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When I treat young children in my practice, the most common condition I see is eczema. In second place is a viral condition called molluscum contagiosum. It’s actually quite common for kids with eczema to also have molluscum.
In this condition, raised bumps appear on the skin that are pinkish-red or skin colored. Some say they look like warts, but that’s not totally accurate. The bumps usually have little indentations in the middle of them. They can show up on any part of the body, but most often on the legs, arms or genital area. There could be one bump, but most of the time there are several that are often seen in groups. Some children find them to be itchy – others don’t. As the name suggests, molluscum contagiosum can be quite contagious and easily transferred by touching other children, toys or playground equipment.
Often, the condition clears on its own, and many doctors advise families to just wait and see.
But for stubborn cases, many parents want to be proactive in getting treatment. In western medicine, the lesions can be frozen or scraped off, or burned off with a chemical cream. Children often find this treatment to be really painful. I assume this is why it’s so common for parents to seek out herbal alternatives, which is how they end up in my practice.
Herbal medicine for molluscum is totally painless. In the vast majority of cases, children use topical treatment alone (and don’t need to take internal herbs at all). I give them herb teas that are used as a wash or compress, followed by an ointment.
The herbs that I make into a compress can have anywhere between 6 and 12 ingredients. The main focus is to use anti-viral herbs that target molluscum. The herbs will vary based on the look of the lesions (are they flesh colored, pink, red or irritated?) as well as the child’s other symptoms (like – do they also have eczema, for example).
It takes diligence to apply the herbs and ointment on a daily basis, but it’s worth it to clear the skin of this pesky virus.
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I write a lot about perioral dermatitis (POD) on this site for a couple of reasons. First – I treat a lot of it in my Chinese medicine practice. Second – it’s a very rewarding condition to treat.
For people with skin problems, there’s nothing worse than a red and itchy rash that shows up right on the face. Patients with POD very often get great results with herbs. The physical changes are dramatic, but the emotional changes are sometimes even more significant. I’ve seen many cases where healing from POD is truly life changing.
For me, this is one of the conditions that really highlights why I’ve chosen to specialize in dermatology. It’s very rewarding when people can see major differences in their skin. But it’s maybe even more rewarding when they feel so much better in their skin (so to speak). Having clear skin on the face goes a long way in helping people regain confidence, happiness and overall well-being.
It’s really common in my practice to see POD patients who have been on a frustrating journey of unrelenting skin flares. Often they’ve spent most of their lives with near perfect skin. They may have had mild acne in their teens, but sometimes not even that. Then suddenly – at the age of 25, 35 or 40, the skin develops this awful red rash. It can be itchy, it can be flaky, and sometimes there are bumps with fluid. Not knowing what to do, they’ll often try over the counter creams and ointments. Sometimes they help, and sometimes they don’t, but generally the rash gets progressively worse. Then they go to the dermatologist and are prescribed a cortisone cream that may or may not work. But as soon as they stop, the skin goes starts to totally flare – worse than anything they experienced before. They try to cover up the rash with makeup, and the makeup itself makes the skin worse. They’re bummed that they have this rash on their face, but even more bummed that *everything* they are doing to help is doing more harm than good. It’s truly crazy making! The skin changes from day to day, so they can’t tell what’s really causing changes, and the “healing” creams end up making it worse half the time.
It’s been my experience that *anything* – even the most mild creams (including the herbal creams we make at our clinic) – can make POD worse.
My advice is to keep it simple. Whenever possible, don’t put anything at all on the lesions. Avoid makeup as much as you can.
If there is extreme dryness, flaking, or bad itching, then I recommend only using products that have one ingredient in them. Stick with single ingredient products and you’ll know how well your skin responds to that ingredient. Some of my favorites are:
Each of these should be tested individually over a period of days to make sure there is no sensitivity.
People ask me this all the time. Chinese medicine looks at this condition as having two primary “archetypes” – the Liver archetype and the Spleen archetype. I’m capitalizing Liver and Spleen to distinguish them as Chinese medicine terms. In western medicine your Liver and Spleen can be 100% healthy, but Chinese medicine identifies them as whole meridian systems that have various imbalances.
The Liver archetype patient is prone to Liver Qi stagnation (one of the patterns of imbalance in Chinese medicine). These patients may be prone to irritability, stress, and frustration. They may have irregular or painful periods, or the skin can get worse around their periods. The rash on the face tends to have an angry red color and may itch.
The Spleen archetype patient is prone to Spleen Qi deficiency (another pattern of imbalance). These patients may have ongoing digestive problems such as indigestion, bloating, loose stools or gas. They may get tired easily or have a weak immune system. The rash on their face may be more pink or pale red with bumps with liquid or weeping.
These patterns are very commonly seen in Chinese medicine, and are the underlying root cause of POD. Very often a time of extreme stress may cause POD to develop in a Liver type patient. Eating unhealthy foods or ongoing digestive problems may cause POD to develop in a Spleen type patient. Often, people can have both these imbalances going on at the same time.
As you know by now, my focus in healing POD is not to rely on topical products. My philosophy is all about healing from within. I prescribe custom herbal formulas that can have anywhere between 8 and 18 herbs in them. Each formula is individualized for the unique nature of the patient. We extract the herbs into a tea which patients drink twice a day. Every three weeks I change the ingredients in the formula according to the changing nature of the condition as it heals. A course of treatment generally lasts about 3 to 4 months, depending on the length and severity of the condition.
If you are a female with POD and you are using birth control to stop your periods from coming every month, it’s highly possible that this could be contributing to your skin condition. Have I read any research studies to back up my claim? … No. But in my clinical practice I can tell you that I’ve seen countless cases of POD in women who stop their periods from coming each month. There is no other skin condition where I see such a direct link between not menstruating and developing an ongoing, recurring inflammatory rash.
