Archive for tag: skin

Derm Is Hard

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 turn.

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 offer!

Yep, I Make My Own Deodorant

Photo of homemade deodorant in an applicatorWhy 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 you.

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 there? Really?

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.

Photo of ingredients laid out on counter

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 fella.

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 went...well?

Photo of mixture in bowl

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.

You're Putting What on Your Skin?

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 International

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.

2014-02-14_coco _oilThis time, 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 sunblock.

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 rolling.

2014-02-14_sunblocksFinal rant: 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 basis.

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 ingredient.

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.