If you've never heard that one before, then you've
probably never tried to figure out a skin issue. Every time I've
ever consulted with any kind of doctor about anything skin-related
on anyone, the first comment is always "Derm is hard." Why are skin
problems such a mystery? Sure, dermatologists have figured out how
to treat most of them, but even they, in my experience, are not
much concerned with how the skin eruption got there in the first
place or why a rash keeps recurring.
If you have a child, then odds are high that you've run into
some skin issues. Kids are just hotbeds for tons and tons of
rashes, eruptions, vesicles, warts -- you name it. As a parent,
rather than as a student, I've become familiar with eczema and
molluscum. Is it flat or raised? Broken edges or a perfect circle?
Red or flesh colored? These are all things that we parents become
practical experts in, but only by default. It only takes about 10
trips to the pediatrician to have someone take a look at a pink or
red spot on a toddler's leg to start concluding "eczema" at every
Finally I came to realize that "eczema" was kind of
a catchall, non-specific diagnosis. It was an easy name to drop,
and an easy thing to slather with a steroid cream. Do you think I
like to put steroid creams on my babies? No, no, I do not. Don't
theylowerthe immune system's function? Plus, kids' kidneys and
livers have enough toxins to filter these days from their
pesticide-rich foods in plastic containers. Pass!
I don't want to use steroid creams, and of course I don't want
my kids (and your kids) to walk around full of rashes and vesicles
all of the time, either. But, there's a third thing that I'm just
much more concerned with. WHY is the skin issue happening? What
does a superficial reaction tell us about the inner workings (or
dysfunctions) of the body? Chinese medicine has a lot to add in
this realm, thank goodness.
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the
internal-external relation between the TCM conception of the Lung
and the skin. In this model, the Lung controls the skin, giving us
a hint that what shows up on our skin could be due to an imbalance
in the Lung. For example, some Chinese references to "eczema" are
translated as "skin asthma."
Generally, TCM traces most skin issues back to one of two issues
-- heat or dampness. If that sounds too simple, that's because it
is. It could be heat in the Lung, heat combined with wind, or heat
combined with wind and dampness. The possibilities could be nearly
endless. Luckily, both acupuncture and herbal medicines have a
great track record for expelling these external pathogens and
balancing the body. We help your body help itself.
What causes the internally generated heat or
dampness? Or, what allows the body to be susceptible to the
external invasion of heat or dampness? Again, possibilities are
seemingly endless. Dietary and other lifestyle factors top the
list, but constitutional predispositions (genetics) are also
important in TCM's understanding of the whole person. It could be
too much dairy (dampness), too much stress (constrained Liver
heat), or a deficient Lung (protective qi).
An article in Acupuncture Today gives an in-depth look at
one fairly common condition, psoriasis, and how acupuncture and
herbal formulas have shown significant improvement. It also
outlines some of those pesky, and sometimes life-threatening, side
effects of western medicine's treatment plans for this and other
skin conditions. Think you have your skin condition managed? Great!
Still struggling to get it resolved? See what the AOM clinic has to
Why would I need or want to do this? Why haven't I
purchased a commercial deodorant in about two years? Why haven't I
let my husband, either? The bottom line is that I just don't feel
comfortable slathering on a toxic armpit cocktail, when I know that
what I put on my skin has a good chance of being absorbed into my
bloodstream. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: If you
wouldn't eat it, don't put it on your skin, either.
I also don't like the idea of blocking off the body's drainage
system, so I had already stopped using anti-perspirants years
before finally ditching the deodorant, too. (Not sure what you're
using? Check the front label. "Deodorant?" Just covering the smell.
"Anti-perspirant?" Also preventing your body from releasing the
sweat.) My armpits are made for excretion, and that's just what
they'll do. One of these days, I'll probably sweat all over
Really, though, it's not nice to sweat all over people, and it's
particularly rude to have the sweat smell like the noxious fumes
that we all know it can. Yet, I feel that primal urge to allow my
lymphatic system to do its job and clean out some bodily sludge.
Yes, I do think that using a commercially-produced anti-perspirant
and deodorant contributes to the development of breast cancer and
other ailments. But I guess I have to sit around and wait for a
study to prove that sealing in your body's toxins and then layering
more on top of that is bad for your health. Seriously, doesn't
anybody else wonder why Dove is the breast cancer researcher out
Or, I could make the choice that I know is healthier for my body
(and my husband's body, too). Thus, one rainy afternoon two years
ago, I jumped on Amazon and ordered myself some arrowroot powder
(after not being able to find it in local stores). The rest is
history. Instead of simply leaving you with the basic recipe I've
been using and loving, I'll take you on a pictorial journey
afterward. Note that if you do try this at home, the common
expectation is that there is approximately a 1-2 week "learning
curve" for your body to really have the opportunity to excrete
build-ups that you've been holding hostage for most of your adult
life with your commercial anti-perspirants. Translation = you might
smell worse during this time. This, too, shall pass, and at the end
you'll likely find that you don't smell as bad as you used to.
