An Evaluation of Multiple Approaches
Skin conditions frequently have different names when they appear on different parts of the body, but are in reality the same condition. In this article, their metabolic causes are identified and addressed.
Originally published 1998
Off to the Doctor
In 1999, I went to a dermatologist for a reddening of the skin on the sides of my nose that had been a nuisance for years. She looked at it, knew what it was, and confidently prescribed Nizoral. I went off happily to fill the prescription, and began using it religiously.
Over the next two months, the reddening did appear to diminish somewhat, in the central location. But meanwhile, the thing began to spread to my neck, chest, arms, and more. From looking at the prescription, I knew that Nizoral was a anti-fungal intended for tinea pedicus (foot fungus) and the like. So I figured I had a fungus.
I tried some of the over-the-counter tolfanate-based ointments like Tinactin that had been so effective on Athlete’s Foot and Jock Itch, years before in my volleyball days. But those remedies had no effect. Meanwhile the Nizoral continued to to make minor improvements in the main red area, but seemed to do nothing to stop the spread of this thing, whatever it was.
I hastily made an another appointment, in order to ask the burning question: “What is this on my skin? What am I up against? ” I desperately needed to know, so I could find some way to attack it.
When I asked these questions, the astonishing answers were:
“It’s sebborheic dermatitis. We don’t know what causes it. Sometimes anti-fungals work. Maybe we should try something stronger. Something oral. Like a histamine.”
Or maybe it was “anti-histamine”. I’m not really sure. I was dazed and reeling, trying to digest what she had already said.
Once again, medical science appeared to have a nice name for something they had no understanding of. Her message, when translated, read: ‘Sometimes this remedy works. If doesn’t, then we can try this other remedy.” Heck, any witch doctor can do that! I mean, what is herbal medicine but observing that sometimes this herb helps, and sometimes that one, so lets try one and see what happens. But herbs come without side effects, generally. The “let’s try this toxic product and see what happens” approach was beginning to lose its appeal. I was looking for a real remedy.
Now, if those remedies were based on some sort of understanding, then trying different remedies that address different possible causes might make sense. But when “we don’t know what causes it”, then each “remedy” amounts to little more than a shot in the dark. I had already been exposed to the inefficacy of the first remedy. It did not seem wise to wait while they experimented with something stronger.
So off to my health shelf I went. I consulted a few of my favorite books by Udo Erasmus, Natasha Trenev, Joel Furman, and Burton Goldberg. In an hour, I had identified not one cause, but seven or eight possible causes. Putting two and two together, it appeared that there was only one way that all of the possible causes could be related.
Putting all of the possible causes together produced a high-level understanding of the physiologic processes involved (not the detailed chemistry, but the overall chain of events). I now had a model to work from — a representation of the bodily systems that I could use
As I read, I found that the condition was sometimes called “dermatitis” and sometimes “eczema”. In some volumes, “psoriasis” appeared to be the same thing. In others, it was a different condition. But those were just the general names. For specific names, there was seborrheic dermatitis, nummular dermatitis, localized dermatitis, chronic eczema, generalized eczema, and statis eczema. But it appeared to be the same condition, just with different names depending on where it was or how it acted.
The causes of such conditions were many and varied. The Burton Goldberg Group listed “allergies, allergies secondary to digestive orders such as hydrochloric acid deficiency, rashes secondary to immune diseases, genetic metabolic disorders, or nutritional deficiencies”. __Udo Erasmus__ implicated an Omega-3 deficiency, and gave Neem Oil a strong recommendation. Natasha Trenev laid on the blame on “bacterial toxins” eliminated through the skin. Candidasis also appeared as a possibility, although it was not totally clear from my reading if it could live on the skin.
One thing that was clear, though, is that the problem starts internally. It’s not so much an external influence as internal influences that cause it to erupt. That makes sense, too, when you think about. After all, even if there is an external agent of some kind, some people react to it while others don’t. And the same person can defend it against well for years before they react to it. In both cases, the difference depends on the strength and health of the bodily defenses. But what are those defenses?
The “allergies” and “bacterial toxins” that were given as causes provided the answer. Whether the invader is an allergen or a bacterium, in either case it penetrates the body’s defenses and causes the problem. The “model” consists of understanding each of the body’s defense systems, and how they are penetrated.
The possible “cures” consist of reinforcements and corrections for each of the defenses. In general, it makes sense to address them all, since each is important for health. It would be nice of it were possible to create a “surgical strike” using diagnostics to determine a specific defense that had been breached and then patching it up. That approach is seldom practical, though, because there is a chain of defenses. For an invader to get through, it must have penetrated all the defenses, not just one.
