Dee's Blog


Banish That Itch

A guest blog by herbalist, Joseph Nolan

Most people agree that having an itch is worse than pain. I see a lot of it in clinic, from eczema to folliculitis, contact dermatitis to ichthyosis and, unfortunately, there is no one solution which works for everyone as, for one thing, it depends what kind of skin and rash a person has.

Dry and flaky, potentially cracking, itching skin...

...needs moisturising, which means both oil and water. Frequent washing, especially with soaps or cleansers, makes it worse, as does dry air, temperature change and contact with scented products, perfumes, chemicals and alcohol gels. A rich cream works best, the richness commensurate with the degree of dryness. You can also apply both an oil or ointment and a cream.

Products to try include: D. Atkinson Hydrating Balm, Weleda Skin Food, Napiers Chamomile Cream and coconut, sesame, avocado, rosehip, wheatgerm and jojoba oils as well as products rich with shea or cocoa butter.

Supplements including Viridian’s Vegan EPA/DHA for the Omega Essential Fatty Acids, Vitamin E, Sea Buckthorn oil, and lots of dietary raw oils, raw nuts and raw seeds, can all help with dry skin. 

Reddish and inflamed itchy skin...

...discharges a lot of heat, and heat exacerbates itch. Oil traps heat, which is why you use oil in muscle and arthritis rubs but, if you put an oil on an itchy red rash it will feel worse, and get redder, almost instantly. Red and inflamed skin needs a good amount of water in the preparation to cool it, but dryness is often also a feature, as with moderate active eczema: a light cream or lotion, works best, with the water content commensurate with the inflammation. 

Products to try include: Napiers Starflower Cream contains soothing and anti-inflammatory essential oils which are helpful for most people while Infant Star Flower Cream contains no essential oils and so suits very sensitive, young, or more inflamed skin best. Napiers Chickweed Cream and Weleda or Napiers Calendula Cream are also helpful.

Beneficial Herbal teas include D. Atkinson Skin Tea, an exclusive combination of herbs to promote a clear complexion. It’s a twist on the traditional combination of herbs used as a Spring tonic, drunk to promote a clear complexion and good skin health and includes herbs to encourage elimination and improve digestion. Teas made from Dandelion root, Plantain, Chickweed, Cleavers and Nettle are also very helpful for the skin.

Juices that can help with inflammation and the elimination of toxins from the body include Aloe Vera, Dandelion, Plantain, and Nettle.

Supplements again including Viridian’s Vegan EPA/DHA for the Omega Essential Fatty Acids, Vitamin E, Sea Buckthorn oil, and lots of dietary raw oils, raw nuts and raw seeds, will not only help dry skin, but are quite anti-inflammatory and improve the skin’s structure.

Very red and inflamed skin...

...often with a yellowish tinge, possibly wet or weeping, maybe raised like a welt, and maddeningly itchy, needs astringing or drying rather than moisturising. The causes include very active eczema and topical allergy. Very light astringent creams, lotions, or gels work best.

Products to try include: Napiers Aloe Vera & Seaweed Gel as well as aromatic waters of Witch Hazel, Rose, Yarrow, and Elderflower, either sprayed on neat or made into a gel with aloe gel. Any of these waters can also be used to thin Napiers Chickweed, Chamomile or Calendula creams into a cooling soothing lotion. 

Herbal teas that can help include D. Atkinson Skin Tea as well as Plantain, Chickweed, Cleavers and Dandelion teas. Aloe Vera, Dandelion and Plantain juices can also help to reduce skin inflammation.

Apparently healthy skin with little or no visible rash or irritation...

...but where there is a troubling itch, typically responds best to a light cream or a gel, something that cools the skin without a lot of oil.

Products to try include: Napiers Chickweed Cream and Napiers Aloe & Seaweed Gel. Also try Aromatic Water of Peppermint, which can be used neat or added to Chickweed Cream or aloe gel to make a thinner, cooling preparation. 

Insect bites are their own kingdom...

...but a few things can help prevent them or deal with the most unwelcome effects. There is a homeopathic Scottish Midge remedy that many people swear by once the itch descends whereas other people use a strong menthol ointment such as white Tiger Balm. There is Napier’s soothing Bug Buster cream, Aloe Vera & Seaweed Gel, or Chickweed Cream. Again, Water of Peppermint makes a cooling soothing spray. To prevent bites, many people find that a Vitamin B-complex supplement, like Viridian’s High 5, stops the mozzies and midges from biting.

Traditional wisdom holds that external problems (ie skin issues) are best treated with internal remedies. Most people with chronic skin problems also have digestive issues and by treating digestion and improving elimination one can improve the condition of the skin.  So, when suffering from ongoing rashes, it is important to consider a healthy diet and any digestive problems one may have. 

Probiotics can be very helpful here and their benefit can be boosted by pairing probiotics with what are called prebiotics - if pros are the plants one puts into a garden, then prebiotics are the compost, and they do dramatically increase the effects of probiotics, when combined with a healthy diet.

Probiotic products to try include Biocare Acidophilus Forte, Biokult, Garden of Life Microbiome and Quest Mega 8 Biotix.

The effectiveness of these supplements can be increased with probiotics like D. Atkinson Slippery Elm and Psyllium or Slippery Elm on its own. Other products to try include: Golden Greens Organic Prebiotic Inulin Fibre and Bioforce Organic Potato Juice. And for full spectrum digestive support Natures Plus GI Natural Digestion Perfection offers pro and prebiotics, vitamins and minerals, as well as enzymes to give the digestive process a boost. 

There are many herbs which can help improve the condition of digestive organs and skin...

These are largely traditional herbs, still used in the same way as our great-great-grandparents used them. They include Dandelion (use the root or whole plant as tea, tincture or juice), Cleavers (try tea or tincture), Plantain (try tea tincture or juice), Calendula (use tea or tincture) where fungal infection is suspected, Chamomile (as tea or tincture), and Burdock (as tea, tincture, or low sugar versions of Dandelion & Burdock tonic) where there is mild inflammation. D. Atkinson Skin Tea is a helpful readymade blend, and if there is constipation D. Atkinson Aperient Tea can be very helpful to improve elimination.

Finally, it would be remiss of me not to say that there is a nearly endless list of potential classes of itch, and a long-standing one or severe case, and certainly one which is accompanied by fever or unwellness, should be investigated by a GP. 

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Dee Atkinson MNIMH

Dee is one of the UK's top herbalists and owns and runs D. Atkinson Herbalist in Edinburgh - a herbal dispensary and shop which provide a wide range of herbal medicines, vitamins, supplements, herbal skincare as well as a herbal dispensary. Next door is Napiers Clinic.

Dee qualified as a Medical Herbalist in 1988 and took over Napiers the Herbalists in 1990, building it up into one of the UKs most respected and trusted Complementary Medicine Clinics.

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