Natural Cures----Top Herbs To Heal Skin
By Carly Wall
In a recent study, researchers disclosed that 69 percent of survey respondents had used some form of complementary and/or alternative medicine (CAM) in the past year. Respondents had also seen traditional MD’s an average of four times yearly. And, many health insurance plans today cover many alternative medical expenses, which has helped further their growth. Consumers today are interested in natural health treatments, and they can complement traditional methods.
Some skin healing herbs have shown to be quite effective for some of the most common dermal complaints. Here is a profile of five herbs and their unique healing properties:
Aloe Vera (Aloe vera, Aloe barbadensis)
Aloe Vera, a member of the Lily family, with cactus-like characteristics, has been used topically for centuries in the use of healing skin wounds and burns. It isn’t clear what constituents are wound healing, but studies suggest polysaccharides, such as acemannon, help promote skin healing by anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and immune-stimulating actions. Aloe’s effects on the skin may also be enhanced by its high concentration of amino acids as well as vitamin E and C as well as zinc, and essential fatty acids.
An aloe extract in a cream has been shown effective in a double blind, controlled trial in people with psoriasis. A small clinical trial found it more effective than a topical petroleum jelly in treating burns. In 1991, in the Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association, a study done on animals showed that by applying aloe gel topically along with a topical corticosteroid enhanced the hormone’s anti-inflammatory activity in the skin.
For minor burns, the stabilized aloe gel is applied topically to the affected area of skin three to five times per day. Except in the rare person who is allergic to aloe, topical application of the gel is generally safe.
Castor Oil (Ricinus communis )
Although not necessarily termed an herb, castor oil comes from the castor bean plant. Native to India, it has been used extensively for all types of gastrointestinal problems like constipation, dysentery and inflammatory bowel disease. Interestingly, it has also shown to be effective when used externally for a wide variety of ailments.
Castor oil is a triglyceride of fatty acids. Almost 90 percent of its fatty acid content consists of ricinoleic acid. Ricinoleic acid, not found in any other substance except castor oil, is thought to be responsible for castor oil's remarkable healing abilities.
Ricinoleic acid has been shown to be effective in preventing the growth of numerous species of viruses, bacteria, yeasts and molds. This would explain the high degree of success in the topical use of the oil for treating such ailments as ringworm, keratoses (non-cancerous, wart-like skin growths), skin inflammation, abrasions, fungal-infected finger and toenails, acne and chronic pruritus (itching).
Dr. William McGarey of Phoenix, Arizona, author of The Oil That Heals: A Physician’s Successes with Castor Oil Treatments (A.R.E. Press 1997), reported that when used properly, castor oil packs improve the function of the thymus gland and other areas of the immune system.
Researchers at the Department of Pharmacology, Menarini Ricerche Spa in Pomezia Roma, Italy noted that observational studies indicate that topical application of ricinoleic acid (RA), the main component of castor oil, exerts remarkable analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects.
Oftentimes there is no need for castor oil packs; amazing results can be obtained by simply applying it directly to the skin. The following is a short list of some of the more common ailments it can remedy: skin keratosis, ringworm, fungal and bacterial infections, wounds, abdominal stretch marks (prevention), bursitis, sebaceous cysts, warts, senile lentigo ("liver" or "aging" spots) , muscle strains, ligament sprains, itching.
A mixture of castor oil and baking soda has been typically recommended to remove plantar warts. For moles, warts or skin infections, the area involved is simply wrapped in cloth soaked with castor oil each night, or if the area is small enough, a castor oil-soaked bandage can be used. (For persistent infections and those finger and toenails that have discolored and hardened, a good 10 to 20 minute soak in Epsom salts, prior to applying the castor oil, usually speeds up the healing process.) .
Gotu kola (Centella asiatica)
Gotu kola has been used for thousands of years in India and still has a central place in Ayurvedic Gotu Kola has been found to have significant results in healing of skin, other connective tissues, lymph tissue, blood vessels, and mucous membranes.
Researchers have found that Gotu kola contains several glycosides that exhibit wound healing and anti-inflammatory activities and that asiaticosides stimulate the formation of lipids and proteins necessary for healthy skin. In 1999, European and Indian researchers demonstrated that Gotu kola compounds promote rapid wound healing.
