Herpes is a condition that not a lot of people want to talk about. It’s not uncommon for me to see a patient who tells me that they’ve never talked about their genital herpes before or never told anyone that they have it.
For me it can be very upsetting to see how this particular virus can wreak so much havoc – both physically and emotionally – for those who suffer with it. Every new flare can cause bouts of anxiety – and the more anxious people get, the worse the flares become. Some people go into a depression, socialize less, and stop dating. Even oral herpes which hasn’t been sexually contracted can cause feelings of shame and embarrassment for a lot of people. This is where holistic medicine shines. In any condition where the emotions are a trigger for physical symptoms – or when physical symptoms cause emotional pain and trauma, it’s always best to treat the whole person.
Not surprisingly, it’s my belief that Chinese herbal medicine offers the best holistic treatment for herpes. Herbal formulas can be made up of anywhere between 12 and 18 herbs – each one chosen to match the individual person it’s being prescribed for. Many herbs have anti-viral properties, but different anti-viral herbs would be used for genital herpes than I’d prescribe for oral herpes. Each persons herpes symptoms may vary – with some people experiencing sharp pain, and others burning or itching. Some people have active blisters, others may have flat, pin-point lesions. I choose different herbs for all these different scenarios.
In addition, I include herbs to address emotional symptoms. For some of my patients who have constant herpes flares, they live in fear of when the next outbreak will come. And when it does come, it sends them into a complete downward spiral emotionally. Herbs can’t make these feelings go away, but they can be very calming and grounding. They also help to prevent flares from happening when there’s an obvious link where stress and anxiety are the cause of the flares.
Another strength of holistic medicine is that herbs will treat other physical symptoms that may seem completely unrelated to herpes. So if there are problems with low energy, digestive complaints, or difficult periods, the herbal formula takes all of that into account to treat the whole person. Some women have painful or irregular periods that are totally unrelated to herpes outbreaks. And for others, outbreaks happen every month with the start of the period and there’s a clear connection. Either way, the herbal formula targets each person’s unique patterns to bring balance and healing.
For many of my patients, the standard pharmaceutical medicines they’ve been prescribed haven’t worked well at all, or they were effective for a time and then stopped working. Other patients simply prefer natural treatment approaches to being on long term medications. Regardless of why they’ve chosen herbal medicine, it’s very common that they see great results – even when other methods have failed.
This is likely because each formula contains multiple anti-viral herbs, and these herbs change over time. Also – when the herbs are cooked together as a decoction, there’s a synergy that happens in the cooking process that improves the efficacy of the formula. Also, in using whole plants (rather than extracting specific constituents) the effect of each whole herb is greater than the sum of the component parts.
Many people are concerned that they will need to be on herbs “forever” since the herpes virus is never completely eliminated from the body. This is absolutely not the case. Most patients will need to take herbal tea daily for around two to four months. This varies based on the severity of the case and their overall constitution an healing. After that, they may take herbs preventively by doing a 3-week round of tea once every 3-4 months. Some of my patients will have a follow-up round of tea once per year. Others are able to stop the teas altogether. Although the herpes virus remains in the body, it is possible to send it into remission where people are no longer experiencing any outbreaks.
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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.