Herbal Therapy For Skin Diseases
Tea tree oil - the acne cure
History of herbal medicine
Herbal medicine dates back thousands of years. It originated in India and China, and is still widely used in Asia.
In India ayurvedic medicine dates back to 3000 BC. Ayurveda is a combination of physiologic and holistic aspects of medicine. It is based on the concept that human body is composed of five energy elements that also make up the universe: earth, water, fire, air and space. Interactions of these elements gives rise to the three doshas (forces)-vata, pitta and kapha. All the diseases are attributed to an imbalance between the three doshas. Diagnosis is made by an elaborate system of examination and the treatment is individualized as per the findings.
Chinese medicine dates back about 4000 years, and is aimed at treating the whole person. It is based on the complementary forces yin and yang. In healthy individuals the yin and yang are in balance, and illness occurs when there is inequality between the forces. The chinese evaluate the exchange between the environment and the body, such as food, drink and air into the body and waste leaving the body. Special attention is laid on the physical examination of the tongue, iris and pulse of the individual to determine the cause of imbalance and then to determine the appropriate individual treatment. Treatment is usually a mixture of herbs, massage and acupuncture.
Native American use of botanical treatments has had a great influence on herbal therapy. In the 19th century, these traditions were expanded and used by a group of physicians known as the Eclectics.
Many people seeking alternative treatment options have been benefited by herbal therapy for common skin conditions.
Herbs to cure Acne or Pimples
Acne is a chronic inflammatory disorder of pilosebaceous units (the root of hair follicles and oil glands put together). It is characterized by the formation of black heads comedones, white heads, small red bumps, less frequently by nodules and, in some cases, is accompanied by scarring. The herbal remedies that help cure acne include the following :
- Tannins - Tannins are used topically to heal acne or pimples because of their natural astringent properties. Witch hazel bark extract (Hammamelis virginiana) is a popular source of tannins. Other herbs notable for their tannin content include white oak tree or the English walnut tree.
- Fruit acids - Fruit acids such as citric acid, gluconolactone, glycollic acid, malic acid ( from apple extracts) and tartaric acid help cure acne. Irritation is the main adverse effect, especially in high concentrations and for dry, sensitive skin.
- Tea tree oil - It is an essential oil extracted from the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia, a small tree indigenous to Australia. Plant terpenes and their alcohols make for its chemical composition. Its rare side effects include allergic contact dermatitis on skin application in individuals sensitive to it, and poisoning if taken internally.
- Vitex - Vitex (Vitex agnus-castus) taken orally is effective to treat premenstrual acne. The whole fruit extract is thought to act on Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and Leutenizing Hormone (LH) in the pituitary to increase progesterone hormone and reduce estrogen levels. Its main adverse effects are gastrointestinal upset and skin rash. Other herbs like topical application of bittersweet nightshade and duckweed help treat acne. Orally administered brewer's yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) has anti-microbial property that makes it a good natural anti-acne treatment.
Liquorice is the root of Glycyrrhiza glabra
Herbs that cure herpes infections
Herpes simplexcaused by herpes virus hominis, is one of the commonest infections of humans throughout the world. It is the most common culprit behind blisters or cold sores in and around the mouth.
Herpes zoster or shingles is a result of reactivation of the latent chickenpox virus that lies dormant within the nerves. Herpes zoster manifests as severe pain and closely grouped blisters localized to areas of distribution of a particular nerve segment.
Post herpetic neuralgia is persistence or recurrence of pain more than a month after the onset of zoster. It is more common in elderly individuals.
The herbs that have medicinal benefits for herpes virus infections include the following :
- Balm - Balm (Mellisa officinalis) is a lemon scented member of the mint family. The leaves are steam distilled to produce an essential oil. It is used to treat herpes simplex and minor cuts and wounds. Balm is very safe for skin application. A 1% balm extract cream applied five times a day to fresh herpes blisters leads to complete clearance of lesions in 8 days. A tannin and polyphenols contained in it appear to be responsible for its anti-viral effect. Other herbs that are effective in treating herpes lesions include echinacea, sweet marjorim, pippermint and propolis.
- Licorice and Hibiscus - Herpes zoster and post herpetic neuralgia can be cured with topical licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) gel preparations. Glycyrrhizin, one of the active components of licorice inhibits the spread and multiplication of the zoster virus. In China hibiscus is used to treat herpes zoster.