Along these lines, numerous clinical reports and preliminary studies suggest that Gotu kola extracts may be useful in treating keloids, burns, wounds, anal fissures, bladder ulcers, dermatitis, hemorrhoids, perineal lesions, periodontal disease, cellulite, liver cirrhosis, and scleroderma
Gotu kola cream can help relieve the painful scaly red welts of psoriasis. It stimulates the regeneration of skin cells and underlying connective tissue. Orally, gotu kola appears to be nontoxic.
Maritime pine (Pinus pinaster)
Native Americans have known the secret of pine bark's powerful antioxidant benefits for centuries. But only in the last few years has the value of this remarkable nutrient been recognized by Western science. Maritime pine (Pinus pinaster) occurs naturally in Mediterranean Europe, including Spain, Portugal, France, Corsica and Morocco.
Research on an extract of the bark of the Maritime Pine tree is revealing the true antioxidant power of this nutrient. Sold under the brand name Pycnogenol, pine bark extract exhibits 20 times the free radical gobbling power of Vitamin C. Studies also show that when applied topically, it can fight wrinkles and give people younger looking skin. Studies at Baylor College of Medicine also demonstrated that it protected collagen from damage from enzymes.
Studies at the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland showed that the Maritime pine also protects the skin against UV damage. UV exposure that killed 50% of unprotected skin cells only killed 15% of the cells when Pycnogenol was added. Since Maritime pine protects against ultraviolet (UV) radiation, its efficacy in the treatment of melasma (or chloasma) was also investigated. Thirty women with melasma completed a 30-day clinical trial in which they took one 25 mg tablet of Pycnogenol with meals three times daily, i.e. 75 mg Pycnogenol per day. The general effective rate was 80%. No side effect was observed.
The Maritime pine improves skin elasticity and smoothness, fights inflammation, reduces pain and enhances the immune system. It is effective against psoriasis, protects against sun damage and is very effective against hay fever and other allergies.
Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)
The Australian tree called the Tea tree is an effective, safe, natural antibiotic, antiviral and fungicide. Bundjalung Aborigines living in Australia first used tea tree oil. The colorless or pale yellow oil of the tree has a pungent aroma resembling eucalyptus. It is composed of over 100 different compounds, 79 of which have been identified.
Because of the discovery of tea tree oils’ potent ability to fight skin infections (published in the Medical Journal of Australia just prior to WWII), it was used routinely in first aid kits during World War II.
Other studies during this time found it was beneficial for a variety of throat and mouth conditions, dental problems like pyorrhea and gingivitis, gynecological infections, and skin fungal infections like Candida, tinea, and perionychia (infections around the nail bed).
In the last 5 to 10 years there has been a great many studies documenting the efficacy of tea tree oil in treating a variety of conditions including acne, burns, thrush (yeast), Candida, bacterial and fungal infections. Here are just a few of examples. A study published in 2001 in the Journal of Chemotherapy found tea tree oil was a good topical therapy for the treatment of fungal infections of skin and mucosa (lining of the mouth). A study published in the Medical Journal of Australia in 1990 found tea tree oil was as effective in treating acne as benzoyl peroxide, with fewer side effects. Tea tree oil has passed the Kelsey-Sykes test, which is the most rigorous antiseptic test in the world today. It has proved effective, both in vitro and in vivo against candida albicans, straphylococcus aureus, escherichia coli, trichophytia and streptococcus, and in vitro against pseudomonas aeruginosa, proteus vulgaris, pneumococcus, gonococcus, meningococcus, diphtheric bacterium, and aspergillus niger.
The only side effects reported from tea tree oil are an occasional mild rash or allergic contact dermatitis. In studies where patients developed a mild reaction, they were able to continue using it until their treatment was complete. Rarely, someone may experience a more severe reaction, in which case he or she should stop using it. Tea tree oil can be purchased as a pure essential oil. It may be applied either full strength or diluted in water or another type of oil like olive oil. Cuts, wounds, ulcers, sores, boils, burns, ringworm, athlete's foot, psoriasis impetigo, cold sores, lice, urinary and vaginal infections, genital herpes, throat, bronchial and sinus infections, mouth ulcers, infected gums and many other conditions have all responded remarkably well to treatment with this astonishing essential oil.