Aromatherapy A-Z: Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune condition that causes thick, red, flaky, crusty patches of skin covered with silvery scales. These patches may sometimes start to crack and bleed and become itchy and sore. Psoriasis isn't contagious and cannot be spread from person to person.

The condition is caused by a rapid overproduction of skin cells. In people with psoriasis, new skin cells grow faster than dead skin cells can be shed, leading to a build-up of scaly skin. Patches can be large or small and tend to appear on the knees, elbows, scalp or lower back, but can develop in other areas. In severe cases the scales can cover almost the entire body.

The condition is long-lasting (chronic), but symptoms may come and go, with the severity of symptoms varying greatly from person to person. For some it is a minor irritation, but for others it can be extremely disfiguring and distressing and have a major impact on their quality of life.

As with many skin conditions psoriasis is often genetically inherited. For others it may start or flare-up because of a certain trigger. Triggers can include a skin injury (e.g. a cut or bite), stress, hormonal changes, smoking, excessive alcohol, a throat infection or certain medications.

When treated with allopathic medicine alone, powerful medications are often used that can suppress the symptoms but do not deal with the root cause of the problem – and the drugs can cause horrendous side effects. Creams and topical chemical-based preparations can also be used – often to minimal effect.

Holistic help for psoriasis

There are many different ways to help reduce the likelihood of a flare up – once the symptoms have been reduced – both of which are usually possible with a combination of different forms of holistic natural medicine. In my experience, the most successful options usually include aromatherapy, naturopathy/nutritional medicine, food allergy testing (using kinesiology – to identify foods that are worsening the condition) and traditional Chinese medicine in severe cases.

One of the most comprehensive dietary/lifestyle approaches, that has been achieving staggering results with psoriasis, has been developed by US Chiropractor Dr John Pagano DC . (See “Alternative Cures” by Bill Gottlieb published by Rodale :ISBN: 1-57954 – 058 – 9). He maintains that the skin inflammation is caused by the body's desperate attempt to detoxify itself of excess saturated fats, yeasts, acids and bacteria – which are all so prevalent in the Western diet.

When dealing with psoriasis my first basic check list includes the following:

  • Use gentle, chemical free washing powder and fabric conditioner– free of harsh chemical perfumes which can further irritate sensitive skins (example: Ecover).
  • Avoid harsh chemical laden creams, lotions and especially avoid Sodium Lauryl Sulphate foaming agents in bath and shower gels, shampoos and conditioners. These can inflame sensitive skins.
  • Use natural based deodorants rather than antiperspirants – which block the sweat glands.
  • Drink at least 1.5 litres of filtered/mineral water daily – dehydration can worsen any skin condition.
  • Include high levels of Essential Fatty Acids in your diet – which are found in oily fish, avocado, raw virgin cold pressed olive oil (and other vegetable oils), nuts and seeds especially linseed (try Linwood's ground flax seeds to ensure that you access the EFAs inside the seeds).
  • Avoid food from the “Nightshade” family – courgette, white potatoes (sweet potatoes are fine), peppers and paprika, but most importantly tomatoes – all are inflammatory to those suffering from this condition. Tobacco is also from the same family.
  • Increase your intake of roughage and fresh vegetables – especially leafy green varieties, which can help by increasing various nutrients and lowering high acidity – helping balance pH levels and assuring regularity of bowel movements/detoxification.
  • Many naturopaths believe psoriasis outbreaks are triggered by “leaky gut syndrome" and that it is principally a disease of the intestinal tract. They state that avoiding highly refined foods, excess sugar, caffeine and especially saturated and trans fats can be helpful – as can lowering dairy and wheat products. Applied kinesiology will help to determine if this is required for each person as issues that cause skin inflammatory reactions can vary from person to person.
  • A very regular exercise programme is recommended – to help the body to eliminate toxins, improve oxygenation and blood filtration through the kidneys and liver.
  • Supplements: These will vary according to lifestyle and diet issues, but classic supplements for psoriasis can include: Slippery Elm Intensive (BioCare) – to help line the intestinal tract before eating to promote healing, Essential Fatty Acids, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Vitamin C with bio-flavonoids, Multi–vitamin with bilberry & lutein, High dose Pro-biotics, Lecithin.
Aromatherapy can also be useful in a variety of ways:

  • By using rich, nourishing base oils to help feed dry skin, lubricate, condition and help prevent dehydration.
  • By using essential oils to help prevent infection if skin is cracking during a flare up.
  • By using essential oils to help ease inflammation and heat.
  • By using essential oils to reduce stress.

Aromatherapy recipes for psoriasis

Stress-relieving diffuser blend

Stress can be a major trigger for psoriasis. Antidepressant and sedative essential oils can therefore be helpful. These include Bergamot, Chamomile, Clary Sage, Geranium, Jasmine, Lavender, Melissa, Neroli, Rose, Sandalwood, Sweet Orange and Ylang Ylang. Try diffusing the oils you most like the smell of (as these will be the ones you need), or use them in an aromatherapy inhaler if out and about. Not sure what to use? Try 3 drops Sweet Orange, 2 drops Bergamot and 2 drops Geranium!

Alkalising hydro-therapy bath

For the burning and itching of a flare up (and if the skin is not cracked) try this alkalising bath. Regular hydrotherapy baths may make the skin condition a little worse before it begins to improve – but this can be a good indication that the detoxification process is being stimulated.

Place 1 cup cornflour, 1 cup baking soda and 1 cup oats in a pop sock and tie securely. Run a warm (not hot) bath and add your pop sock and 1 cup of apple cider vinegar to the water - squeezing the sock well! Use this bath 5 times a week to help soothe and heal.

Moisturising bath

Once or twice weekly try this bath blend to help moisturise and soothe the skin and help you relax and unwind. The salt and oils will also help to prevent infection if the skin is cracked. Mix 1/2 cup Dead Sea Salt, 1 cup oats, 1 teaspoon Jojoba Oil, 1 teaspoon Extra Virgin Cold Pressed Olive Oil, 2 drops German Chamomile, 4 Bergamot and 4 Lavender. Place in a pop sock and tie securely. Add to the bath once the water has run and squeeze regularly to help dissolve the salts and release the oat milk.

Moisturising Aloe Vera Gel/Cream

Use after a bath or shower on lesions – or areas where lesions can appear – always do a skin patch test first to help ensure suitability. Take 100ml Aloe Vera & Seaweed Gel OR Moisturising Cream Base and add 10ml Vitamin E Oil,  10ml Jojoba Oil, 10ml Avocado Oil, 3 drops German Chamomile, 4 Tea Tree, 4 Patchouli, 10 Bergamot and 10 Lavender. Stir well and keep in an airtight jar.

If you would like any further advice please do not hesitate to contact us directly.

Joannah Metcalfe
Consultant Aromatherapist

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