Herbal remedies have existed for centuries and have been used to treat many illnesses ranging from mild stomach upset to cancer. Recent research supports the use of herbs in the treatment of various medical problems. However, many people believing that "natural" is better have tried unproven and uncontrolled treatments, sometimes with disappointing or even dangerous results. There exist some herbal treatments that may be helpful in treating common skin conditions that do not always require going to the doctor's office.
Dr. Doris Day, a Manhattan dermatologist and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at NYU Medical Center recommends that "If I had to choose only one herbal remedy for the treatment of skin problems, aloe vera would be my number one choice. It has been widely recognized as a plant with special healing capabilities." Aloe Vera is used in its pure form as a skin softener and moisturizer. The gel, which is the fluid within the leaves, has been used for centuries to accelerate wound healing. It not only improves healing but also serves as a topical pain reliever. Dr. Day adds "unfortunately many of the products in the stores that contain aloe vera do not have adequate concentration of the substance in them to make them effective." Some reliable studies have demonstrated aloe vera to be very effective in the treatment of psoriasis, a relatively common condition that leads to itchy, red scaly patches on the skin and scalp.
Topical preparations of Arnica flower are especially helpful for wound healing. It is effective as an analgesic (pain reliever), antiseptic and anti-inflammatory cream. Dr. Day further comments that "this treatment is recommended for bruises and swelling due to trauma or surgery." It is also helpful in speeding the healing of simple skin abrasions, insect bites and for soothing joint pain. The German government has approved the use of arnica for wound healing therapy.
Also known as the common marigold, Calendula flower has a long history of effectiveness in the treatment of burns, bruises, skin infections, cuts and rashes. The German health authorities have approved its use for topical treatment of wounds that are healing poorly and for certain types of skin ulcers. Compresses made with calendula tea are also useful. The tea can be used as a mouth rinse to treat painful lesions in the mouth.
Both the roots and leaves of comfrey have been used for centuries to improve healing of cuts and bruises. It has also been useful as an anti-inflammatory for treatment of rashes. It is thought to promote healing of closed fractures when applied on the skin over the site of injury. Dr. Day warns that "although topical use of the roots or leaves is safe, application over broken skin can lead to toxicity and so should not be applied more than three days in a row." Tea made from the comfrey leaf is also useful but should not exceed three cups per day.
The tea tree is a tall evergreen found in Australia and Asia. The leaves have been used for centuries as an antiseptic and were used in World War I as a disinfectant. More recently the oil from the leaves has been harvested to treat cuts, insect bites and other common skin problems. The oil has been shown to kill both fungus and bacteria. The oil is available in stores, without a prescription, and can be diluted as necessary for various conditions. Tea tree oil may be toxic and should never be taken by mouth.
Chamomile has been used for thousands of years for treatment of various medical problems. Dried and fresh flowers made into a tea have been used for minor stomach upset, as an oral rinse to treat gingivitis and painful mouth lesions, and topically to improve wound healing and treat mild skin problems, such as itchy lesions, hives and sunburn.
Commonly known as cayenne, this spicy red pepper has been used for a multitude of medical problems such as high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, poor circulation, lung and skin infections. There are many formulas that combine capsaicin with other herbal products to maximize antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects. Capsaicin has been shown to deplete substance-P from nerve endings, which makes it an effective pain reliever according to Dr. Day. Initially the pain may be increased or there may be a burning sensation due to the release of substance-P, which is usually temporary.
There are many herbal remedies that are useful in treating common skin conditions. Dr. Day maintains that certain herbal remedies may produce adverse reactions if the person using them is sensitive to any of the active ingredients. It is recommended to see your doctor if a skin condition persists or symptoms become worse.