The specific internal mechanisms that constitute the body’s defenses are discussed in the Conquering Allergies article. That article details the sequence of defenses, shows how each is breached, and describes the nutritional means for reinforcing them. It is important to understand that all such “mysterious” skin conditions are, fundamentally, allergies. It is therefore necessary to understand to address the internal causes of allergies, as well as adopting the external remedies suggested in this article.
Several sources advised eliminating dairy products. Ah! Back to that old allergy again. I had been diagnosed with “sinusitis” many years earlier — another scientific-sounding word with little understanding to back it up. The doctor in that case would happily have prescribed codeine and powerful antihistamines for the rest of my life. But the search for nutritional alternatives led me to give up dairy products, after which the condition vaporized in a matter of weeks! (Since then, however, it has become clear that proper bacteria in the intestines may make total elimination unnecessary. For more information on that subject, see the Conquering Allergies article.)
It should also be noted that Candida is an ever-present, single-celled yeast that likes to turn into a multi-celled fungus (a small plant, with roots and all). Usually, the friendly bacteria in the neighborhood are so aggressive themselves that they prevent the candida-gangs from gaining a foothold. But when the friendly bacteria are killed off in large numbers, candida (or other fungi like it) can gain a toehold and grow insidiously from there.
In my case, the cause was not hard to see. It goes back to other encounters with the friendly neighborhood doctor.
Shortly after I moved to California, I managed to acquire a severe case of Poison Oak. Unlike the east coast, where poison ivy grows as little vines, here it grows up as large bushes and small trees! While following deer trails, I had been walking right through the stuff!
In my previous experiences with poison ivy, it had become apparent that once I get it, it never stopped spreading. No matter how small it started, it would wind up around my eyes and all over my body. The over-the-counter creams did not good. The doctors diagnosed “generalized allergic reaction” and gave me cortisone shots, oral cortisone, and prescription-strength cortisone creams. These had the effect of solving the problem (slowly) but little did I know what the side effects were, or that the doctors’ “solution” was dead wrong to start with.
As for the right solution, it turns out that all you need is soap. It has to be a special kind of soap, though. To date, the only effective brand I’m aware of is sold over the counter in pharmacies. It’s called Tecnu, and it is God’s gift the outdoorsman.
It turns out the component in Poison Oak/Poison Ivy sap that causes the problems, urishol, binds more tightly with the skin than it does to the majority of soaps. As a result, nothing much washes it off, and as you scratch yourself and rub your eyes and so on, you spread it around. (So much for the “generalized allergic reaction”.)
Tecnu was formulated to break the bond that urishol forms with the skin, and wash it away. After that, the body heals itself in a couple of days. After overhearing someone talk about it and asking them for details, I got some and tried it. Since then, I have had several major cases of Poison Oak, and not once has it been necessary to see a doctor. Each time, good old Tecnu cleared it right up.
However, at the time I didn’t know about that. So when I got my massive case of Poison Oak, straight to the doctor I went. As always: “Generalized allergic reaction”. Cortisone shot. Cortisone pills. Prescription-strength cortisone creams.
And what was the affect of all that cortisone? It squashed the “allergic reaction” all right. Along with a lot of other things. According to Merck’s Manual, all such corticosteriods “lower resistance to bacterial and fungal infections”. So it seems pretty clear that the cortisone paved the way for the fungal infection, or metabolic disorder, or whatever it was, that was causing my skin condition.
After investigation and reflection, the causes boiled down to one or more of:
- an omega-3 deficiency
- external or internal allergens
- candida, or other fungal infection
- inadequate bacterial defenses
In addition to the internal remedies available to reverse allergic conditions in general, there are some external remedies that can specifically help skin conditions. The internal remedies are discussed in the Conquering Allergies article. The remainder of this article discusses the internal remedies.
Chief among the external remedies is the application of natural vegetable oils to the skin. Those remedies make sense because:
- They provide Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids that are important for cell wall integrity. (Troubles start when allergens get through the cell walls.)
- The Omega-3’s, in particular, are the foundation for immune system function. (They provide the electrons that the immunologic invaders use in their controlled free-radical attacks on foreign invaders.)
- The oils can be directly absorbed through the skin, providing a lot of nutritional benefit directly to the sites where it is needed.
