More on skin

I didn’t mention herbs at all last week, and that’s because it’s hard to know where to start. If you look at a Western herbal, you’ll find the traditional herbs there. Top of the list will be things like burdock and figwort, followed by nettles, fumitory, yellow dock, and some gentler remedies like heartsease and red clover. The principle behind the stronger ones is that skin problems – acne, eczema, psoriasis and so on – signal a problem with elimination, so if you improve bowel and bladder function, the skin will respond. Quite often, though, it will get worse before it gets better, and a lot of patients will not put up with that. And sadly, in my experience, it may not respond at all.
Traditional Chinese medicine has a more sophisticated approach. A prescription will have around eight herbs in it, and each will have a different function, but they will be chosen to work together in harmony. The type of lesions tells you which herbs to use: is the skin red, raised, itching, scaling, bleeding, weeping? Where does the problem occur? Does it come and go, or stay the same, or get slowly bigger? Then the patient’s underlying constitution must be taken into account. Thus, the prescription will change – and so will the dosage – according to the symptom picture. Used this way, herbs tend to have a much higher success rate, without provoking flare-ups.
There are drawbacks, of course. The traditional way to take the herbs is to boil them up and drink the resulting decoction, which is a lot more time-consuming and unpleasant than taking a spoonful of tincture. The dosage is quite large, and so it can be rather expensive. Sometimes, the prescription will be in the form of pills, made up not for the individual but to a formula, and these are easier to take but they lose the personal touch. Either way, although there may be advice about what foods to avoid, the relevance of stress and other lifestyle factors may not be taken into account.
Nowadays, we tend to learn from these different approaches. Herbs that are not native to China can be looked at in the traditional Chinese way, so that a more sophisticated version of Western ‘energetic’ medicine is emerging. If tinctures do not suit the patient, we may use teas, or powders, or capsules, preferably tailor-made rather than pre-formulated. And a good herbalist will always look at the bigger picture, not just at the skin.