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Skin Deep

Nutrition for the Skin

The skin is the largest organ system in the human body, accounting for 16 percent of total body weight and covering sixteen to twenty-two square feet of surface area. Our skin separates and informs us with regard to our surroundings, serving to waterproof, cushion and protect the deeper tissues, excrete wastes and regulate temperature. In humans, the skin additionally provides vitamin D synthesis. Our skin is also the attachment site for sensory receptors to detect pain, sensation, pressure and temperature. Thus the skin serves both neuro-sensory and metabolic functions.

Human skin is different from that of the animals in that it lacks a covering by fur, feathers, horny plates, leathery coatings, spines, quills, horns, manes or tufts of hair—humans are naked. Similarly, humans have a relatively simple digestive tract compared to animals. The “disk space” dedicated to a complicated digestive tract and luxuriant or protective skin coverings in animals is used in humans for the development of the nervous system. As a result, humans need to use their brains to ensure adequate covering for the body and appropriate preparation of their food.


The skin is composed of three distinct layers, the epidermis, the dermis and a lower layer of fatty tissue, usually called the subdermis (also called the subcutis or hypodermis).

The epidermis or top layer of skin provides water proof protection for the body. It is actually translucent, containing no blood vessels. Most of the cells in the epidermis are keratinocytes or horn cells, so called because they produce keratin, a fibrous protein that provides waterproofing. The horn cells are formed at the base of the epidermis and gradually migrate to the surface, where they are sloughed off as skin dander. During this journey, the shape of the cells changes from rounded to flattened. The space between the keratinocytes contains fat lamellae, that is, fat in a thin, plate-like structure.

Interspersed among the horn cells are melanocytes (pigment-containing cells), Merkel cells (associated with sensory nerve endings) and Langerhans cells (which provide immune protection). Hair and pores allowing the release of sweat and oil pass through the epidermis from the dermis.

The dermis is the middle layer of skin, composed of loose connective tissues such as collagen with elastin arranged in a diffusely bundled and woven pattern. These layers serve to give elasticity to the skin, allowing stretching and conferring flexibility, while also resisting distortions, wrinkling and sagging. The dermal layer provides a site for the endings of blood vessels and nerves. A corrugated line of blood vessels called papillae separates the dermis from the epidermis. Sweat glands and hair follicles (roots) with their associated sebaceous glands originate in the dermis.

Below the dermis is a layer of connective and fatty tissue, sometimes referred to as the subdermis. Its physiological functions include insulation, the storage of energy and anchoring of the skin.


The skin is the main organ for regulating human body temperature somewhere between 98 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit when the ambient temperature varies between approximately 68 and 130 degrees.

Body temperature is fundamentally regulated by neural feedback mechanisms, which operate primarily through the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus contains not only the control mechanisms, but also the key temperature sensors. Under control of these mechanisms, sweating begins almost precisely at a skin temperature of 98.6 degrees F and increases rapidly as the skin temperature rises above this value. The heat production of the body under these conditions remains almost constant as the skin temperature rises. If the skin temperature drops below 98.6 degrees, a variety of responses are initiated to conserve the heat in the body and to increase heat production. These include vasoconstriction to decrease the flow of heat to the skin; cessation of sweating; shivering to increase heat production in the muscles; and secretion of norepinephrine, epinephrine and thyroxine to increase heat production.

While the skin provides our bodies with a barrier, it is also absorbent. Substances placed on the skin can penetrate into the underlying tissue and eventually reach the blood stream. Thus topical skin preparations, vitamin-containing oils, Epsom salts baths and other traditional topical skin treatments work by providing nutrients via the skin rather than through the digestive tract. Many toxic substances can also penetrate the skin.

What determines whether a substance will penetrate the skin is the molecular weight of the substance—the skin will keep out molecules of a larger molecular weight. Water soaking of skin enhances penetration several fold. Many skin preparations contain hydrating substances that increase the absorption of healing or fortifying compounds, or of toxic ingredients.

The fact that substances can be absorbed through the skin is good reason to avoid topical treatments containing hormones or steroids. These can make their way into the blood stream and cause serious side effects.


Like any other organ of the body, the skin requires the nourishment of vitamins and minerals from food—first and foremost for skin health are the fat-soluble vitamins A and D. Rough, dry and prematurely aged skin is a telltale sign of vitamin A deficiency, which often first manifests as rough, raised skin on the back of the arms. Vitamin A is critical to the repair process, including repair from sun burn and damage from toxins. Vitamin A increases the thickness of the epidermis, especially the granular layer (the portion of the epidermis that produces horn cells).

In clinical trials, oral vitamin A has been consistently effective against a variety of skin conditions, except for inconsistent results with psoriasis.1 In these trials, patients received very high levels of synthetic vitamin A; it would be interesting to repeat these trials using moderate doses of natural vitamin A plus vitamin D from cod liver oil.

