In October of this year, the, and practitioners of Ayurvedic, Naturopathic, and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), in one place. This was the first time in the United States that practitioners from these different areas of medicine were brought together to discuss and learn different approaches to skin care and treatment of dermatologic diseases.
Of all the medical specialties, it is presumed that dermatology is the most inherently holistic. By examining the hair, skin, and nails, we are able to diagnose internal organ diseases such as liver failure (jaundice, veins on stomach), thyroid disease (madarosis), sarcoidosis, and infectious diseases (cutaneous manifestations of HIV), diabetes (acanthosis nigricans, tripe palm), polycystic ovary syndrome (acne, hirsutism), and porphyria, just to name a few. We are also able to treat cutaneous conditions, such as psoriasis, with biologic medications, treatment that in turn, also benefits internal manifestations such as joint, cardiovascular, and metabolic disease. In TCM and Ayurveda, the skin, hair, body type, and tongue can also be analyzed to diagnose and treat disease.
Salves and skin care routines that would be considered natural or holistic have been “prescribed” by Western dermatologists with an MD license for many years. Most medicines initially come from nature, and it is only in the past century, with the boom in the pharmaceutical industry and development of synthetic prescription medications, that people have forgotten this. Some of this boom has been needed to treat enormous populations, as natural resources can be scarce, and in some cases, only an extract of the plant may be needed for treatment, where other elements may be ineffective or even harmful.
Domeboro solution, Epsom salt soaks, and wet to dry soaks are used to draw out and treat infections. Bleach baths are often used to decrease bacterial load and calm inflammation when treating eczema. In Mohs surgery, Fredrick Mohs initially used a zinc chloride paste on nonmelanoma skin cancers in between stages, before frozen section processing and cosmetic reconstruction made Mohs what it is today. In the days of Hippocrates, food was medicine. If you were “red in the face” your blood was deemed too acidic and alkaline-forming foods or “cold foods” were given. This has now again come full circle with rosacea and evidence supporting a link between disease flares or improvement related to foods and the gut microbiome.
On a photography trip to Wyoming, I learned how Native Americans in the United States wiped the white powder from the bark of aspen trees on their skin and used it as sunscreen. In Mongolia, I learned how fat from a sheep’s bottom was used in beauty skin care routines. It is from native and nomadic people that we can often learn how effective natural methods can be used, especially in cases where the treatment regimens may not be written down. With Ayurveda and TCM, we are lucky that textbooks thousands of years old and professors and schools are available to educate us about these ancient practices.
The rediscovery of ancient treatments through the study of ethnobotany, Ayurveda, and TCM has been fascinating, as most of these approaches focus not just on the skin, but on treating the patient as a whole, inside and out (often depending on the discipline treating mind, body, and spirit), with the effects ultimately benefiting the skin. With the many advances in Western medicine over the past 2,000 years, starting with Hippocrates, it will be interesting to see how we, in the field of dermatology, can still learn from and potentially integrate medicine that originated 3,000-5,000 plus years ago in Ayurveda and 2,000-plus years ago in TCM that is still practiced today. In the future, we hope to have more columns about these specialties and how they are used in skin and beauty.
Dr. Wesley and Dr. Talakoub are cocontributors to this column. Dr. Wesley practices dermatology in Beverly Hills, Calif. Dr. Talakoub is in private practice in McLean, Va. This month’s column is by Dr. Wesley. Write to them at [email protected]. They had no relevant disclosures.