Herbal cure for bacterial and fungal infections
Impetigo, ecthyma, erysipelas,cellulitis, furuncles and carbuncles are the common bacterial skin infections; while ringworm and Pityriasis versicolor are the common fungal infections of skin. The herbs that have beneficial effects in various skin infections include -
- Tea tree oil - It has activity against various microbes like Propionibacterium acnes, the bacterium frequently isolated from acne lesions, Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, Candida albicans, Trichophyton mentagrophytes and Trichophyton rubrum, the causative agents of ringworm infections. In higher doses (up to 100%) tea tree oil is effective to cure ringworm of foot, fungal nail infections and other superficial skin infections. However it should not be used for burns as it damages and dissolves the skin surface cells.
- Garlic - Garlic or Allium sativum contains the active ajoene that has anti-fungal activity. When applied once a day in concentrations as low as 0.4% in a cream formulation, garlic extract leads to improvement in skin ringworm infections in less than 7 days. Excessive applications lead to contact allergy. Oral intake of garlic cloves or as garlic oil in capsule form should be avoided when breast feeding and for those on blood thinners, as garlic is a natural blood thinner and can lead to severe internal bleeding.
Herbal therapy for skin diseases
Tea tree oil
Glycyrrhizen - inhibits replication of varicella-zoster virus
Essential oil - with antiscabetic effect
Thyme, Rosemary, Lavender
Herbs for scabies
Scabies is an intensely itchy skin condition caused by mites. The herbs useful to treat this disease include -
- Anise - Anise (Pimpinella anisum) seeds are a source of an essential oil that has anti-microbial and insecticidal activity. This oil is used to treat scabies and head lice. It should not be used during pregnancy.
- Neem- Neem (Azadirachta indica) is indigenous to India and every part of the plant has medicinal value. A paste made of neem and turmeric applied to the skin helps to treat long standing ulcers on skin and scabies.
Herbs to treat psoriasis naturally
Psoriasis is a common genetically determined skin disease, the most characteristic lesions consisting of chronic, sharply demarcated dull red, scaly patches, particularly on extensor aspects and on the scalp. Various herbs that help treat psoriasis include the following :
- Aloe vera - Aloe as a 0.5% hydrophilic cream has offered benefit in slight to moderate plaque psoriasis.
- Capsaicin- The main ingredient of cayenne pepper, Capsicum frutescens or capsaicin, as a 0.025% cream is effective in treating psoriasis. Its main adverse effect is a short-lived burning sensation at the sight of application. Capsaicin is contraindicated on injured skin or near the eyes.
Herbal cure for alopecia
Herbs that reduce hair loss in all forms of alopecia include the following :
- Essential oils - A mixture of essential oils including thyme, rosemary, lavender and cedarwood in carrier oils; grapeseed; and jojoba oil when massaged into the scalp daily, leads to significant improvement in hair fall.
- Chinese herbal medicine - Extracts of saffron flower, mulberry leaves, fruits of pepper plant, sesame leaves, ginger root, Chinese angelica root and fruit of hawthorn, when applied to balding scalp can bring some improvement in male-pattern baldness.
To sum it up
Herbal therapy is based on the principles of ancient medicine that include Ayurveda from India, Chinese medicine, Native American herbal cure and many other alternative therapies prevalant since historic and pre-historic times.
Concoctions, infusions, compresses and ointments prepared from simple herbs found in nature can offer cure for serious diseases which are at times resistant to the modern day medicines.
Herbs like witch hazel, tea tree, balm, licorice, hibiscus, garlic, neem, anise, rosemary and lavender can heal common skin disorders ranging from acne, herpes infections, impetigo, scabies and psoriasis to hair fall.
Herbal therapy, being natural has always been popularized to be safe and free from side-effects which is not the real fact. In my next hub, I shall be discussing in detail about medicinal benefits of some other common herbs and the side-effects of herbal medicine.
Disclaimer : This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or health care provider.
Reference Source :
"Herbal Therapy in Dermatology" by Monica K. Bedi, MD; Philip D. Shenefelt, MD.
As published in Archives of Dermatology/Vol 138, FEB 2002.