Your skin does more than contribute to your good looks! It also acts as the physical barrier between your organs and tissues and the outside world, so any wound or injury it sustains triggers physiological processes that help prevent infections entering the body, ensure it heals as quickly as possible, and that its flexibility and elasticity are maintained. Many herbs have traditionally been used to support the body’s own skin healing actions and promote tissue repair.
What happens during wound healing?
When the skin is broken, your body’s healing processes kick in almost instantaneously to control any bleeding that’s present.
Next, inflammatory processes are initiated. (Although we usually think of inflammation as something negative, it’s also an important process for helping the body deal with infection). During this stage of wound repair, specialised cells attempt to deal with any bacteria that have entered the wound, and also remove the debris of any cells that have died or been damaged as a consequence of the injury.
These important jobs underway, the body stimulates the activity and multiplication of the cells that are involved in the next phase of repair, called proliferation. Activities that occur during this phase include the development of a new tissue matrix, proliferation of the epithelial cells so that they gradually grow over the wound, and the formation of new blood vessels. Other specialist cells contract and tighten around the wound, making it smaller.
Finally, the collagen in the area is remodelled to restore as much of the tissues’ original strength, flexibility and elasticity as possible.
Depending on the size, depth, location and severity of the wound, the repair process may take weeks or months.
Herbs for topical use
Severe or longstanding wounds require professional care, but a number of herbal medicines are suitable for home use to enhance the healing of minor and self-limiting wounds.
• Tea tree has well documented antimicrobial properties, so it can be applied to scratches, cuts and minor wounds to help prevent or address infection. It can also be used to treat acne, and is popularly applied to insect bites to relieve their itchiness (often in a gel that also contains the soothing herb chickweed).
• Calendula has been used medicinally for hundreds of years, and like tea tree possesses antibacterial properties. Research suggests that its traditional reputation for hastening wound healing is well founded. In scientific studies it has been shown to stimulate the proliferative phase of wound healing, help wounds close more quickly, and speed up their repair. For example, in a study of 21 patients who between them had 33 venous ulcers, the use of calendula ointment twice daily for three weeks reduced the collective surface area of the ulcers by nearly 42%. The control group experienced only 14.5% reduction in surface area.
• Aloe vera gel is best known as a soothing remedy that relieves sunburn. Under professional supervision, it may also be a suitable treatment for more severe burns, helping to protect them from infection and encouraging their healing. It has been the subject of extensive scientific testing, which reveals that it contains a number of compounds that may aid wound healing.
• St John’s wort has become famous for its antidepressant properties over the past few years, but has also traditionally been used topically as a wound healer. It’s often used in a cream that also contains calendula, and this combination is an ideal remedy to keep in your home medical kit for the symptomatic relief of minor wounds such as cuts, scratches and abrasions.
Healing from the inside
Herbs can help from your skin the inside too. An example is gotu kola, a traditional Ayurvedic medicine that is taken in doses of around 1000 mg (1 mL) three times daily to assist the body with wound healing and support the regeneration of connective tissue. It may help relieve the symptoms associated with minor wounds and is believed to assist by helping to maintain peripheral circulation. Herbalists recommend it for a range of skin problems, including varicose ulcers, minor burns, and to aid the repair of surgical wounds.
Greenridge, the best quality herbal medicine company provides high quality herbal healthcare solutions to treat a wide variety of conditions including skin healing. Visit www.greenridge.com.au for more informative articles and your opportunity to sign up to our complementary monthly e-news.