The skin is our largest sense organ. The outer layer, the epidermis, covers our skeleton and protects us against injuries and invasion by pathogens. It also regulates body temperature, aids in elimination of toxins, and prevents dehydration. The corium, or inner layer, is composed of connective tissue and filled with nerves and nerve endings, lymphatics, blood vessels, sebaceous and sweat glands, and elastic fibers. The health of the skin is intimately related to the health of the digestive system and the blood, and many skin conditions can be related to internal factors.
Dryness is often the first sign of a skin disorder. The softness and luster of the skin depends upon the proper function and healthy of the outermost layer, the epidermis. Drinking enough water is a given, of course. Beyond this, regular oil massage helps maintain this layer of the skin. In India, I met an 85-year-old Ayurvedic doctor whose skin was like a child’s, thanks to daily oil massage. TAM doctors use medicated herbal oils extensively and very effectively to treat skin diseases.
The top two classes of nutrients useful for combating skin dryness are EFA’s (essential fatty acids), found in flaxseed oil or fish oils, and carotenoids, found in carrots, apricots, squash and other dietary sources. Dryness of skin is sometimes a sign of deficiency, as in post-menopausal women. In these cases, herbs used to treat the particular condition, such as Yin tonics like rehmannia root for menopause, will alleviate the associated dryness. Herbs that are effective for treating skin conditions from nutrient or blood deficiency include gotu kola, raw rehmannia root, dang gui root, shilajatu and shou wu root. External application of fresh aloe vera gel or aloe preparations with olive oil can also be very effective.
Skin dryness may also be caused by a generalized inflammation. In these cases, anti-inflammatory and liver herbs such as boswellia gum, burdock root, sarsaparilla root, moutan bark (mu dan pi or Paeonia suffruticosa), red peony root, dandelion root or leaf, turmeric root, neem leaf, and red clover blossoms can be helpful. TAM doctors use the standard preparation Kaishore guggul for many inflammation-related skin diseases. If chronic inflammation has broken down or weakened the skin, internal use of specific nutrients such as hyaluronic acid may be needed.
Treat simple itchy skin with tinctures containing menthol crystals derived from mint oils. Herb Pharm makes an excellent product for skin itchiness called Grindelia-sassafras compound, excellent for poison ivy itching.