Our skin is our interface with the world: through our skin we receive impressions and sensations, and we express our internal state. We receive nutrients and expel waste. It protects us from harmful aspects of our environment, and helps us keep our inner balance.
Beauty, as well as health, is described in terms of clarity and luminescence of the skin. In a world where this is judged rather than just observed, it’s easy to see why our first impulse upon seeing a rash, boil, wart or dry patch, is to get rid of it as quickly as possible. So that expression and response to our current state is suppressed.
Any such “blemish” can be a real clue as to what’s going on internally. An overwhelmed or stagnant liver will encourage the body to eliminate toxins through other exits, and the skin is the largest of these. So any outburst on the skin would suggest that the liver needs a bit of extra support.
A blister on the heel might just be about the new shoes, but persistent mouth ulcers would tell me that there are high levels of sodium in the tissue cells. As would cold sores, or anywhere where there is inflammation or irritation, such as with psoriasis.
A meridian chart may tell us more – for example, a wart on the index finger, along which the colon meridian runs, may well point to intestinal problems. A rash on the knee may relate to a bladder irritation. Put together with information gleaned from a carefully taken case history, we might well gain a good idea of what’s actually going on beneath the surface.
Generally speaking, it will be about the body’s need to eliminate toxins and waste that have been released from the cells, either during the body’s nightly cleanse or during a detox. These toxins and waste, such as excess sodium and calcium, heavy metals and so on, are then carried through the lymph and blood, arrive at the liver for processing, ideally get squeezed out with the bile into the intestines, and finally leave the body when we empty our bowels.
Quite often, though, this route of elimination is stagnant, dehydrated and overworked, especially the liver, and so the body provides alternative routes out. The skin, as the largest of these, is a common next step. We can release toxins and waste directly from the blood and lymph into the skin, then out of the body, whether through sweat, rashes, boils, warts or eczema.
So to suppress this activity through creams, steroids and antibiotics may give us instant relief, but it also means that:
a) we no longer have clues as to what’s really going on and what stage we are at with this;
b) those toxins and excess materials are then pushed deeper into the body.
The irritation and unsightliness may be gone, but where have we pushed it to?
Skin is one of the organs that relates to the Chinese metal element, alongside colon, lungs and mind. The metal element is one of five states that help us to understand where we’re at and what’s going on. Metal element often has a sense of protection, setting boundaries and putting our barriers up, just as the skin provides that boundary between us and our environment. Metal element is also about purity – seeking utmost cleanliness and perfection. To do that, the organs involved can help us rid ourselves of whatever is getting in the way of health and wholeness. When out of balance, they can, however, be very adept at holding on, rather than letting go of what we no longer need.
Colon is at the lowest level of metal element, so an imbalance will show itself there first of all, perhaps with something like constipation, reflecting that need to let go. If you imagine the body as a doughnut, with the digestive tract as the hole in the middle, we can see an instant connection between the colon and the skin. They both act as border control to decide what may or may not enter or leave the body.
If the colon imbalance is pushed deeper, through suppression or further stress, it will move to skin level, from there to lungs. The lungs are another opportunity to release, through breathing or coughing for example, and are also another place where we can hold on for longer than is sometimes healthy. Grief and sadness are held in the lungs.
If the imbalance is allowed to go further, the next step is from lungs to mind. When we develop in the womb, the skin and brain are formed from the same layer of ectoderm cells, so the connection is there from before we are born.
Whichever level we have reached, we can use the skin as a route out to alleviate the stress and toxicity on those deeper organs. Suddenly, a rash or boil may not seem such a bad alternative. In fact, we may even welcome these expressions with gratitude for cleansing our inner organs.
While in the east the skin is known as the “third lung”, in the west we sometimes refer to it as the “third kidney”. Both are referring to its ability to eliminate waste, and both make sense. Our kidneys excrete excess materials through urine, which is largely made up of blood plasma, tissue salts and urea (a byproduct of breaking down protein that is so healing, incidentally, that it is used in many dermatitis and mastitis creams as well as beauty products). Sweat is made of a similar concoction. Night sweats and some rashes can point to overloaded kidneys needing some support.
So the key things here with most forms of skin complaint are:
Hydration: to help the toxins flow from cellular level, through the lymph and blood to the liver, and then right out of the body, preferably through the intestines. In my practice, I also work with naturopathic techniques to help keep these routes clear and energised. These can vary according to each person, as they are not always appropriate, but may involve dry skin brushing, castor oil packing and enemas. Hydration will also help the flow of nutrients to the skin to make it vibrant, elastic and healthy.
Oils: a spectrum of good quality oils will also assist in keeping the body hydrated at all levels. Omega 6 is very good for the skin, but if there is not enough omega 3 as well, this may result in the production of prostaglandins that cause inflammation. Avoid damaged fats by choosing only the highest quality cold pressed unsaturated oils (olive, flax, hemp etc.) for dressings, and cooking only with saturated fats (such as coconut oil and butter ghee).
Reducing toxins: to take the pressure off our liver and kidneys, eat fresh, organic food to avoid pesticides and other chemicals, and avoid alcohol and cigarettes.
Reducing stress in the diet: this might involve temporarily reducing or avoiding wheat, all gluten, dairy, caffeine and/or sugar. All these will dehydrate and encourage stagnation more than flow and release of toxins, in some people more than others. In cases of psoriasis, avoid all members of the nightshade family: potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers and aubergines. Make dietary changes gradually to avoid overwhelming the liver.
See a professional: such as a natural nutritionist who can help you understand what’s lying beneath your skin condition, and suggest ways to support your whole body so that your skin no longer needs to works so hard at keeping us healthy and clear.
Published in Healthwise magazine, summer 2008