I have had the pleasure of working with local medical herbalist Ola Obasi in various capacities over the past year. Ola is a driving force in the Pittsburgh herbal scene and is a blessing to the community. I am so pleased that she was able to do this interview to bring light to some holistic ways we can all take better care of ourselves and therefore, our skin. Check out her website and shop, Ola’s Herb Shop, where she does health consultations, education and carries beautiful products online and in person.
Q: As a medical herbalist, what is your philosophy on skin care?
As a medical herbalist and a person who has struggled with acne vulgaris throughout my 20’s and early 30’s, I believe that skin health starts from inside-out. Skin problems like acne, rashes or skin diseases all stem from certain imbalances with the internal organs.
In addition, lifestyle and hygienic habits may also be secondary factors. The skin functions as the largest elimination organ of the human body, so caring for it is essential for proper detoxification to occur.
Q: Do you find that there is a main cause to most skin issues? Can you please elaborate on the cause?
No. There are several factors that could contribute to skin issues and all may originate in various places. For example, the least common reason for skin issues such as hygiene could be a possibility especially in adolescents. As their hormones change and they produce more oil through their sebaceous glands, this group would find that simply washing and cleansing with certain gels and pH products could make a large difference in their skin’s appearance.
Also, skin products are prime in assisting the skin to cleanse environmental pollutants that may also stress the skin’s health. However, most people with skin issues are very clean and aware of the imbalance of their skin because it’s obvious.
The most common reasons for skin issues could be, say, dietary. The majority of my clients who struggle with skin problems experience a reaction from their food. They may be intolerant or allergic and the body is trying to detox the “toxin” out. Being that the skin is the largest elimination organ it makes sense that toxins would show up on it.
Next, specific skin issues such as eczema or psoriasis originate from imbalances in the digestive system. Often, liver herbs are recommended to support liver to detox. In a nutshell, proper digestive function, nutrition, and lifestyle are factors in maintaining skin health.
Q: With that being said, what are some simple ways to get to the root of many skin problems (ie diet, exercise or something else)?
So to improve skin in general, I would start with adequate intake of water, water, water. Pure water is the prime remedy for all problem skin cases; individuals with acne, aging skin, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, dry skin, rashes etc. Simply because our bodies are composed of over 70 percent water and our body functions require water to function at a cellular level. Detoxification processes require water to cleanse and rejuvenate cells and tissues. So people need to be conscious about having healthy water intake.
Another daily practice is diet. To pay attention to food reactions and interactions is highly important. These could vary from dairy products to citrus fruits. It would be advisable in this instance to work with a nutritionist or knowledgeable health care practitioner closely to figure out which foods are toxic in the body.
Stress reduction! Hormonal imbalances should be considered too. Reproductive and stress hormones are linked to creating skin problems when imbalanced. Acne in particular could be closely related to testosterone levels in the body. It is a reason why adolescents commonly struggle with acne since at puberty hormonal growths and transitions are taking place to find balance in the body.
However, stress is also a common factor in acne, psoriasis, rosacea and other skin problems. The stress hormone, cortisol, can affect reproductive hormones such as testosterone which could lead to higher acne production, but can also aggravate sebaceous and sebum stimulation and secretion increasing acne, psoriasis and other skin problems.
Herbal remedies, nutrition and supplements are recommended in optimizing proper hormonal balance.
In line with skin hygiene, it is important to use clean, natural and well designed skin care products for individual use. Harsh products can permanently damage the skin or create a reactive response such as rashes, contact dermatitis and hives.
Natural products for specific skin types can be gentle and modified for individual need. In addition, natural skin care practices such as facial steaming, exfoliation, moisturizing, masking and toning are all beneficial in maintaining skin care, nurturing and assisting the elimination, repair and rejuvenation process to take place.
Moreover, natural topical products can assist the skin’s immunity towards bacteria, fungi and viruses. This is especially specific to skin problems such as warts and tinnea.
Lastly, many times people neglect to monitor their bathroom habits. When nature calls it is important to obey. Having consistent bowel movements is crucial in the detoxification process therefore healthy skin care. Constipation has been linked to skin problems and should be rectified immediately.
~To sum, important factors for maintaining or regaining skin health~
1. Healthy water habits: pure, clean water drunk in adequate amounts
2. Dietary habits and healthy digestion: pay attention to the body and notice if there are trigger foods. Decrease unhealthy fats, like imbalance of Omega 6, fried foods and other fast foods. Eat more antioxidant type foods (vegetables, fruits) and soluble and insoluble fibers.
3. Balance hormones with herbal therapy and supplements
4. Hygienic practices; cleansing, exfoliating, masking, moisturizing, steaming the skin.
5. Daily bowel movement habits.
Q: I was always taught that with skin issues we look at the liver. Thoughts on that?
I have heard many herbalists say the same thing. I think the liver is one piece of the puzzle as it manufactures hormones and excess hormones are excreted in the bile and then eliminated. It is also related to digestion and healthy bowel movements.
However, it is unfair to only look at the liver. There are certainly other organs in the body that can affect the skin. And these organs need to be nurtured to optimize healthy skin growth and repair. Moreover, an outward focus on the skin using healthy, clean and natural products designed to assist in the repair of damaged or wounded skin is crucial.
Since the skin contains pores that are like nostrils breathing in all that is around us, including environmental toxins and pollution, one has to consider their environment as a factor in skin health. So it is unfair to only focus on the liver, I choose to focus on the holistic connection of skin care and health which as you can see can be like putting puzzle pieces together.
Thank you for sharing your wisdom, Ola.