In fact, in 1981, a group of dermatologists from Memphis, Tennessee wrote the following letter to the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology: “We have been impressed by the apparent beneficial effects of. . . cod liver oil on a small group of patients with varied disorders of keratinization. Our interest in this agent was around when a 14-year-old girl with very extensive juvenile pityriasis rubra pilaris [red, thickened plaques] appeared to improve concomitant with the use of cod liver oil orally. “We have noticed improvement in three patients who had lamellar ichthyosis [scaly skin, in which layers fall off, considered a genetic condition] and in one each with Darier’s disease [dark, crusty patches on the skin, considered hereditary] and pityriasis rubra pilaris treated with two tablespoons of cod liver oil daily. The improvement was slow, taking weeks or months, as has been reported with oral retinoids, but these patients had been previously refractory to other forms of conventional therapy. The condition of three of the patients deteriorated when therapy was discontinued and then improved when the therapy was reinstituted. . . .” 2

These findings are backed by numerous testimonials we have received about the resolution of skin problems—from infant eczema to severe psoriasis in adults—with cod liver oil, often, in the case of adults, at very high doses. Cod liver oil should be considered the front line remedy for skin problems, from eczema to psoriasis.

Severe acne is found in those with low levels of vitamin A in the blood.3 The standard conventional treatment for acne is Accutane, a synthetic form of vitamin A, but cod liver oil and other vitamin A-rich foods can work just as well, without the side effects, such as joint pain, hair loss, low energy, depression and aggressive behavior. Vitamin D is a major contributor in the process of skin cell metabolism and growth, which may explain why skin texture improves after a sunbath. Vitamin D taken orally and applied topically is helpful in the treatment of psoriasis, itching and scaling.4

One product of vitamin D in the body is calthelicidin, which is the body’s main endogenous antibiotic, with anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties. Cathelicidin deficiency predisposes to certain types of eczema.5

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that can reduce the effects of sun exposure on the skin, as well as the effects of dangerous free radicals. Deficiency of vitamin E is also associated with acne.

The fat-soluble vitamins work topically as well as orally—a fact borne out in scientific studies, clinical experience and folk medicine. The application of vitamin A to the skin for just seven days was found to increase collagen synthesis and collagen-making enzymes, while reducing the levels of collagen-degrading enzymes. The benefits were seen in both normal skin and skin damaged by excess sun exposure.6 Vitamin A applied externally can help clear up impetigo, boils, carbuncles and open ulcers and helps repair wounds faster. A treatment using injections of vitamin A has proved effective in the removal of plantar warts.7

A study with rats shows that vitamin D can be absorbed through the skin. Researchers applied vitamin D preparation to the shaved skin of vitamin D-deficient rats. Blood levels were tested after two hours and shown to be higher.8 The vitamin D could only have entered the bloodstream through the skin. It is safe to assume that vitamin A is also absorbed through the skin, thus making cod liver oil a good choice for topical treatment.

The water-soluble vitamins also play important roles in the health of the skin, particularly vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), vitamin B12 and vitamin C.


Magnesium deficiency stimulates the release of histamine from the mast cells. As a result the person becomes prone to allergies including eczema. In order to metabolize one molecule of glucose, we need at least twenty-eight molecules of magnesium; thus eating sugar and refined carbohydrates can have detrimental effects on the skin. Nuts, whole grains, bone broths and unrefined salt are our best sources of magnesium.

Other minerals that play key roles for skin health include zinc, iron and selenium. Zinc deficiency is associated with acne because zinc helps control the production of oil in the skin. It is also a co-factor for vitamin A utilization. Good iron status supports a rosy glow in the cheeks. Selenium supports tissue elasticity and protects against free radical damage. Red meat, liver and seafood are our best sources of these vital minerals.


Healthy skin depends on complete protein from animal products. In fact, the detrimental effects of a vegetarian diet often first show up as sallow, unhealthy looking skin.

Especially important to skin health are the sulphur-containing amino acids cysteine and methionine. Methionine is considered an essential amino acid; while cysteine is not. However adequate intake of both sulfur-containing amino acids is very important to the health of connective tissue, joints, hair, skin and nails. These amino acids are also utilized by the body in detoxification reactions, helping the body to excrete heavy metals and keeping the skin clear. Cysteine is found in the protein called beta-keratin which is the main protein in nails, skin as well as hair. Not only is it important to collagen production but also helps in the skin’s elasticity and texture. The best sources of these proteins are meat (especially pork), eggs and dairy products.

Two other proteins that support skin health are proline and glycine, the two proteins that make up gelatin. These two proteins are critical for building healthy cartilage, as well as for detoxification. Proline has been recommended as a supplement that might benefit people interested in soft, non-sagging “youthful” skin.9

Glycine is not only needed for healthy cartilage, but also helps digestion by enhancing gastric acid secretion. According to the late Robert Atkins, MD,,“A lack of stomach acid is commonplace, the result of aging, genetics, use of certain medications and a variety of other factors.” Dr. Atkins contends that the inability to properly digest protein contributes to numerous health problems including skin conditions like psoriasis, vitiligo, hives, eczema, dermatitis, herpetiformis and acne.10


Since conventional theories single out saturated fat as contributing to cancer, heart disease and almost every other ailment under the sun, university researchers and politically correct nutrition writers naturally also assert that saturated fats are bad for the skin.

