The skin is the largest eliminatory and digestive organ. It’s an organ we can see, and it is very obvious (and sometimes quite distressing) when it isn’t working well. It’s hard to have troubles with an organ and literally wear it on your face, right? Actually, skin problems almost always start deeper in the body. If one of the other eliminatory organs isn’t functioning well, the skin can get an overload of wastes and this can cause problems such as dermatitis, rashes, acne, or eczema.
Because the skin reflects the health of other eliminatory organs such as the liver, kidneys, lungs and digestive system, it’s important to work both internally and externally when you want to heal the skin. Using herbs to stimulate other eliminatory organs can be helpful. Depending on how other organs are functioning, consider diuretics to encourage kidney function, bulking laxatives if someone isn’t having a daily bowel movement, digestive bitters to help empty the gall bladder (and digest food better!), cholagogues to stimulate liver function, and a mineral rich tea (see the Clear Skin Tea recipe at the end of this article) to aid in general nutrition and overall elimination.
If the skin needs a little more stimulation, consider taking baths (not too hot!) to encourage moderate sweating. You can also stimulate the skin using a soft natural bristle brush. Start brushing at the extremities, moving gently over the skin towards the heart.
What are you “feeding” your skin?
Because the skin reflects our internal health, eating healthy, whole foods can make a major impact on skin health. Make sure you are eating enough protein, vegetables and high quality fats. Vitamins C, B (complex) and E are especially important for skin health.
External products can also impact the skin. I recommend doing an inventory of what you are using on your skin and eliminating unhealthy products. Avoid hand sanitizers, harsh cleaning products, strong deodorants and antiperspirants. Stay away from unnecessary body care products such as douches, synthetically scented sprays and synthetic perfumes. Pure and simple products work best for the skin. My rule of thumb is if I wouldn’t want to eat it, I generally don’t put it on my skin. Ok, I know no one wants to eat soap, but you get the idea.
The list of skin care ingredients to avoid is long, but these are my top ingredients to steer clear of: Synthetic fragrances, Parabens, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), Petrochemicals, Polyethylene glycol, Lead, Propylene Glycol, FD & C Color Pigments, DEA (diethanolamine) MEA (momoethnanolamine) TEA (triethanolamine), Imidazolidinyl Urea and DMDM Hydantoin, Isopropyl Alcohol, Formaldehyde (common names of chemicals that release formaldehyde include Quaternium-15, DMDM Hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea or imidazolidinyl urea and Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate), Phthalates(common names include DBP, DEP, DMP and can also be labeled as “fragrance”), and Toluene.
An Herbal Apothecary for the Skin
There are so many wonderful herbs that are healing to the skin! You can check out the categories below to create healing blends for most skin issues.
Emollient Herbs are softening and moistening to the skin. They contain high levels of mucilage making them soothing to dry skin conditions, such as eczema, cracks and itchy skin. Emollient herbs provide a protective layer for sensitive or mature skin.
- Herbs: Aloe vera (Aloe), Stellaria media (Chickweed), Symphytum officinale (Comfrey), Trigonella foenum-graecum (Fenugreek), Althea officinalis (Marshmallow), Plantago ovata (Plantain), Ulmus rubra (Slippery elm) and Viola spp. (Violet) are emollient, as are fixed oils and butters such as jojoba oil and coconut oil.
Vulnerary Herbs promote wound healing and reduce irritation.
- Herbs: Aloe vera (Aloe), Calendula officinalis (Calendula), Stellaria media (Chickweed), Galium aparine (Cleavers), Symphytum officinale (Comfrey), Trigonella foenum-graecum (Fenugreek), Plantago ovata (Plantain)
Anti-inflammatory Herbs reduce inflammation by various constituents including salicylates, flavones or precursors to steroids.
- Herbs: Arnica cordifolia (Arnica), Populus tremuloides (Aspen), Boswellia serrate (Boswellia), Matricaria chamomilla (Chamomile), Zingiber officinale (Ginger), Glycyrrhiza spp. (Licorice), Populus spp. (Poplar), Hypericum perforatum (St John’s Wort), Curcuma longa (Turmeric), Salix spp. (Willow) and Yucca spp. (Yucca)
Anti-microbial Herbs help the body destroy or resist pathogenic microorganisms. These herbs are wonderful for topical infections and many can be used internally as well.
- Herbs: Echinacea spp. (Echinacea), Allium sativum (Garlic), Thymus vulgaris (Thyme), Commiphora spp. (Myrrh), Mahonia spp. (Oregon grape root), Hydrastis canadensis (Goldenseal)
Most Essential Oils are antimicrobial as well. Here are a few examples of some essential oils that work great for skin conditions. For external use only.