- The oils “smother” any fungus that is present. (Candida, in particular.) Since the fungus-form of Candida is essentially a “plant”, it makes sense that an oil could smother it’s functions, much as oil on the leaf of a plant can kill it. [__So far, this is hypothesis. To verify: (1) Candida can live on the skin, (2) Oil can smother it.__]
In addition to oils, other recommendations include externally-applied fruit acids, probiotics (which encourage the friendly bacteria) and sunbathing.
Here are some of the remedies I tried, and my evaluation of them:
- This was the first thing I tried. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to have much effect. On the other hand, it appears that sunshine’s major benefits depend on having high-quality essential fatty acids present in the body. (__Johanna Budwig__ describes how they collect photon energy from the sun.) So if the condition is caused by an Omega-3 deficiency in the first place, it makes sense that the effect of the sun would be minimized until the nutritional deficit has been restored.
- Neem Oil
- Udo Erasmus gave the highest rating to this oil from an East Indian tree. I tried it straight away. The only oil I could find was a tincture made from Neem leaf. It was very dark and sticky, and came off on my clothes. But it surely was effective. Within two days, the red areas had started lessen in intensity and recede a bit at the edges. It seemed to need more frequent application than the doctor’s anti-fungal, though. The itching returned in about 6 hours, as compared to the nearly 12 on the doctor’s prescription. But it was doing a heck of a lot more healing.
- Evening Primrose Oil
- After 4 or 5 days, I began looking for a less sticky, less clothes-coloring alternative, I tried Evening Primrose oil, which had also been recommended in the Burton Goldberg book. Evening Primrose is high in Omega-3 fatty acids, so that made sense. It was not as dramatic as Neem oil, but it still appeared to be effective. Over the course of a week, it reduced further. The itching control seemed to be even shorter (2 to 4 hours), but since the condition was still making progress, I wasn’t much concerned.
- Flax/Borage Oil
- Since Evening Primrose oil is expensive, and since Flax seed oil is much less expensive but similarly high in Omega 3’s, I decided to try that. I had a combination of Flax and Borage Oil on hand, so I began using that. It did not appear to be outrageously effective, however. I discontinued use after a few days, as the rash appeared to be making a small comeback.
- Probiotic Skin Cream
- Had to order this from my local health food store and wait quite a while for it to arrive. It’s made by Natren, Natasha Trenev’s company and, at the time of this writing, it’s the only one of its kind. It is also unbelievably expensive, at $60 for a 4 oz. bottle. But rather than simply providing the right conditions for friendly bacteria, this product provides the bacteria themselves. So it was worth a try. When it finally arrived, and I tried it, it didn’t seem to do much.
- Herb a Clear
- Had to wait a while for this one, as well. It’s an herbal formula that encourages friendly bacteria and clobbers the bad guys with a combination of oils and fruit acids. Again, any observable effects were temporary.
- Banana Peel
- The inside of a banana peel turns out to be pretty acidic. It seemed to do so good, but mostly because it “aged the skin”–tanning it, in effect, so it looked normal. Like so many things I tried, the effects were only temporary. It wasn’t so much a cure, as a “treatment”.
- Crushing some fresh basil leaves and rubbing them on the skin is an old folk remedy from India. It turns out to be kindler, gentler form of banana peel. (The same effects, without the burning sensation.)
Here are some other possibilities that may be worth experimenting with:
- Aubrey’s Lotion
- This combination is billed as an “Evening Primrose Lotion”, but in fact that oil is one of the last ingredients in it. Still, it has a lot of beneficial plant oils like jojoba, coconut, and aloe vera, so it may well be effective for treatment, and cannot hurt for maintenance.
- Baby Oil?
- For “smothering” of a fungus, baby oil would probably work as well. But such products are petroleum based, so they don’t add much in the way of nutritional value. If you’re going to use an oil anyway, it makes more sense to use one that provides fundamental nutritional components that can be readily absorbed through the skin.
- Lemon Juice/Olive Oil/Almond Oil?
- This combination includes a skin-cleanser (lemon juice) and two oils that are known to be good for the skin. Neither is particularly high in omega-3’s. But in cases where Omega-3 deficiency is not the major problem, it’s likely to be effective.
- Fresh aloe vera, avocado, and papaya
- David Wolfe recommends using this combination every other day for eczema, along with sunlight and colonics (p. 505). Here again we have a combination of natural fatty acids and fruit acids that is likely to be effective.
- Avocado, olive oil, almond oil, or fresh aloe vera
- These are David Wolfe’s recommendation for psoriasis, once again including sunlight and colonics (p. 510).
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