A 2001 survey, published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, cites butter as a food that contributes to wrinkles.11 The researchers measured skin wrinkling in over four hundred fifty subjects and correlated skin damage with food items taken from food-and-nutrient-intake questionnaires. There were four groups: Greekborn subjects living in Melbourne; Greek subjects living in rural Greece; Anglo-Celtic Australian elderly living in Melbourne; and Swedish subjects living in Sweden. Lower amounts of skin damage were associated with higher intake of vegetables, fish and legumes and with lower intakes of butter, margarine, milk products and sugar products.

Nicholas Perricone, MD, the New York dermatologist, made these confusing findings even more confusing in his book on skin care, The Perricone Prescription, lumping trans fats with saturated fats. “Saturated fats. . . which are solid at room temperature, include vegetable fats, such as Crisco or shortening, and animal fats, such as butter and lard. . . . Research has shown that the wrong types of saturated fats can have a strong inflammatory effect on the body. To avoid proinflammatory, proaging responses, you must limit your intake of red meat. . . to one serving per week.” Animal fats, including butter, also contain arachidonic acid, which Perricone insists has a pro-inflammatory effect, leading to skin damage and wrinkling.12

To be fair, in a separate passage, Perricone does also condemn vegetable oils, including trans fats, but the false association of animal fats, which actually suppress inflammation, with trans fats, which cause inflammation, infuses the entire book, including the collection of recipes, which feature chicken and fish, lowfat dairy products and olive oil. To his credit, he warns against sugars and refined carbohydrates, but it may be hard to resist the temptation to consume these foods since your body will need them to produce saturated fats in the absence of saturated fats in the diet.

The wrinkling study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition was an epidemiological survey, and such surveys can only show associations, not prove causes. Since butter consumption was lumped with consumption of margarine, milk products (likely pasteurized milk products) and sugar, it is inappropriate to single out butter as a cause of wrinkling. In addition, the group that showed the most skin damage was the Anglo-Celtic Australian elderly living in Melbourne, certainly the subjects most likely to show wrinkling because of their age and the exposure of their fair skin to the harsh sunlight of Melbourne, Australia. This is also the group most likely to consume butter rather than olive oil, hence the association of butter with wrinkling.

The type of fats most definitely associated with wrinkling are the industrial, polyunsaturated oils, the types of oils that those wanting to avoid saturated fats are most likely to consume. In a study on premature aging carried out in conjunction with the Research Foundation for Plastic Surgery in Los Angeles, dermatologists looked at more than one thousand patients over a two-year period. Researchers looked for any pathological evidence that the subjects had grown old prematurely, especially manifesting in the skin of the face. In each patient, the researchers noted the degree and amount of wrinkles such as crow’s feet and frown lines, skin turgor or firmness, color, elasticity or resilience, condition of the hair and many other factors to attain a preliminary score. Points were deducted from the total “aging” score if the patient had been exposed to a great deal of x-rays or sun, if one or both parents looked prematurely aged, if dentures were worn or if the patient suffered from any form of water retention. Subjects also took a dietary survey to discover whether they had changed their diet to stress polyunsaturated oils, to what extent and for what reasons.

When all the possible contributory factors in premature aging of the skin were noted, the researchers computed a final score and compared it with the patient’s chronological age. The result: of those who admitted to being on a diet high in polyunsaturated oils (more than 10 percent of the diet), at least 78 percent showed marked signs of premature aging of the facial skin, with some appearing more than twenty years older than they were. When this group was compared to an almost equal number who made no special effort to consume polyunsaturates, the difference was profound. Only 18 percent of the latter group were judged to have outward physical signs of premature aging. In other words, there were more than four times as many people who looked markedly older than they really were among those who deliberately included large quantities of polyunsaturated oils in the diet.13

Another important fat for the skin is arachidonic acid, which Dr. Perricone and others finger as an inflammatory fat because it is the precursor to the prostaglandin PGE2, considered a pro-inflammatory tissue hormone. But PGE2 stimulates the formation of gap junctions and tight junctions, which are protein-based connections between cells, both in our external skin and in our digestive tracts. These connections regulate the permeability of the skin barrier, strengthening it against environmental assaults and preventing excessive water loss through the skin.

In animals with dermatitis induced by essential fatty acid deficiency, only arachidonic acid fully cures the condition. Arachidonic acid works in concert with the elongated omega-3 fatty acid DHA found in cod liver oil, making butter and cod liver oil an ideal combination for beautiful skin.

