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Su B Eczema

A few weeks ago I wrote about how transplanting bacteria from a healthy person’s gut to someone suffering from irritable bowel or other digestive problems can dramatically improve their health.

It’s an area of medicine that is attracting a lot of research, as our understanding of how bacteria work with us grows. But it’s not just our insides that can benefit.

A link has been demonstrated between conditions like atopic eczema and acne, and a lack of ‘good’ bacteria on the skin. It seems that a healthy population of bacteria protects the skin, not just against infection by harmful bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus, but also against inflammatory reactions such as the rashes, reddening, itching and weeping that happen with eczema. There is a genetic component, but over-frequent washing doesn’t help, especially if you use anti-bacterial agents.

Stripping away the natural oils that the skin produces also makes it more vulnerable to potential harm, and if you then moisturise with cream containing perfumes, preservatives and other chemicals, you may actually be aggravating the problem.

We know now that newborn babies, especially if they may have inherited a susceptibility to eczema, should not be bathed immediately, so that their skin has a chance to protect itself. But it seems that for all of us, constantly washing away the skin’s natural oils and bacterial population is a stressor that can backfire. Bear in mind that until very recently in our evolution, the strongest cleansing agents we had were plants containing saponins, and the foam that these produce is far gentler than any modern soap or detergent.

This doesn’t mean we should never wash, by any means! But perhaps we need a better definition of cleanliness, and an understanding that most bacteria work with us, not against us, and that without our friendly microbes, we are defenceless against the harmful ones.

EDITOR: Sue has an excellent Herb Handbook available to buy directly from her website or from Amazon.

Meet The Author...
Su Bristow
Who Am I?
I studied at the School of Herbal Medicine for four years, and qualified in 1989, becoming a member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists ( The road to herbal medicine led from my early interest in organic gardening and healthy eating, through the study of social and physical anthropology at Cambridge, where I specialised in medical anthropology. What fascinated me was how people deal with their health problems when they have only the natural resources around them, and their own ingenuity. I went on to learn massage and reflexology, and worked at a residential naturopathic clinic, where I learned about the use of diet and other natural ways of healing. After qualifying as a herbalist, I set up practice in mid-Devon. Since then I have continued to expand my expertise, with counselling skills, first aid, and knowledge of the Chinese and Ayurvedic systems of herbal medicine. Besides one-to-one consultation, I have also taught evening classes, students of the Westcountry Massage Association, and various private courses.
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