Chronic skin diseases are more common than we may believe. As many as one in three Americans are facing a chronic skin disease at any given time where most non trauma-related skin issues are relapsing and remitting. The good news is that we are not alone when it comes to suffering from skin issues. The bad news is conventional medicine doesn’t usually address the root cause which leads to our quality of life being negatively impacted.
From acne to mysterious rashes, our skin is the magnifying glass of what is actually going on inside your body. On the surface, the skin may show signs of irritation, infection, and inflammation in the most unpleasant ways. Constant itching and scratching can drive anyone crazy, but chronic conditions can really get under our skin (pun intended). It’s also common to notice new rashes, bumps, or blemishes and worry that it might be an indication of something more serious.
We will cover the basics of skin issues and useful tips for treating chronic skin conditions. As we know, our skin is a protective shield responsible for keeping harmful microbes out, regulating body temperature, and allowing the body to retain fluids and preventing dehydration. Since skin is the largest and most visible organ of the body, it acts as an indication of our health, letting us know there is a problem that needs closer attention.
Common Chronic Skin Conditions
One of the most easily recognizable signs of chronic skin conditions is a recurring rash. A rash can look like an inflamed red patch of skin or a group of bumps or spots, which can be caused by irritation, an underlying allergy, infection, continually blocked pores, or an underlying disease hidden deep inside the body. Different types of rashes include acne, dermatitis, eczema, hives, pityriasis rosacea, and psoriasis.
Eczema (also called dermatitis) is an inflammatory skin disorder that results in dry, itchy skin turning red. It can even cause the skin to weep, bleed and crust over. Eczema and dermatitis are often used to describe the same condition but to varying degrees. Dermatitis indicates a more acute to subacute flare-up while eczema indicates more chronic skin inflammation. The most commonly affected skin areas include the folds of the arms, the back of the knees, wrists, hands, and the face.
Dermatitis is the most frequently occurring skin rash. Causes can be topical irritants such as perfumes, soaps, detergent, cosmetics, dyes, mold, animal hair, pollen, temperature shifts, dust (or dust mites), metals, chemicals, latex, wool, synthetic fibers, or mineral oils.
Skin infections can be caused by a virus, bacteria, or fungus. They can infect the uppermost, also known as superficial, to deeper layers of skin. Some viral skin infections are herpes, shingles, and warts that typically remain contained within a certain area. Bacterial infections, if left untreated, can spread to other parts of the body. Examples of bacterial skin infections include folliculitis, cellulitis, and tick-borne rashes. A few examples of fungal skin infections are athlete’s foot, jock itch, and ringworm.
Antibiotics are typically the first measure used to treat infections. Unfortunately, because they weaken the immune system in the long run, antibiotics can increase the risk of many other complications such as a serious infection, recurrent skin issues and even death if rare cases.
Treating Chronic Skin Conditions
Sometimes we come into contact with something that irritates our skin, but may not recognize the connection afterwards. Once the rash starts making a regular appearance, it can become a frustrating guessing game. But, we should follow Martin Luther King, Jr’s words, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose finite hope.”
All chronic skin conditions can be reversed if addressed at its root cause. Although many topical skin treatments including lotions, ointments, creams, antibiotics, and antifungal agents are available for temporary itch relief and superficial inflammation, it is important to know these topical treatments do not address the root of the problem and can become addictive with long-term use. Here are some tips of what you can do to treat chronic skin conditions from the inside out:
- Use Tea Tree Oil liberally. Tea tree oil, especially when combined with coconut oil, is a potent antifungal agent that we can use to heal itchy rashes, warts, and other infections. Apply the oils after showering and pat dry. Since tea tree oil is so potent, it’s best to dilute tea tree oil with coconut or other oils before applying. Tea tree oil can also be used as a natural treatment for acne.
- Try Garlic and Oregano Oil. Warts are ugly, annoying, and can sometimes be painful. Most of the time, they will go away on their own, but there are some things we can use to help accelerate the process. Along with tea tree oil, garlic oil and oregano oil help alleviate viral infections. Apply a few drops of the oils to the wart and cover with a bandage. If one cannot get garlic oil, rubbing a fresh garlic clove on the wart also works.
- Treat Acne Naturally. While acne is more prevalent during our teenage years, it can happen to us at any age. The root cause of acne is often a poor diet, hormonal imbalances (sometimes induced by high stress levels), or a buildup of toxins that clog skin pores. Tea tree oil can be used for spot treatment, but remember to dilute it first since the skin on our face is very sensitive. Witch hazel and chamomile are also great anti-inflammatories, but make sure they are not combined with alcohol ingredients (like ethanol) since they can then dry out the skin and do more harm than good.