What about the premise that arachidonic acid causes inflammation? The conversion of arachidonic acid to PGE2 in immune cells is an important initiator of inflammation, but it also works to resolve inflammation. However, too much EPA, an omega-3 precursor to DHA, can interfere with arachidonic acid’s ability to turn off inflammation. EPA is found in high amounts in fish oils and also in cod liver oil—so use cod liver oil sparingly in the context of a diet rich in arachidonic acid from butter, organ meats and meat fats, and avoid fish oils altogether.14


The health of the skin and the gut are intimately linked; after all, the lining of the gut is a special type of skin, requiring the same nutrients as our external skin—zinc and vitamin D, for example, are the key nutrients for supporting a healthy gut barrier. And a healthy gut is lined with a biofilm made up of billions of beneficial bacteria, just as healthy skin is home to a variety of bacteria, most of them beneficial.

When undigested proteins, pathogens and toxins pass through the gut—which happens constantly in those with poor gut integrity, the so-called “leaky gut”—they can no longer be eliminated through the feces, and must be vectored to our back-up organ of elimination, the skin. Recovery from rashes and skin lesions often calls for a very restricted diet, such as the GAPS diet, along with cod liver oil, plenty of butter, gelatinous bone broths and lacto-fermented foods needed to restore gut health. As the gut heals, so will the skin.

Proof that gut and skin health are linked comes from studies of infants. Infants with poor intestinal flora often develop eczema. A study from Sweden showed that children with only a limited variety of bacteria in their feces one week after birth more often developed atopical eczema by the age of eighteen months.15 A diversified intestinal flora seems to be better at stimulating the immune defense. The composition of a child’s bacteria flora is dependent on the mother’s microflora since she is the primary source for the child’s bacteria at the onset. Another clue: acne and other skin problems often show up after a course of antibiotics. If you must take a course of antibiotics, be sure to follow up with plenty of lacto-fermented foods, and possibly a probiotic supplement. This ounce of prevention may prevent a ton of unpleasant skin problems later on.


While many people spend small fortunes on external skin care—creams, potions and facials— healthy skin must start on the inside, nourished by a healthy diet. A diet low in refined carbohydrates and high in animal fats, rich in fat-soluble vitamins and the proteins that support skin and collagen integrity, is the basic recipe for skin health. Bone broths and stews rich in collagen help make skin thicker and healthier; lacto-fermented foods support intestinal health and gut integrity.

As with every other organ in the body, the skin is adversely affected by refined carbohydrates; likewise coffee, tea and caffeine-containing beverages can cloud the skin’s natural glow. Anything that puts stress on adrenal function will also put stress on the many functions of the skin. As for external care, the best advice is, “Don’t wash.” Soap depletes the body’s natural sebaceous protection and also removes some of the beneficial microorganisms that inhabit the skin. Scientists are only just beginning to appreciate the role of microscopic life on our skin. They have discovered, for example, that germs inhabiting naturally oily regions, such as the outside of the nose, feed on the skin’s lipids and produce natural moisturizers to prevent skin from becoming chapped.16

Of course it is necessary to wash our hands before treating the sick or handling food, but it is not necessary to soap the whole body, and certainly not the face, in the shower or tub.

Regarding daily skin care, a good rule is not to use anything that you can’t eat. Expensive creams are not necessary and may do more harm than good. Instead use coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil on your face at nighttime, and on any areas that may be dry.

The smooth, glowing skin that shines forth in the photographs of Weston Price is the product of good nutrition, not hours spent at the beauty salon. The same dietary principles that support good dental health also ensure vital, vibrant skin.



• The formation, growth and sloughing off of the horn cells takes place in twenty-eight days—one moon cycle.
• The skin produces 10 grams (2 teaspoons) of dander per day. The fine flakes of skin make up a large proportion of house dust, which is eaten by dust mites.
• Distribution of sweat glands varies depending on the area of the body. There are 55 per square centimeter on the back, 155 per square centimeter on the belly, 375-425 per square centimeter on the palms of the hands and 751 per square centimeter inside the elbows. In all, two million sweat glands produce about one-half liter of sweat per day without any awareness that we are sweating. Major physical effort and a warm environment can increase sweat volume to as much as ten liters per day. Sweat contains all the compounds in urine, but in lower concentrations.
• The skin contains about 300,000 sebaceous glands, which together release up to three grams of sebum—an oily, waxy substance—per day. The sebum plus sloughed off horn cells create a protective coating on the skin.
• The hair on the head grows about one millimeter in three days and a fingernail grows one millimeter in twelve days.
• The skin does not “breathe” in the sense that the lung breathes; nevertheless, the skin takes in 1.9 percent of the oxygen and gives off 2.7 percent of the carbon dioxide converted in the organism as a whole.


Anthroposophical medicine is based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, the Austrian mystic and philosopher. According to Steiner, health comes about through a balanced rhythmical activity or movement between what he called the nerve-sense pole and the metabolic pole. The two main skin conditions—dermatitis and psoriasis—represent these polar opposites, the former manifesting as an over-reaction of the nerves and the latter manifesting as an overreaction of the blood or metabolism.

