Try to relax: Emotional traumas, such as a new job or the death of a loved one, precede as many as 80 percent of flare-ups.
Q. Are there any known home remedies for psoriasis? And which herbs are commonly used to help clear up the lesions?
A. Keville responds: In many cases, herbal treatments for psoriasis can greatly improve this troublesome skin condition. Psoriasis causes cells to grow too quickly, producing reddish lesions and silvery scales that pile up and flake off. Itching and bleeding are common. Psoriasis can come and go, and just when you think you have it under control, there it is again! The longer you’ve had it, the longer it may take to clear up, so have patience.
For an external treatment, use a salve or cream that contains skin-healing herbs such as calendula (Calendula officinalis) and St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) with essential oils of tea tree and lavender. Apply the salve twice daily directly on the psoriasis. Another good idea is to wash with herbal cleansers designed for dry skin instead of soap, which can irritate and dry the skin more. Exposure to direct sunlight (or a long-wave ultraviolet light lamp) is effective as well.
Correcting abnormal liver function is important in the treatment of psoriasis. One of the liver’s many jobs is to filter and detoxify the blood, and when that’s not happening efficiently, the result can manifest itself on the skin. Some liver herbs favored by herbalists to treat psoriasis include burdock (Arctium lappa) and milk thistle (Silybum marianum). There also might be a connection with your immune system and to food allergies. You can treat both your liver and immune system with bupleurum root (Bupleurum chinensis) and pau d’arco bark (Tabebuia spp.).
Stress usually worsens psoriasis, so taking relaxing herbs such as valerian (Valeriana officinalis) will help. Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) and evening primrose oil (Oenothera biennis), taken internally, help reduce skin inflammation. Of particular benefit are the omega-3 fatty acids found in cold-water fish and flax seed oil.
Khalsa responds: As common as this disease is, most patients are not very satisfied with the medical management of their disease. The good news is that natural methods can be successful.
Psoriasis episodes can be triggered by (among other things) emotional stress, trauma, dry skin and bacterial infection. An immune system abnormality likely plays a role. Psoriasis is not contagious, but tends to run in families. From the botanical medicine point of view, psoriasis is a type of inflammatory skin disease. It is akin to dermatitis (inflammation of the skin), a general term for a wide selection of skin disorders.
A standard medical treatment is to soak in a warm bath for 10 to 15 minutes, then apply a topical ointment. Petroleum jelly helps the skin retain moisture. Other treatments include salicylic acid ointment; steroid-based creams or ointments; calcipotriene, which is related to vitamin D; and coal-tar ointments and shampoos.
Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), a distilled bark extract, is a mainstream psoriasis treatment in Germany. The most successful natural ointment I have used is a combination of aloe (Aloe vera) gel, witch hazel, vitamin E oil, menthol, tea tree oil, pine tar, cedar leaf oil and clove oil.
Treating the surface helps symptoms, but to treat the full disease, herbalists slowly balance the body systems involved in psoriasis. The treatment centers on reducing inflammation in the skin, healing the tissue of the skin if necessary, and eliminating the source of the irritating contaminants through the liver, kidneys and large intestine. Anti-inflammatory botanicals reduce skin symptoms. The best skin anti-inflammatory I know is green vegetables. Use as large a percentage of green vegetables in the diet as possible. Once the skin inflammation begins to quiet down, try gotu kola (Centella asiatica), the most impressive herb I have seen for treating connective tissue damage, to heal the underlying structure of the tissue.
Kathi Keville is director of the American Herb Association and author of 11 herb and aromatherapy books including Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art (Crossing Press, 2009). She teaches seminars throughout the United States.
Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa has more than 25 years of experience with medicinal herbs. A licensed dietitian/nutritionist, massage therapist and board member of the American Herbalists Guild, he specializes in Ayurvedic, Chinese and North American healing traditions.
Please send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Ask the Herbalist” in the subject line. The information offered in “Ask the Herbalist” is not intended to be a substitute for advice from your health-care provider.