- Chamomile Tea. Camomile is helpful for relieving itchy bug bites, rashes, and skin infections. Make a cup of chamomile tea and pour it onto a clean washcloth. Once cooled to a comfortable temperature, compress the Chamomile-tinged washcloth onto the affected skin patches. One can also drink Chamomile tea since it relaxes the body and supports the immune system. Please note that those who are allergic to ragweed should avoid using Chamomile.
- Apple Cider Vinegar is effective at reversing acne, alleviating dry-itchy skin, and treating fungal infections.
- Aloe Vera is a great natural remedy for itchy skin. It is full of vitamins and minerals. After showering, apply fresh aloe directly.
- Baking Soda and Epsom Salt can be a helpful remedy for itchy rashes. Mix a cup of baking soda with Epsom salt in a cool bath. Soak in the tub for about 30 minutes.
- Oatmeal baths. Oatmeal has anti-inflammatory compounds and helps moisturize the skin. Oatmeal baths can be a helpful natural remedy for eczema and psoriasis. Fill the tub with warm water, but avoid overly hot water since it can irritate the skin and cause further itchiness. Then add one or two cups of oatmeal (one can put it in a cheese cloth or even stockings) and a couple drops of anti-inflammatory essential oils.
- Anti-Inflammatory Essential oils. Lavender, geranium, and chamomile oil can be beneficial for treating chronic inflammatory skin conditions. Essential oils are helpful for many people, but not everyone. They can actually aggravate conditions for people who are ultra-sensitive to certain essential oils. Make sure to use essential oils rather than fragrance oils. Test a small area on one’s inner wrist before applying it on infected areas.
- Avoid Common Irritants. There are many things in our environment that can irritate our skin without our knowledge. Rather than narrowing down what the most egregious culprit could be, it’s best to avoid irritants in general. For starters, avoid soap, detergents, and washing powders that contain perfumes and fragrances. Switch to natural cleaning products or try making your own cleaning agents using natural ingredients. Dust and vacuum frequently to minimize dust mites and reduce exposure to animal hair.
- Avoid Smoking and Alcohol. There are several lifestyle changes which can help alleviate chronic skin conditions. For instance, tobacco and alcohol are heavily associated with psoriasis and itching. Avoiding these can dramatically improve rosacea, acne, dermatitis, and psoriasis.
- Rule out common food allergies. Chronic skin conditions are often triggered by common food allergens. These include: wheat (gluten), dairy, sugar, red meat, eggs, peanuts, soy, corn, artificial additives/preservatives, and food coloring. If one notices a rash after eating, try eliminating the above ingredients and gradually add back one ingredient at a time to figure out what it could be.
- Increase consumption of anti-inflammatory foods. Chronic skin conditions are often a sign of improper nutrition and chronic dehydration. Fruits and veggies contain vitamins and minerals (e.g. Vitamin C, bioflavonoids, iron, carotenoids and vitamin E) that are important for the healthy maintenance of our skin and immune system. Fresh, living foods help to rehydrate our bodies and skin. Some oils are also excellent for our skin, such as coconut oil, avocado oil, olive oil, rosehip oil, and argan oil.
- Avoid sugar and processed foods. Sugar has a profound impact on our immune system and gut health. Processed foods are often a mix of common food allergens and sugar. If they’re not good for us, they’re not good for our skin either.
- Drink water regularly. One should be drinking predominantly water throughout the day and could supplement with herbal tea if desired. Water consumption is important for flushing out toxins and keeping our skin hydrated. Avoid sugary drinks (i.e. fruit juices, smoothies, sodas, Gatorades) at all costs!
- Increase exercise. Sweating and exercising not only flush out skin pores but are also helpful for treating most skin rashes and lessening stress levels.
It’s important to note that dietary changes alone are not sufficient to address inflammatory skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, and even acne. It is best to combine complementary chronic skin condition treatments to relieve symptoms and effectively reach the root of the problem.
Be Proactive About Treating Chronic Skin Issues
When skin issues arise, do not wait for the skin issue to resolve on its own. If you have been doing everything you can to no avail (or feel overwhelmed and just don’t know what to do), you may need some more professional guidance to get to the bottom of your chronic skin condition. Integrative functional medicine physician, Dr. Payal Bhandari, M.D blends diagnostic and medical expertise with evidence-based complementary therapies for people with chronic diseases. By better understanding the root causes of your rash, we can define a personalized treatment that helps resolve the rash permanently. Dr. Bhandari prescribes a personalized treatment plan that will drive quick and effective positive results. She will guide you through how your symptoms can be directly impacted by your lifestyle and other environmental factors. Dr. Bhandari has helped thousands transition to sustainably healthy living. She loves to help people take back control of their health through simple tips that empower us.
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