Dermatitis—also called neurodermatitis, eczema or atopic dermatitis—refers to reactions that present as skin inflammation, often accompanied by inflammation of the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract and eyes, hay fever, allergic conjunctivitis and asthma.

Skin with a tendency to neurodermatitis is dry and often sallow and dull. Water is not well retained in the skin, the sebaceous glands produce less sebum and the sweat glands less sweat, symptoms, “suggesting a loss of constructive powers in the skin.” Sweating induced by heavy work, as well as baths and showers, may cause itching, as does wool clothing.

Normally the skin, with its careful balance of nerve and blood, reacts to these stimulants by increasing blood flow, making it warm. But the skin of people with a tendency to develop neurodermatitis will react one-sidedly in the nerves, that is, with itching. Sufferers may be extremely sensitive to nickel and compounds in cosmetics and skin care products.

Normal skin produces a red line in reaction to a blunt fingernail across the skin; but those with neurodermatitis produce a white line, a sign of the nerves overreacting. Nerves supplying the musculature of blood vessels in the skin cause the muscle fibers to contract; the vessels narrow and a narrow line on either side of the line made by the nail has less blood supplied to it. This causes the skin to turn white.

People who suffer from neurodermatitis tend to be “nervy” and hyperactive. The skin is excessively awake and overreacts, leading to inflammation. Reduced circulation in the hands and feet—cold hands and feet—and inability to tolerate bright sunlight are common in those with a tendency to neurodermatitis.

It is often intelligent people who tend to develop neurodermatitis. Their neurosensory system has been wide awake from birth, and so they have taken in much of the world around them. This has helped their powers of observation and thought from the beginning. . . This kind of intelligence does, however, quite often tend to be somewhat one-sided. The emphasis is on the head, the intellect, tending to be very much of this world, and one-sidedly reacting rapidly to sensory perceptions. Yet their own bodies are often felt to be something foreign.

An inner life where the emphasis is on the head can lead to brooding too much about oneself and strict self-control. They may be interested in computers and technology—children with dermatitis often benefit from art, dance and outdoor activities that get them away from the computer. Those who suffer from neurodermatitis tend to be tall and thin and to have a weak digestion.

Those with psoriasis tend to have an overactive metabolism. Under the microscope, a skin sample from a psoriatic lesion shows greatly elongated papillae in the upper dermis, with the extended capillaries filled to the limit with blood. Blood serum seeps from the capillaries; the dermis is filled with inflammatory cells, which migrate to the epidermis and collect in tiny lakes of pus. The horn cells mature too quickly and incompletely, completing their cycle in three or four days instead of the normal twenty-eight. The most common psoriatic lesion is a sharply defined and thickened red plaque in the front part of the knees and on the elbows—exactly the opposite position of the typical atopic rash, which develops in the inner side of the joint.

People suffering from psoriasis often show other irregularities in metabolism, such as elevated levels of uric acid, blood lipids and blood sugar. They tend to be sturdily built, with a tendency to put on weight. Psoriasis patients have double the risk of vascular disease compared to those without the disease (Archives of Dermatology, June 2009). They are tolerant, sociable and able to cope with mental stress, highly active with a tendency to impatience, often successful in their occupation. “Anything they do succeeds, and as soon as it is done they move on to the next thing, literally eager to move on.”

John Updike the American writer, suffered from psoriasis. He devoted a whole forty pages in his memoirs to a description of his condition. His creativity and relentless desire to produce, he said, was nothing but a parody of the painful overproduction in his skin.

Adapted from Healing the Skin: Holistic Approaches to Treating Skin Conditions. A practical guide based on anthroposophic medicine, by Leuder Jachens.


A fascinating study published in The Lancet provides information on how to avoid dermatitis in children. Researchers compared a total of 675 Swedish school children, half of them from Waldorf schools and half from conventional schools in the same area. They found that those with an “anthroposophical lifestyle” had fewer allergies and skin problems than those in the other group. Those with an “anthroposophical lifestyle” were characterized by the following:

1. They were given far fewer antibiotics and fever-reducing medicines and fewer vaccinations.
2. They had experienced more infectious diseases, such as measles, German measles and chickenpox.
3. They had eaten a more “ecological” diet, especially lactic-acid fermented vegetables.

The study points to one of the dangers of vaccinations—heightened allergic reactions—as well as to the importance of allowing children to suffer from fevers. Lacto-fermented vegetables support intestinal health, so intimately associated with the health of the skin.

Source: The Lancet, May 1999


The most talked about New York restaurant opening in 2008 was a Japanese restaurant called Hakata Tonton, where thirty-three of the thirty-nine dishes contain pigs’ feet. Pigs’ feet are rich in collagen, the protein responsible for skin and muscle tone. “Collagen helps your body retain moisture,” says the owner, Himi Okajima, who has introduced a chain of restaurants specializing in collagen cuisine in Japan. “Your hair and skin will look better, but it’s not just for looking beautiful now. If you begin eating collagen in your thirties, you will look younger in your forties” (, March 3, 2008).

