Updated: Aug 10
Herbs for supporting a healthy complexion
Ayurveda speaks of radiance as a representation of one’s overall health. It is known as Ojas in Sanskrit, which translates to bodily strength, energy, vitality, and lustre (8). This is apparent when a person enters the room. Is the individual energetic and lively? Does he or she have glowing skin, luscious hair, a passion for life, and a sparkle in their eyes? Although this may be called vis (Naturopathic Medicine), Qi and jing (Chinese Medicine), or something else depending on the medicinal philosophy, practitioners often evaluate a patient’s ojas as part of the physical exam. Why is the skin one of the aspects we observe for determining health? Our skin is a mirror of our internal health. When imbalance is occurring inside our bodies, in various organs or in the blood, the skin reflects this. According to Dermatologist, Mary Logue, MD, “the skin and the mind are also intricately connected. At the most basic level, as an embryo, our skin and nervous system developed from the same cells. The immune system also plays a key role in maintaining healthy skin. Many internal diseases, such as gut dysbiosis and poor mental health, can all have external manifestations or “signs” on the skin” (5). Rebel Herbs has created a balanced herbal formula that targets various aspects of skin health. Complexion + is comprised of amla, manjistha, neem, turmeric, and black pepper. These herbs have a rejuvenative effect on the body and are called rasayanas. We will discuss each of these herbs in Complexion +
along with some other tips to support vibrant health, for glowing skin. But first, let’s discuss antioxidants and how important they are for the entire body, including the skin. Anti-oxidants help us combat oxidants or free radicals that cause damage to cellular DNA. These oxidants are a result of stress on the body which comes from illness, environmental toxins, processed foods, and trauma. Most chronic diseases and ‘aging’ is a direct result of free radical damage (2). Foods and herbs that are high in antioxidants help protect and repair our cellular DNA which promotes health and longevity.
Phyllanthus emblica, also known as Indian gooseberry, amalaki, or just amla, is growing in popularity in the United States. It is a small superfood fruit with one of the highest amounts of antioxidants, including vitamin C and quercetin, on the planet. Vitamin C is not only supportive for our immune systems, it promotes collagen synthesis, a main building block for the skin. Amla has been shown to be effective in supporting wound healing. In a research study, Amla decreased the amount of time it took for wounds to close and heal compared to placebo by combating oxidants and promoting collagen formation through the ERK 1/2 signaling pathway (9). You may have heard about quercetin over the last year and a half as a treatment for protecting the body against illness and decreasing the inflammatory response. It is an extremely helpful compound for strengthening as well as regulating the immune system if it is overactive, known as immune modulation (6). In my opinion, amla is the ultimate ‘food as medicine'. We have to consider allergies when it comes to the skin, whether the allergic reaction is internal and being expressed through the skin or as a result of external allergens in the environment. Vitamin C and quercetin help minimize the release of histamine and pro-inflammatory cytokines or cell signaling proteins present in allergies (6). Amla truly has the perfect combination of immune supportive and allergy reducing compounds. Rubia cordifolia, called manjistha or Indian madder, is also full of antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. It is known for its action as a lymphagogue, an herb that promotes lymph movement and purifies the blood. The lymph is an integral part of our immune system and it runs throughout our entire body. You may have heard of lymph massage or dry skin brushing to stimulate the superficial lymph but did you know the largest amount of lymph tissue is actually in our gastrointestinal system? In Naturopathic Medicine, the skin is directly linked to the health of our gut. We look at the diet as well as the microbiome or intestinal flora, food allergies, nutrient absorption, and elimination. In a double-blind placebo controlled study, manjistha and triphala (which contains amla) both promoted the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut and eliminated unhealthy bacteria (7). It is no wonder why these herbs are used for promoting healthy skin from the inside out. Neem, or Azadirachta indica, has also been used for thousands of years to stop the growth of bacteria, parasites and viruses. It is known as ‘India’s Pharmacy’ because it is often used as a first line antibiotic. Along with being taken internally to promote a healthy microbiome, it can be used topically on the skin. Neem was shown to kill 107 strains of MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus), a hospital pathogen resistant to many antibiotics (4). It is my favorite treatment for treating an overgrowth of Candida albicans, the most common yeast infection, especially when it is resistant to Nystatin. In the future, keep an eye out for Rebel Herbs topical Neem Powder!
