Skin Deep

Gary Piscopo, ND, LAc 

Summertime can be a difficult time to be in one’s skin. The gauntlet of dermatological insults ranges from sunburn to various types of toxic exposure. In the Chinese medical classic, Profound Insights on External Diseases, it was recognized that: “[During] the dog days of summer, hard working persons as they labor do not cherish their lives, [and] are exposed intensely to the sun.” The result disorder was known in Chinese medicine as ri shai chuang or “sunshine sores”.


Sunburn results when the amount of exposure to the sun or other ultraviolet light source exceeds the ability of the body’s protective pigment, melanin, to safeguard the skin. The result is inflammation of the skin and the tissues just beneath it. Sunburn is always damaging to the skin and is especially hazardous for young children.

The best protection is prevention, although some so-called preventative measure can be problematic. A good example of this is the issue of sunscreens. First, ingredients in some sunscreens, such as Pava aminobenzoic acid, or PABA, can themselves cause skin reactions (reliable products are available without PABA). But more importantly, people can abuse sunscreens, adopting the unhealthy attitude that using sunscreens means they can stay in the sun as long as they wish.

As with many things, a good part of intelligent prevention rests on common sense. Children under a year old should always be kept out of direct sunlight. Avoiding sun exposure during the peak hours of the suns rays (10 am to 4 pm), applying sunscreen with a SPF of at least 15 every two hours, and the wearing of sunhats and UV protected sunglasses by children and fair skinned individuals are other useful tips. Finally, research indicates that regular skin self-exams could potentially save 4,500 lives annually.

Skin Cancer

This year more than one million Americans will develop one of the three forms of skin cancer. Statistically, over ninety percent of these cancers will appear on sun-exposed skin. The good news is that many of these cancer occurrences are preventable.

Of the three types of skin cancers, melanoma is the most serious as it is potentially fatal. It usually begins as a dark brown or black patch with irregular borders. The second most common skin cancer in Caucasians is squamous cell carcinoma, which often present as scaly patches or raised growths on the skin in such places as the tip of the nose, the forehead, lower lip, or hands. The third kind of cancer, basal cell carcinoma, often starts as small, fleshy bumps on the face, ears, lips, or around the mouth. These forms of cancer can be curable if detected early. If you see any changes in the skin, such as a growth, a sore that does not heal, or moles that are starting to look irregular, you may want to consult your physician.

Beautiful skin the natural way

Naturopathic and Chinese medicine are in agreement concerning methods of keeping the skin healthy. For optimal skin well-being, consider the following:

1. Diet: Your skin, as one of the organs of elimination, reflect your body’s internal state. An increase build up of toxins in the body can overload the skin’s ability to assist in elimination and can result in clogged pores and eruptions of various kinds. Having plenty of fiber and water in the diet can help to ensure that the other elimination systems are working properly, which helps the skin to function at a more effective level.

Studies have shown that taking higher amounts of antioxidants such as Vit E, Vit C, and carotenes have a protective effect against harmful solar radiation. Individuals taking St. John’s Wort will need extra protection in the sun as, taken at high levels, this herb can contribute to photosensitivity and decrease tanning time.

2. Cleansing: Cleansing of the skin can occur on a number of levels. For superficial cleansing, be sure to use good quality products with a minimum of additives and harsh chemicals. For deeper forms of cleansing, supervised fasts and detoxification programs, alone or in combination, may be helpful in resorting skin health. For addressing the health of face specifically, with the so-called “acupuncture facelift” may be worth exploring. Since the face is a delicate and sensitive area, ensure that the person doing the procedure is not only licensed but has a good deal of experience in this area as well.

3. Lifestyle: regular aerobic exercise is essential for keeping your skin healthy and vibrant. It allows for oxygenation of the whole body and can potentially expose the skin to helpful doses of Vitamin D if done outdoors and in moderation. In addition, exercise is a great way to help manage stress and balance the emotional state, both of which have an substantial effect on the well being of the skin. As in other areas of health, lifestyle choices can have a profound impact on your skin’s health.

The summer is a wonderful time to enjoy family, friends, and nature. Summer can also be a great time to enjoy one’s body, if you remember that skin health is anything but skin deep.