To make pig skin soup, simply place some pigs feet (with the skin on) or a generous amount of rind from bacon or ham into a pot of cold water. The water should just cover the pigs feet or rind. Add a splash of vinegar and bring to a simmer. Simmer at least 24 hours, or until the skin and/or rind is falling apart. You can strain the broth and drink in a mug, or chop up the rind and meat (discarding the bones) and then blend with a hand-held blender to make a thick soup. Thin the soup to desired consistency with water, stir in some cream or crème fraiche and season to taste with sea salt.


Pick up an article on keeping healthy and it will almost always recommend a generous application of sunscreen to “protect” the skin. This trend has become so widely accepted that some people wear sunscreen every day, even in winter, and slather their children with it before they get dressed, just in case they may come in contact with that dreaded, unnatural substance: sunlight.

The list of questionable ingredients in sunscreens include benzophenones (dixoybenzone, oxybenzone), PABA and PABA esters (ethyl dihydroxy propyl PAB, glyceryl PABA, p-aminobenzoic acid, padimate-O or octyl dimethyl PABA), cinnamates (cinoxate, ethylhexyl p-methoxycinnamate, octocrylene, octyl methoxycinnamate), salicylates (ethylhexyl salicylate, homosalate, octyl salicylate), digalloyl trioleate, menthyl anthranilate and avobenzone.

Some of the chemicals have been implicated as causing thyroid problems. German researchers found that rats exposed to the sunscreen chemical 4MBC had raised levels of thyroid stimulating hormones and heavier thyroid glands. Another chemical, benzophenone 2, was found to alter thyroid hormone levels, although the effect was reversed by other chemicals present in sunscreens (BBC News, June 10, 2006).

In most situations, normal exposure to the sun is beneficial, not harmful, especially if you take care to avoid polyunsaturated oils and trans fats. If you are fair-skinned and find yourself in situations where long exposure to the sun is unavoidable, be sure to cover your torso with a shirt, wear a hat and use a safe sunscreen like zinc oxide on your nose and cheeks.


The following is a compendium of remedies gleaned from our files. Some have been tested in clinical trials, others proved useful in individual cases.

ACNE: Acne has been linked to deficiencies of vitamins A and E in several studies. Avoid polyunsaturated oils, which use up vitamin E. Cod liver oil is a must; in some cases, high doses of water-soluble vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) have been helpful. Bone broths and lacto-fermented foods help fight infection in the gut and will reduce the manifestations of that infection on the skin.

BOILS: Apply Ichthammol Ointment 20%, available from pharmacies. The active ingredient is ammonium bituminosulfonate, a product obtained through dry distillation of sulfur-rich oil shale. The ointment works by thinning the skin and has the advantage of being mildly antiseptic.

BITES: Take cod liver oil and vitamin C plus herbs to support adrenal function, such as licorice and nettle, and dandelion root and milk thistle to support liver function. topically apply papya fruit or raw liver.

BURNS: Apply cod liver oil to the burned area. This works well on first and second degree burns, often overnight, in miraculous fashion. Cod liver oil will also reduce the tendency to scar. For severe burns, use B & W Ointment, an Amish formulation containing honey, lanolin and various healing herbs, available at

ECZEMA: There are many suggested topical treatments for this irritating and often persistent condition including Boericke & Tafel Psoriaflora cream, California Calendula cream, Weleda Calendula Essence, a Chinese pentaherbal formula, baths in Dead Sea salts, and a mixture of cod liver oil and evening primrose oil applied to the rash. Adrenal and liver support includes Drenatrophin and Cataplex C from Standard Process, Rhodiola Complex from Mediherb and Milk Thistle Complex from Progressive Labs. One eczema sufferer reports that taking cod liver oil alone did not clear up chronic eczema, but with cod liver oil plus butter oil, it cleared up completely.

INFECTED WOUNDS: Raw pork fat applied to the wound is the remedy of generations of farmers; Native Americans used rendered bear fat.

ITCHINESS: Itchiness from rashes, bug bites, stings, poison ivy and other poisonous plants responds well to swabbing with noni juice. Plain old witch hazel extract, such as Thayer’s, works well and is cheap.

KERATOSIS PILARIS: “Sand paper” bumps, most frequently on the back of the upper arms, appear when keratin forms hard plugs within hair follicles. This is a classic sign of vitamin A deficiency. In addition to taking cod liver oil orally, mix cod liver oil with evening primrose oil and rub on the affected area. Avoid soaps and shampoos containing sodium lauryl sulfate.

PSORIASIS: This difficult condition responds well to treatment with UV light. In his readings, Edgar Cayce recommended American saffron tea for all cases of psoriasis. Steep tea in hot water and allow to cool, then strain and sip on an empty stomach. The tea is said to heal intestinal lesions that allow poisons to travel to the skin.