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) has been used for thousands of years as an everyday spice in Indian food but also topically for a variety of skin conditions. It is India’s claim to fame and for good reason, it is and can be used for pretty much every condition. When it comes to the skin, turmeric has been shown to be effective in treating acne, alopecia, atopic dermatitis, facial photoaging, oral lichen planus, pruritus, psoriasis, radiodermatitis, and vitiligo (10). One of the most popular constituents in turmeric is curcumin. A systematic review claims, “A growing amount of evidence confirms that curcumin might modulate those phenomena involved in inflammatory, proliferative, and infectious disorders of the skin. They also state, it is a low-cost and well-tolerated substance (11). What I love about using turmeric as medicine is that the root (or rhizome, hehe) issue is being addressed and not just suppressed. Piper nigrum or black pepper is known in Ayurveda as a warming spice that helps to increase digestive fire, or agni. Traditionally, it has been used to increase appetite, calm an upset stomach, and fight colds, cough, and flu (1) Black pepper increases blood and lymph circulation while purifying the blood. Purification is imperative for skin health because the skin is our largest organ of detoxification. If the body is overwhelmed with toxins and can’t keep up with detoxification, they continue to circulate in the blood and come out through the skin. Black pepper supports detoxification through the liver and lungs, decreasing the burden the skin may bear. One of the main constituents of black pepper is piperine, which has been shown to enhance the bioavailability of other medicinal compounds (3). This is why you often see black pepper in combination with Turmeric, as it increases the absorption of curcumin. Rebel Herbs uses a CO2 extraction process that gives us the full-spectrum of each herb and increases bioavailability naturally. So, why is black pepper in our Complexion + formula? It is truly a medicinal herb that supports healthy skin through detoxification. All of the herbs in Complexion + work synergistically to promote internal health, balance and vitality. In my practice, I understand how frustrating skin conditions can be. It is almost never a single issue that is causing imbalance. It is usually a combination of what we have discussed throughout this article. That being said, I have used these herbs to address acne, rosacea, eczema, psoriasis, candidiasis, slow wound healing, and as a supportive measure after skin biopsies/surgery. Last, I want to share with you a few more tips to consider when it comes to the health of your body and skin so you can truly glow from the inside out:
Hydration is key! I recommend drinking half your body weight in ounces of water to my patients, along with an extra 16 ounces for every 8 ounces of caffeinated beverages consumed. Drinking water is foundational to health and it is surprising how many symptoms people experience that are just due to chronic dehydration. You also want to make sure your water is purified because, unfortunately, secondary metabolites of pharmaceutical drugs and microplastics are a common finding in unfiltered water today. Consuming water that is not purified or stored in plastic will just compound the toxic load on your blood, liver, and kidneys. Last, if you use reverse osmosis to purify your water, adding trace minerals back in is also necessary so the water can enter your cells and truly hydrate you.
Environmental toxins can play a huge role in skin health as well. You would be amazed at the toxicity of most skin and beauty products. I abide by the philosophy, ‘if you wouldn't eat it, don't put it on your skin’. It is hard to do in this modern world but we are already bombarded by so many toxins in the air, soil and water, that we don’t need to overload our bodies with preservatives and synthetic fragrances too.
Stress-reduction techniques: find something that works for you...whether breathing, spending time in nature, a little sunshine, meditation, movement, etc. and do it EVERY day. I say this boldly because it is easy to let the stress accumulate and before you know it, your skin is showing it!
As you can see, there are many layers to skin health, pun intended. Dr. Logue summarizes it best; “Although there is still much to learn, studies are beginning to show that when we maintain our mental and physical health with mindfulness, a healthy diet and herbs, many skin diseases can be improved to varying degrees.” Thanks for reading! In health, vitality (ojas), and happiness, -Dr. Sweet References:
Abdallah EM, Abdalla WE. Black pepper fruit (Piper nigrum L.) as antibacterial agent: A mini-review. J Bacteriol Mycol Open Access. 2018;6(2):141‒145. doi: 10.15406/jbmoa.2018.06.00192
Carlsen, Monica H et al. “The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide.” Nutrition journal vol. 9 3. 22 Jan. 2010, doi:10.1186/1475-2891-9-3
Gorgani, L., Mohammadi, M., Najafpour, G.D. and Nikzad, M. (2017), Piperine—The Bioactive Compound of Black Pepper: From Isolation to Medicinal Formulations. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Safety, 16: 124-140. https://doi.org/10.1111/1541-4337.12246
Gupta S, Bhat, G. Antibacterial effect of Neem oil on Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus. J Med Plants Studies. 2016;4(1):01-03.
Logan, M. Personal Interview: Mary Logan, MD, Dermatology; 7/29/2021
Mlcek, Jiri et al. “Quercetin and Its Anti-Allergic Immune Response.” Molecules (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 21,5 623. 12 May. 2016, doi:10.3390/molecules21050623
Peterson C, Pourang A, Dhaliwal S, Kohn J, Uchitel S, Singh H, Mills P, Peterson S, & Sivamani RK. Modulatory Effects of Triphala and Manjistha Dietary Supplementation on Human Gut Microbiota: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Pilot Study. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Nov 2020. 1015-1024. http://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2020.0148
Sanskrit Dictionary: https://www.sanskritdictionary.com/?q=ojas
Sumitra, M., Manikandan, P., Gayathri, V.S., Mahendran, P. and Suguna, L. (2009), Emblica officinalis exerts wound healing action through up-regulation of collagen and extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERK1/2). Wound Repair and Regeneration, 17: 99-107. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1524-475X.2008.00446.x
Vaughn, Alexandra R et al. “Effects of Turmeric (Curcuma longa) on Skin Health: A Systematic Review of the Clinical Evidence.” Phytotherapy research : PTR vol. 30,8 (2016): 1243-64. doi:10.1002/ptr.5640
Vollono, Laura et al. “Potential of Curcumin in Skin Disorders.” Nutrients vol. 11,9 2169. 10 Sep. 2019, doi:10.3390/nu11092169
Dr. Sweet’s Bio: Dr. Juliette Sweet holds a Doctorate degree in Naturopathic Medicine and Master’s degree in Ayurvedic Sciences from Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington. She is the owner of SpiraVita Natural Health where she implements Naturopathic and Ayurvedic philosophies for education, prevention and treatment. Dr. Sweet is the Director of Clinical Education for Rebel Herbs and is excited to make ayurvedic medicine more accessible to all health care practitioners. She is also the immediate past president of the New Mexico Association of Naturopathic Physicians and was actively involved in attaining licensure for Naturopathic Doctors in 2019.