Wouldn’t it be great if we could design a single piece of clothing that was protective, comfortable, stretchable as well as stain-resistant, water-resistant and fade-resistant? One that never needs ironing and could self-repair from any rips, cuts or burns? Well, technically, you already have such a “suit” and it will last you your entire life if you care for it well, and that is, your skin.
Known also as the Integumentary System. Skin is the largest organ of the human body performing a multitude of functions, such as being a physical barrier for chemical, bacterial or mechanical damage, protecting us from UV radiation and insulating our life-sustaining organs, blood vessels and tissue. It also performs thermal regulation and synthesises Vitamin D. The complexity of the functions it performs is often taken for granted.
NATUROPATHIC SKIN CONSULTATIONS: THE APPROACH
For those not acquainted with naturopathic techniques, the in-depth nature to which a naturopath explores many facets of a persons’ health and lifestyle could be puzzling. Particularly because medically, skin conditions are treated almost exclusively with external and topical applications with limited importance placed on more deeply investigating what may have been the catalyst for the skin condition to begin with.
So, what are the top 5 areas that a naturopathic consultation explores?
1. The Gut & Microbiome
The connection between the health of the skin and the enduring health of our gastrointestinal system cannot be overlooked.
Intestinal permeability will often present outwardly on the skin, as it leads to inflammation, unfavourable microbiota populations, immune dysfunction and can impair our ability to adequately yield nutrients from our diet.
Therefore a practitioner may need to ask about:
- Bowel habits - including frequency, colour and odour.
- Medical history of antibiotic use.
- Birth and breast-feeding history.
- Digestive function - including wind, bloating, belching, food intolerances and when and how you eat your meals.
The human body is 70% fluid, therefore it goes without saying, we need to be consistently meeting hydration requirements throughout the day. We also need to ensure intake of hydration-robbing beverages, such as energy drinks, soft drinks, alcohol and coffee is adequately balanced out with water.
Insufficient water intake affects our skin through hydration, as dry skin is less robust to the rigours of exposure, but internally, it’s also important for circulatory function. Impaired circulatory function means your nutrients cannot be carried to your skin and far extremities. Dehydration can influence the composition of sweat, but also impair the process, which itself, is an important eliminatory function.
Therefore a practitioner may need to ask:
- How much water you drink, how often and whether it’s tap vs. filtered or bottled?
- What other beverages you’re consuming and how often?
- What is your alcohol intake?
- Do you swim often in chlorinated pools?
The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.
The diet is our key source of important vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and fibres that are needed to run our body. A wide range of meats, fruits and vegetables is needed to sufficiently supply these needs. Modern diets can often lack fresh fruits, vegetables and meat, in favour of convenient packaged and “fast foods” creating a nutrient debt and the skin can suffer the consequences.
Remembering that the gut, skin and immune system are intrinsically connected; some people can respond to substances within, or on foods too, exacerbating their skin disorders. This could include, artificial colours and preservatives, or even the sprays from agriculture. Similarly, the naturally occurring elements of foods could also be to blame such as salicylates, nitrites or gluten. Food allergies, intolerances or sensitivities can take a long time to uncover, yet, often form the key to unlocking the cause of a skin condition.
Therefore your practitioner may ask you to:
- Keep a Food & Symptom Diary to identify triggers.
- Explore food allergy testing.
- Temporarily give up certain foods in a rotation-elimination.
4. Skin & Personal Care Regimes and Environmental or Occupational Triggers
Our skin comes into contact with hundreds of chemicals every day. There are those that we actively put there ourselves, such as creams, lotions, soaps, make up, deodorants, perfumes, nail polish or sunscreen. There are also those that we come into contact with as we go about our day such as washing powder and fabric softener residues on clothing, paints and waxes on surfaces, cleaning products and flame retardants on car seats and furniture to name a few.
The skin is an essential barrier to these elements, but it’s not completely impermeable and as aforementioned, dry skin is not as robust against elements it comes into contact with. In any given day, there are thousands of chemicals you’ve come into contact with and it could just be one of those many elements triggering the skin condition. Where you work, where you live and what products you are using are therefore necessary to investigate.
Therefore your practitioner may ask you:
- To list your skin and personal care products and to switch out for more simple, natural alternatives.
- Whether you’ve added anything new, or changed anything in your routine.
- To minimise the load on the body by switching to alternatives that are gentler or more natural.
- Details of your work and home environment & what you come into contact with regularly.
5. Genetics & Family History
Family medical histories can help to identify patterns. As the science of genetics continues to evolve, more is being understood about how certain conditions are passed on through generations. Skin conditions, or “atopy”, is a common characteristic that tends to run in families.
Certain genetics can influence biochemical pathways of key nutrients, such as B vitamins, essential fatty acids or zinc. Certain tests could reveal these genetic traits, known as single nucleotide polymorphisms and practitioners can help to identify strategies to compensate the mechanisms that may be affected.
Therefore your practitioner may ask you:
- A detailed medical history going back 2-3 generations.
- To have a salivary genetic profiling test completed.
The naturopathic consultation process can be of considerable depth and time. It can also seem more personal or “invasive” and can be confronting for those who aren't used to having their health history so comprehensively explored. The process itself, is one of careful investigation and pattern exploration to uncover underlying factors as play in the person’s presenting condition. Sometimes the answer, and the ensuing treatment are straight-forward. Though, often, in skin conditions there can be multiple factors at play and it can take considerable time to unravel them all.