POISON IVY: Homeopathic Rhus tox can alleviate itchiness. Topical treatments include tea tree oil, cod liver oil and Burt’s Bees Poison Ivy Bar soap. After exposure, wash well with an oily soap called Tecnu. Native Americans built up immunity by eating the small emerging poison ivy leaves in the spring. Some have reported good protection by consuming raw milk from goats eating poison ivy.

RINGWORM: Treat topically with a preparation of jewel weed or salvia. Consume coconut oil for its anti-fungal effects.

ROSACEA: Rash-like redness, usually of the face. One theory holds that the condition is caused by lack of hydrochloric acid; therefore taking HCl with meals may help. Avoid coffee, alcohol, hot beverages, spicy foods. A skin mite called Demodex folliculorum is considered a causative factor. Researchers were able to infect the skin of riboflavin-deficient rats with the Demodex organism, but not the skin of normal rats. Thus, supplementation with riboflavin, along with the whole B complex, may help.

SHINGLES: An herbal combination containing hops, valerian root and passion flower alleviates shingles pain. A combination formula, called HVP, is available from Nature’s Sunshine. One tradition suggests raw apple cider vinegar, taken several times per day in water. Coconut oil, coconut milk and coconut water kefir can help eliminate outbreaks and keep those that do occur to a minimum.

SKIN CANCERS (NONMALIGNANT) AND ITCHY MOLES: Ointment containing chickweed.

SUNBURN: An American tradition is to apply lard to sunburn; in India, sunburn is treated by washing or swabbing with cold raw milk. For promotion of tanning and prevention of sunburn, apply coconut oil to wet skin frequently while sunbathing.

TICK REMOVAL: Apply a glob of liquid soap to a cotton ball. Cover the tick with the soap-soaked cotton and swab it for about twenty seconds. The tick will come out on its own and will stick to the cotton ball when you lift it away.

VITILIGO: Vitiligo is a chronic disorder that causes depigmentation of patches of skin, often first provoked by sunburn. The white patches occur when melanocytes, the cells responsible for skin pigmentation, die or are unable to function. The main alternative treatment involves the Chinese herb Psoralea corylifolia, or other Chinese herbal combinations. One theory holds that the condition is a sign of B12 deficiency.

WARTS: Make a paste of DMSO and crushed aspirin. Apply to the wart and cover with a bandage. Leave in place for several days. This treatment may require two applications, three months apart.

A TOPICAL TREATMENT FOR CANCER This topical treatment for nasty moles, melanomas and small tumors under the skin uses the aschorotic (scab forming) herb blood root. The treatment may elicit a painful sore with oozing pus, followed by a hard scab, considerable redness and swelling, and even periods of fever; it is therefore not recommended for larger tumors, or for breast cancer.

The treatment involves two salves, a dark salve containing blood root and zinc chloride and a yellow salve containing linseed oil, beeswax and other ingredients. Apply a small amount of the black salve (not more than 1/8 inch thick) to the suspected area, cover with a bandaid and leave for 24 hours. If the spot is indeed cancerous, a sore will form. Thoroughly clean and dry the area before applying the yellow salve, covered by a band-aid. Repeat with the yellow salve for five days, replacing as necessary. On the sixth day, reapply the dark salve for 24 hours and then use the yellow salve for 6 days. Continue this process until there is no more pus or blood and a scab has formed. The scab may remain for several weeks, followed by general redness for several weeks or even months.

To make the dark salve, mix 1/2 cup powdered blood root, 1/2 cup zinc chloride and 1/2 cup whole wheat flour. Add water to make a thick paste and cook for 30 minutes in a stainless steel (not aluminum) double boiler. To make the yellow salve, heat 1 pint pure linseed oil to boiling and then add 1 piece of rosin (used for violin bows) about the size of a walnut. Stir until the rosin is melted. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Stir in 2 ounces beeswax and 1/2 ounce oil of spike (lavender spike oil). Stir well and allow to thicken. Store both salves in small glass jars.


1. The Lancet 24 May, 1969 464-465.

2. Skinner and others. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Aug 1981 Vol 5, No 2, 22-22.

3. Clinical and Experimental Dermatology. Volume 31, Issue 3, pages 430–434, May 2006

4. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1988 Sep;19(3):516-28.

5. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2006 Apr;117(4):836-41.

6. J Invest Dermatol 2000;114:480-486.

7. Arch Dermatol. 1960 Feb;81:253-9.

8. Arch Dermatol Res. 1996 Apr;288(4):188-96

9. Chaitow, Leon, Amino Acids in Therapy, Rochester, VT, Healing Arts Press, 1988, p. 103.

10. Atkins, Robert. Dr. Atkins’ Vita-Nutrient Solution (Simon & Schuster, 1998), pp. 234-235.

11. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, February 2001 20(1):71-80.

