Skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis can be frustrating. They cause itchy, red patches on the skin and are notoriously difficult to fix. Normal treatment for these conditions involves topical anti inflammatory creams, but usually only provide temporary or partial relief. Recurrence is common.
The problem with this line of treatment is that it aims to stop a symptom (branch) of the condition rather than the underlying cause (root). Traditional Chinese medicine takes a different approach. We look past the skin to find the underlying cause of the condition, which might not be what you would expect.
Herbs offer unique treatment options for these conditions, and when used correctly will address not only the symptoms of these frustrating conditions, but the underlying causes as well.
Here are six of my favorite herbs for eczema and psoriasis.
Causes (Root) of Eczema & Psoriasis
There are a number of factors that can cause eczema and psoriasis. Although many are quick to jump directly to the skin as the root of the condition, it often goes much deeper than that.
Traditional Chinese medicine views this condition not as a skin disease, but as a blood or digestive system disorder which manifests on the skin.
When the liver and digestive system aren’t eliminating toxins effectively, they build up in the blood stream. In traditional Chinese medicine we call this blood heat (liver), or damp congestion (digestive). In both cases diet can make the condition. Both coffee and alcohol can be irritating to the gut and exacerbate eczema and psoriasis. Dairy often plays a roll skin conditions as well, especially when the person has an allergy to milk proteins like casein or whey.
As toxicity rises in the blood, other organs begin to step up, attempting to clear it from the body. Toxins begin passing through the sweat glands on the skin. Unlike the liver and digestive tract, the skin isn’t designed to handle toxic burdens of this magnitude.
The result is inflammation, and cell death, which go on to cause symptoms associated with psoriasis and eczema like itchy, flaky, and reddened skin.
Top 6 herbs For Eczema & Psoriasis
1. Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
This golden root is by far one of the most famous herbs around. Despite its use dating back for thousands of years, it remains popular today as a superfood and herbal medicine.
The list of benefits for turmeric are long, but mainly arise from two potent qualities the plant has to offer: its anti inflammatory and antioxidant effects.
Turmeric interacts with nearly all organs in the body. It improves liver detoxification, reduces inflammation in the digestive tract, and soothes the skin.
Most cases of eczema and psoriasis are the result of poor digestive or liver clearance. These organs are tasked with safely eliminating toxic byproducts from the body.
2. Samambaia (Polypodium leucotomos)
Following the celebrity status of turmeric comes samambaia, a modest fern from South America. Samambaia has managed to remain out of the spotlight for many years outside of Brazil.
It’s specific for skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis, as well as improving the skin’s resistance to UV rays from the sun. It works by disabling the inflammatory process driving these conditions.
More specifically, samambaia is a potent inhibitor of a key inflammatory marker known as nuclear-factor kappa B . This is the primary inflammatory marker involved with psoriasis, and moderate contributor to eczema .
3. Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum)
Milk thistle is one of the best herbs available when it comes to liver health. Herbalists refer to it as a “hepatoprotective”. Hepato- is latin for liver, so milk thistle is essentially characterized as a “liver protector”.
In fact, there are several liver-poisons found in the plant and fungi world in which milk thistle is the only known cure.
Milk Thistle dramatically improves liver function by improving the liver cells ability to detoxify chemicals from the blood , thus taking the strain off the skin.
If toxins are managed effectively through the liver like they’re supposed to, our skin will be more readily able to return to normal.
4. Calendula: Topical (Calendula officinalis)
Ask any herbalist what their favorite herb is for skin inflammation and they’ll mention calendula.
The petals of this small, unsuspecting flower pack a potent punch. They inhibit two of the primary enzymes responsible for inflammation (known as COX and 5 LOX), as well as another primary inflammatory marker (known as TNF-alpha) . These inflammatory molecules play a major role in the process of psoriasis and eczema.
One of these enzymes (COX) is also the target of the common anti-inflammatory drug, Aspirin.
When applied to the skin, calendula offers immediate anti-inflammatory, nourishing, and vulnerary (promotes healing) effects.
This herb is great in combination with some of the other herbs on this list because it allows the skin to heal faster, and provides support for the symptoms. However, it isn’t as good at eliminating the underlying cause for these conditions.
5. Sarsaparilla (Smilax spp.)
There are several different types of sarsaparilla found growing on nearly every continent. Most all indigenous cultures living in the areas sarsaparilla grows have used it for treating skin and liver conditions.
In Traditional Chinese medicine, Sarsaparilla is used to clear ‘blood heat’, one of the primary causes of psoriasis from this perspective.
Sarsaparilla cleans the blood by binding and neutralizing many of the toxic compounds found in circulation. Additionally, sarsaparilla boosts liver detoxification digestive function, further addressing the underlying causes of eczema and psoriasis. [1, 10].
6. German Chamomile: Topical (Matricaria recutita)
Most people are familiar with chamomile tea as a home remedy for insomnia and stress. What most people don’t know is that chamomile is also a potent anti-inflammatory and painkiller with particular benefits to the skin.
The essential oil can be diluted with a carrier like olive or coconut oil to make a soothing topical application for skin conditions. Better yet, consider adding a few drops of chamomile essential oil to a calendula oil preparation.
Similarly to calendula, german chamomile is better at treating the symptoms. Namely, skin irriation. It’s anti inflammatory and analgesic benefits make it great for treating the discomfort like intense itching and tingling, while the heavy hitters like turmeric, samambaia, milk thistle, or sarsaparilla work on the underlying cause of the condition.
Most of my patients use a combination of Western and Chinese Medicine to address their flare-ups. That said, the goal is achieve resolution to the condition without using immunosuppressant medications and topical steroids that carry significant health risks. Often some diet modifications are required, but mostly it takes consistent use of a customized herbal formula over a three to six month timeframe.
- Kim K.M, Suh J.W, Yang S.H, Kim B.R, Park T.S, Shim S.M. (2014). Smilax china Root Extract Detoxifies Nicotine by Reducing Reactive Oxygen Species and Inducing CYP2A6. Journal of Food Science. 79. 10. doi: 10.1111/1750-3841.12595
- Vijayalakshmi A, Ravichandiran V, Malarkodi Velraj, Nirmala S, Jayakumari S. (2012). Screening of flavonoid “quercetin” from the rhizome of Smilax china Linn. for anti-psoriatic activity. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine. 2(4). 269-275.
- Goldminz, A., Au, S., Kim, N., Gottlieb, A., & Lizzul, P. (2013). NF-κB: An essential transcription factor in psoriasis. Journal of Dermatological Science, 69(2), 89-94. doi:10.1016/j.jdermsci.2012.11.002
- Manna, S. K., Bueso-Ramos, C., Alvarado, F., & Aggarwal, B. B. (2003). Calagualine inhibits nuclear transcription factors-κB activated by various inflammatory and tumor promoting agents. Cancer Letters, 190(2), 171-182. doi:10.1016/s0304-3835(02)00618-3
- Trappoliere M, Caligiuri A, Schmid M, et al. (2009). Silybin, a component of sylimarin, exerts anti-inflammatory and anti-fibrogenic effects on human hepatic stellate cells. J Hepatol. 50:1102–1111.
- Preethi, K. C., Kuttan, G., & Kuttan, R. (2009). Anti-inflammatory activity of flower extract of Calendula officinalis Linn. and its possible mechanism of action.