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.
How do we know what we can compromise on and what we cannot, in the field of health? How do we know what treatment is best for what ailment? What treatment is best for what person? Medicine is not now, nor has it ever been, a field of absolutes. New information often changes how we think about ailments, treatments, and cures. Not to mention the fact that any number of people have different ideas on any number of subjects.
For example, we have been told for years that eating eggs is bad for you. Now it appears that eggs have gotten a bad rap. Someone says that sunlight is bad for you, and someone else says that it is necessary to make Vitamin D.
A dermatologist who writes about the benefits of sun exposure (Dr. Michael Hollick) gets fired from his academic post, while others tell you to avoid the sun as much as possible. These controversies are numerous and rage on regarding soy, milk, coffee, cell phones, childhood vaccines, and pesticide exposure, just to name a few. How do you know what is right for your body, when even the experts cannot agree? Because making the right choices in these areas are integral to a natural skincare regimen, it’s important to get it right. I’ll go into the answers in part two of this post.
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 the past few decades, the role of diet in acne treatment was considered to be a red herring. But thinking is changing in recent years. In part, thanks to a great dermatologist and world expert on acne who just passed away last Sunday.
Dr. Alan Shalita was an expert in both clinical treatment and research in the field. And most impressively, his perspective changed as new evidence cam in.
Years ago, he rebuffed my suggestion that diet might have some role in affecting the sebum in a way that caused acne. But in 2010, he was senior author on a scientific article that re-examined the evidence on the association of diet and acne and he concluded that “Dermatologists can no longer dismiss the association between diet and acne.”
He called for others to explore this relationship between diet and acne, something I have been doing successfully for the past few decades. It is of note that such an expert revised not only his thinking, but that his speaking out helped to change the thinking of the majority of dermatologists.
For the past half a century, dermatologists believed that diet had no effect on acne. It’s time for us to wake up to what we are putting in our bodies, if we truly want clear skin.
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.
My integrative medicine philosophy is formed on the basis that simple, gentle, and natural solutions be implemented first. Simple solutions are almost always less costly, less time-intensive, and less toxic.
I use good common sense coupled with decades of holistic dermatology experience to evaluate what the situation calls for. With the might of the most powerful modern medicine at our fingertips, we may still choose to approach a skin disease with a cup of tea, if that’s what makes the most sense.
In an urgent situation, after proper evaluation, I might prescribe a full course of steroids if that makes the most sense. I find it absurd, for example, that patients with simple colds are routinely given antibiotics, when there’s no scientific basis for the prescription. It’s as absurd as unleashing an attack dog on a rubber chicken.
How might you apply this philosophy of common sense to your own life?