- Lavandula spp. (Lavender), Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree), Rosmarinus officinalis (Rosemary), Eucalyptus spp., etc.
Astringent Herbs are useful for pulling boggy or inflamed tissues back together. They usually contain tannins, which combine with proteins on the skin to help to tone, tighten and protect the skin.
- Herbs: Agrimonia eupatoria (Agrimony), Myrica spp. (Bayberry), Rubus spp. (Blackberry), Cinnamomum verum (Cinnamon), Geranium spp. (Geranium), Filipendula ulmaria (Meadowsweet), Quercus spp. (Oak), Plantago ovata (Plantain), Rubus spp. (Raspberry), Rosa spp. (Rose), Rosmarinus officinalis (Rosemary), Salvia officinlais (Sage), Prunella vulgaris (Self heal), Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (Uva ursi), Hamamelis spp. (Witch hazel) and Achilllea millefolium (Yarrow)
Herbal Recipes for the Skin
Nourishing Salts Scrub
- 1 cup sea salt (brown or white sugar can be used for a gentler exfoliation)
- 1/2 cup jojoba oil
- 1/2 cup almond oil
- 1 teaspoon vitamin E oil
- 20 drops Santalum album (Sandalwood) EO (ethically harvested)
- 10 drops Pelargonium gravolens (Geranium) EO
- 10 drops Daucus carota (Carrot seed) EO
Add all ingredients together and mix well. Store in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid. Nourishing salts scrub can be helpful for eczema, dry skin, exfoliation, and moving the lymph. At the end of a shower or bath, gently massage Nourishing Salts Scrub starting at the extremities and moving toward the heart to encourage lymph circulation.
Skin Healing Poultice
- 1 Tablespoon powdered Althea officinalis (Marshmallow) root
- 1 Tablespoon powdered Calendula officinalis (Calendula) flower
- 1 Tablespoon powdered Plantago ovata (Plantain) leaf
- 2 – 3 Tablespoons hot water
- Add Aloe vera juice (Aloe) until you have a good consistency
To aid in healing and soothing the skin, apply to the area with a muslin cloth (especially if the skin is broken, so no herb particles get in the wound) for 20 minutes to a half hour. Rinse gently.
Clear Skin Tea
- 1 ounce Burdock root
- 1 ounce Red clover
- 1 ounce Nettles
- 1 ounce Horsetail
- 1 ounce Peppermint
Directions: This nutrient rich blend is designed to encourage proper functioning of all the eliminatory organs. Measure the herbs by weight and mix well in a large bowl. Store your tea blend in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid. To make, put ½ ounce herbs by weight into a teapot or canning jar. Pour 1 cup of boiling water over the herbs and steep for ½-2 hours. Strain and enjoy 1-3 cups a day.
Often, healing starts deep in the body where we can’t see it. Take heart that using herbs over time, you will notice healthier, stronger and more vibrant skin.
© Elaine Sheff, Clinical Herbalist, RH (AHG) 2019
About the Author:
The author of several books on herbal medicine and healing, clinical herbalist Elaine Sheff has been passionate about sharing herbal knowledge for over 25 years. Her latest book is Naked: Botanical Recipes for Vibrant Skin and Healthy Hair. Elaine is the Co-Director of Green Path Herb School, located in Missoula, Montana, where she strives to inspire and empower students and clients to remember their connection to the earth, the plants and their own healing process. She is a professional member of the American Herbalist Guild and teaches workshops, and at conferences, both nationally and internationally. Elaine has an International Certification in Aromatherapy from the Pacific Institute of Aromatherapy. As a certified Instructor of the Natural Family Planning and Fertility Awareness Methods, Elaine has helped many couples to avoid or achieve pregnancy naturally. She has written numerous articles about her family’s journey with epilepsy and a special needs child. Elaine has written for publications including the Journal of Medicinal Plants and their Applications, Mamalode and AromaCulture magazine. Elaine’s workshops have been featured at conferences including the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference, Montana Herb Gathering, Northwest Herb Symposium, Midwest Women’s Herbal Conference, Spokane Herbal Faire, the Ecoexpo, Mountain West Herb Gathering, Inland Northwest Permaculture Convergence, and the Pacific Women’s Herbal Conference. You can often find her bent over an herb in her garden or marveling at small flowers in mountain meadows with her husband and sons. If you’d like to learn more about medicinal plants, you can connect with Elaine, and Green Path Herb School via the Green Path Website or through social media: Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter, or Instagram. You can find out more about Elaine and her life work at GreenPathHerbSchool.com.
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