From the perspective of Chinese medicine, this relates to the Liver Qi mentioned above. When the period is artificially stopped, the Liver Qi stagnates. Stagnant Liver Qi leads to heat which rises up to the face causing ongoing inflammation. Allowing your body to menstruate every month will allow the Liver Qi to course and flow as it should. This will go a long way in helping your body heal.
I hope this overview gives you a deeper understanding of Chinese medicine’s approach to understanding and treating perioral dermatitis. More info on our site can be found here:
Two days before Christmas, just as we were getting ready to turn out the lights and go home for the holidays, a huge crate arrived at our door. I had almost forgotten it was coming that day. Naturally I was intimidated – how would I ever lift or even open this large box? – but mostly excited for what was inside!
Over a year ago, my herb mentor, Mazin Al-Khafaji, was visiting LA to teach a class. He lives in England, where I studied with him. After a number of trips back and forth to London in 2012 and 2013, I took his Dermatology Diploma Course. It was a lot of hard work and I felt very proud to have completed it. Mazin is tops in the field of herbal dermatology. He has had success with complicated cases for over thirty years and his record keeping is impeccable. So there was no question that his teaching is worth traveling halfway across the world for.
When Mazin was in LA, I had the good fortune of him coming to check out my herb pharmacy. He was curious about the quality of herbs and the set-up that I had. In my pharmacy, he opened herb jars, smelled the herbs, tasted the herbs. It was such an amazing experience for me to have this kind of input – so fun and educational.
One major recommendation that he made was that I purchase a packing machine from China. (Spoiler alert: *this* is what’s in the crate!) These are the same machines that are used in most hospitals in China that provide Traditional Chinese Medicine. They are truly top of the line.
I certainly had my hesitations – I know that these machines can have problems and I’m certainly no handyman. I don’t think the company will send a repair person over when I run into trouble. But I finally decided to go for it, and several months after contacting the company, my new machine arrived – just in time for Christmas.
But what makes me most excited is looking to the future of Yin Yang Dermatology. With the top quality herbs that I am able to source, and the great machines that we use to prepare each person’s customized formula, my dedication to offering only the best to my patients has now reached a whole new level.
If you’ve spent any time on this site, you’ve probably seen references to “customized” formulas. Customizing involves choosing precise herbs that differ from person to person – treating not only the individual nature of their skin condition, but also their overall health and constitution.
At my clinic we have around 300 herbs on the shelves. How do I go about choosing which ones to prescribe? The process is very involved. But I’d like to highlight three herbs to show just how precise the treatment of acne can be.
When writing a formula, first I look at the condition. The best herbs for acne may not be the best herbs for rosacea. The best herbs for psoriasis differ from the best herbs for eczema.
Then I look at the Chinese medicine “patterns of disharmony” that cause the skin condition and other health imbalances. I won’t bore you with an entire theory lecture here, but I will say: most people present with 3, 5, 7 or more patterns at the same time. Generally speaking, the more complicated the health picture, the more patterns a person has. If you’ve heard terms like “the liver qi is stagnant” or the “stomach qi is hot” — these are examples of “patterns of disharmony.”
Within each “pattern of disharmony” there are a wide variety of herbs to choose from, each with different specific functions.
So when I go about writing a formula for acne, I will choose small groups of herbs to address each pattern. If someone presents with 5 different patterns, the formula may have 15 to 18 herbs in it. The three herbs we’re looking at here actually treat the *same* pattern — they all eliminate what Chinese medicine calls fire toxins. Yet each would be chosen for different circumstances in different cases of acne.
Let’s look at the first one – Pu Gong Ying (dandelion). It is cold, sweet and bitter, and is famous for removing swellings and nodules. I use it in acne when there are widespread whiteheads with some pustules that start under the surface of the skin. These aren’t deep cystic nodules, and they aren’t totally on the surface of the skin either. They are mid-level pimples that might be red and angry looking.
This differs from the second herb – Jin Yin Hua (honeysuckle). It is cold and sweet, and is in a famous cold remedy that treats sore throat. In acne, Jin Yin Hua is used for superficial whiteheads, blackheads and pustules that are on the surface of the skin. It is powerfully anti-bacterial and is effective against P. Acnes and Staphylococcus epidermidis, bacteria that are commonly involved in acne.
As I mentioned, these three herbs all address just one pattern – fire toxins. Each formula I write for acne will include 2 to 4 herbs for fire toxins. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. There will be many other herbs necessary to address the various other patterns that a patient has at the same time. If a person presents with 5 patterns, fire toxins are just one of the five. In each of these patterns, herbs are specifically chosen (just like they are in the example above) – based on signs, symptoms and the precise look of the skin. When you look closely, you can see how different every person is. No two formulas will ever be identical.
On that note, I’d like to stress one point. Wherever you may be as you read this – if you are looking to heal your skin condition with Chinese herbs, seek out someone who specializes in treating skin disorders. Many herbalists, acupuncturists, naturopaths and homeopaths have never taken one single class in dermatology. Treatment with herbs is nuanced, and skin diseases can be particularly challenging, but they do respond very well to herbal treatment. As you can see with the example above, one strength of herbal medicine is the ability to be detailed and precise. But a practitioner needs to have the right education and experience to address the complexities of treating the skin.
Herbal medicine is a holistic system, treating the whole person and getting to the underlying root of skin conditions. Herbs don’t provide a “quick fix” but they do offer a complete means of healing when properly prescribed.
Learn more about our herbal treatment of acne…