Here are your simple ingredients:
Mix 1/2 cup coconut oil with 1/4 cup arrowroot powder and 1/4
cup baking soda. Add essential oils such as orange, lemongrass, or
tea tree, and scoop into an old, cleaned out deodorant container to
harden for a few hours. (Don't worry about those bottles of wine in
the background. Those are for later, when you can celebrate your
accomplishment if all goes well.) Simple, customizable, delightful.
Remember, it's more meant to be a deodorant than an
anti-perspirant, but my husband finds it does both well. I guess
I'm just a sweatier fella. But at least I'm not usually a smellier
That's the normal way. This week, I tried to plan for our
upcoming medical mission trip to Nicaragua, where it is oh-so-hot
every day, by customizing the usual recipe to prevent it from
melting. Yes, coconut oil has a melting point in the 70s, so it
would be like trying to use a puddle of deodorant instead of a
stick if I took along the usual stuff. So, after googling for a
while, I found a suggestion to melt and add beeswax into the usual
recipe to raise the melting point (beeswax has a really high
melting point, like 170 -- not even Nicaragua can match that). It
The resulting deodorant was very brown, as a result of using
dark brown beeswax the first time. OK, I can live with that. Here's
the bowl of leftover brown deodorant that I will scrape with a
spoon and use until it's gone before wasting an ounce. Yes, this is
the state of affairs of toiletries in my home.
The photo at the beginning of my post is what it looks like in
stick form, which is much more socially acceptable, I know. It's
almost normal looking...just brown, and bumpy, unlike the usual
smooth off-white result for temperate at-home usage. Ah, Nicaragua,
the things I do for you.
I know it's not summer yet, not even spring, but here I am,
thinking about what I'll use for sunblock when I head to Nicaragua
in just 10 short weeks. Yes, during Tri break in April, several
volunteers and I will head to sunny Ometepe Island in Lake
Nicaragua on a medical brigade for the non-profit organization
Natural Doctors International. It's not exactlyonthe equator, but
it's much closer than Chicago. We'll almost certainly burn if we
aren't prepared. I should know, because Nicaragua turned me into a
crispy piece of bacon last year! And that is the only one time in
my life that I'll say anything negative about bacon.
Nicaragua 2013 on our medical brigade for Natural Doctors
So, back to the sunblock options. Clearly I chose to wear
nothing to protect me from the sun last year. If
you've seen me, you know I'm fairly far over on the pale end of the
spectrum, so this was not the correct choice. That was just bad
planning on my part.
I'll do it right. I could use the standard, commercially prepared
sunblock from the store. Yikes. Have you ever looked into the
ingredients list and the health impact of some of those
ingredients? If so, you're ready to move to the next option with me
-- coconut oil. I actually used Trader Joe's Organic Virgin Coconut
Oil straight out of the jar while vacationing in Puerto Rico a few
months ago, and I am mildly happy to report that I barely achieved
a tan at all, despite my hours in the sun. Slather that stuff on,
and not only do you have the benefit of looking like an oiled up
body builder (that's me for sure), but you have the benefit of
approximately SPF 10 with none of the side-effects of conventional
On a side note, I'm generally against using sunblock of any kind
on a regular basis. Why? I like making Vitamin D. It's my body's
job. When you block the sun -- specifically, the
UVB rays -- you block your body's ability to synthesize
Vitamin D. Oops. Coconut oil blocks many of the UVB rays, which
also contribute to skin aging, etc., but it allows approximately
10% of them to get through and get the Vitamin D process
I'm personally bothered by the research available linking common
sunscreen ingredients to cancer (specifically
-- skin cancer!), hormone imbalance
(infertility), and neurological disorders, thus, I do not slather
it all over my children's skin or my own on any type of regular
Check out this article for a brief summary of some of the issues
associated with sunblock and some of the reasons that coconut oil
can be a better choice for your health overall: Ditch the Toxic Sunscreen; Use Coconut Oil
Instead (Natural Society).
Here is the Environmental Working Group's database of
sunblock (and other cosmetics), where you can search by brand,
see the overall rating of your favorite cancer-preventing cancer
causer, and see the health hazards of each individual
Finally, here is a snapshot of the results for a product I used
to use on myself. Curses. It scores a 7 out of 10 on the toxicity rating system,
where 10 is the most toxic.
Choose wisely, my friends.
• So What Is Chinese Medicine?
• Jabbing Nerves with Needles
• Mission in Nicaragua
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