12. Nicholas Perricone, MD. The Perricone Prescription, Harper Resource, 2002, pp 52-54.

13. The Cholesterol Controversy, Edward R. Pinckney, MD and Cathey Pinckney, pp 44-46, Sherbourne Press, Los Angeles, 1973.

14. Masterjohn, Chris. Wise Traditions, Fall 2010, pages 19-23.

15. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Vol 121, pp 129-134 January 2008.

16., accessed September 4, 2010.


This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2010.

Sally Fallon Morell is the founding president of the Weston A. Price Foundation and founder of A Campaign for Real Milk. She is the author of the best-selling cookbook, Nourishing Traditions (with Mary G. Enig, PhD) and the Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby & Child Care (with Thomas S. Cowan, MD). She is also the author of Nourishing Broth (with Kaayla T. Daniel, PhD, CCN).

14 Responses to Skin Deep

  1. Sean Stanton says:

    Hot water completely relieves the itch of poison ivy. We learned this from an old New England farmer. You can spray the affected area with a hand held shower and gradually raise the temperature to just tolerable. For facial areas a hot washcloth works well.

  2. Jobert says:

    coconut oil

    I love to put coconut oil on my hands during the winter time to prevent chapping and redness. It works well, just need to re-apply every now and then.

    Is there any advice for getting rid of melasma? My derm tried to give me a bleaching cream, but that sounds like a terrible idea. (My derm also recommends petroleum jelly for chapped lips–yikes!)

  3. Cindy Hair says:

    Could you please comment on tea tree oil recommendations, pro or con, for skin. Also, my sister’s family lives in an urban area and they are frequently exposed to head lice. Do you have any advice for avoiding or treating head lice? Last, but not least, any advice on skin tags?

    Thanks for the tips on cod liver oil, coconut oil and witch hazel. I have effectively used witch hazel for relief from bites or poison ivy for years.

    Thanks, Cindy

  4. joanna says:

    Hi. Collagen capsules seem quite popular at the moment. Is it beneficial to take them or do we get all we need from plenty of food like bone broths.

  5. Nalini says:

    Great skin with daily CLO & Butter

    Since my teens I had developed rosacea and very sensitive skin. Expensive esthetician treatments and rosacea creams still didnt fix the problem. Only a year after taking cod liver oil and butter DAILY, and eliminating white flour and vegetable oil/fried foods, I have developed great skin. My esthetician was amazed. The skin is spongier, thicker, more youthful and scars less from waxing and plucking. It has become very low maintenance. Thank, you WAPF!

  6. annemarie says:


    My daughter has been suffering from dermographia for 2 yrs. Does anyone have any suggestions? Thanks

  7. Priscilla says:

    what is ‘DMSO’?

    under Home Remedies suggestions: regarding removing warts, what is ‘DMSO’? I can’t mix DMSO with an aspirin if I don’t know what DMSO, is.

  8. Charlotte says:

    Skin application of cod liver oil

    My kids are 6, 4 and 3, and we’ve been taking cod liver oil for 2 years now. We’ve seen great improvements in our health since we started, but they don’t take it every day due to the taste. Two or three times a week is our average, and I tell myself it’s at least better than nothing! But I’ve read in blogs that skin application is just as good as internal doses of CLO. Is this really true? We’ve been rubbing it on instead, and I’m hoping it’s really still effective! It’s so much easier to take this way, even for me.

  9. Kelly says:

    Any thought on the topical application of FCLO and HVBO for skin health, in particular for wrinkles?

  10. keddie says:

    Am 54 I would also like 2find our if codliver oit could help on wrinkles and age sport. Pleas any suggestions?

  11. Guest says:

    I have been taking FCLO for a while and then I added fermented skate oil.( taking internal) I did experiment with both applying on my face. I wish if I could get other peoples opinion ,so we can compare our results. In my experiment, FCLO was much more moisturizing than skate oil. neither of them worked for my melasma. For my wrinkles I use organic oil 2X Liquid Gold which workes excellent when I top it over with FCLO.

  12. Ben says:

    I developed eczema while taking cod liver oil. I added butter oil later on and had no success with ridding myself of the eczema. That’s not to say it won’t work for anyone. I am concluding that eczema has multiple ways of coming about. The cod liver oil will work if the eczema is caused from a lack of whatever is in the cod liver oil. Each person must figure out why they themselves have the issue they have and treat accordingly.

    Now that I have stopped the eczema with other strategies, I have yet to get that healthy top layer of skin to return. For that, I think I’ll go back to the cod liver oil and butter oil.

    • Futooun says:

      Im intreseted to know what approach didnyou take to srop eczema? I m doing the candida diet and i cant tell you my digestion has never been better! Also my skin cleared up pretty good, i took probiotics and sleppry elm. I ate moslty a vegan diet with some eggs and one meal of organic meat . Since i cant find healthy sources of meat where i live 🙁

  13. Rafae rodriguez says:

    Por favor algo que me ayude con las manifestaciones de sebo que ha invadido mi piel en general. Gracias.

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