about what to eat, how much sun to get, etc., it can be difficul to know what’s right for your body.
I like to look at the arguments and the data coming from both sides of such controversies, and the literature that supports both sides. I like to see who is sponsoring the argument on each side, and follow the trail of the money supporting the studies.
For me, the harder it is to follow the trail of evidence, the more hidden the support, the more I suspect the data to be tampered with. I know that data can be selectively chosen to emphasize a point. I also know that a vast variety of information, from anecdote to in vitro study, from animal work to epidemiology, can point in a given direction. Because making the right choices in these areas are integral to a natural skincare regimen, it’s important to get it right. Begin to become your own detective.
How can you tell what is the best treatment for your body, even when experts don’t agree? There are so many conflicting opinions and facts in the sphere of health that it can be difficult to tell what’s right to eat, wear, etc. Some swear by avoiding wheat and gluten, some eat only raw foods. Some say dark chocolate is good for you, others say it causes acne.
Part of the answer comes in asking the questions: how much, for whom, and when? Sun exposure benefits come with small amounts of exposure, and what you can tolerate depends on your skin color. Except where there is an absolute toxicity or specific sensitivity, most regularly used products have an ideal level of exposure. Too little water and we dry our; too much and we drown. More on this in part three.
Imagine a hot button that sets off acne when it is pushed. There is such a “button” that has been recognized in cells that sets off an inflammatory response. It is call the “inflammasome”.
A recent study published in the latest issue of the “Journal of Investigative Dermatology” showed that the acne bacteria, Propionibacterium acnes, activates the “inflammasome” in cells, and may be an important part in the mechanism that sets off acne.
While they suggest finding ways to block this activation, I suggest we look for ways to avoid it and keep our fingers off the button.
For years I have been writing and lecturing that acne is caused by inflammation that comes from within.
It’s not just a “local” process caused by plugged follicles. It’s not just caused by the bacteria Propionibacterium acnes that lives in the follicle. Over the years, more data has accumulated to support this thinking.
The big news is that just this month, an article came out in the most scholarly of all the dermatology professional journals, showing that acne is not only related to inflammation, but also has characteristics of an autoimmune disease.
An article in the February issue of the Journal of Investigative Dermatology showed that extracts from the acne bacteria cause formation of “TH 17 Lymphocytes,” a type of white cell characteristic of autoimmune disorders. This same type of lymphocyte was also found in acne lesions themselves.
The other factors, such as diet, have yet to be connected to the findings in this study, but the evidence is growing stronger that something is lighting the fire to cause the inflammation in acne.
Since most people have this Propionibacterium (acne-related) organism in their skin, the flame that sets it off the fire of acne may well be coming from what you eat.
If you break out in acne, pay very close attention to what you put in your body the few days before the acne explosion. Studying your breakout cycle is the start of natural acne treatment.