As the old adage goes, “Time and salve heal all wounds.”
Okay, so maybe salve isn’t really in there, but it should be.
Salve, or an ointment traditionally made of beeswax, oils and herbs, is the magic in my back-pocket come Winter-time. Chapped lips, cracking knuckles, the odd sunburn from a day well spent in the mountains—salve truly helps to heal all my Winter wounds.
Including eczema. For me, eczema is a Winter ailment. Now, perhaps you’re thinking, but my eczema only flares up in Summer, when the temperature rises and humidity soars. Eczema, for you, is a Summer ailment, but we’re probably still talking about the same thing.
Eczema takes many forms. Some folks experience it only when exposed to an irritant—a harsh soap or cleaning product—while for others it’s directly linked to seasonal change or periods of stress. The fact is eczema is a condition we—allopathic, naturopathic, energetic traditions alike—know relatively little about. Perhaps that’s why, when the itch strikes, it can be challenging to find relief.
But before we get to the salve-making, let’s explore all of our options first:
In the allopathic tradition, eczema is described as a cluster of medical conditions that cause the skin to become irritated and inflamed. The most common type of eczema is atopic dermatitis, part of the atopic group that includes asthma and hay fever. Its direct cause is unknown. Some allopathic doctors cite a hereditary link—if someone in your family has asthma, you’re that much more likely to have eczema. Some cite a defect in the skin barrier that allows moisture out and germs in. Some cite an abundance of staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium, on the skin.
The allopathic treatment of eczema is, no-pun-intended, only skin deep. It typically consists of the use of a corticosteroid cream, and, if the case is particularly severe, the topical application of, ahem, bleach.
These treatments provide temporary relief using potentially harmful substances. Thanks, but no thanks.
The main correlation the naturopathic tradition makes is dietary—linking eczema to food sensitivities, specifically dairy, wheat and eggs. Leaky gut syndrome is also cited: the idea that gap-junctions in your small intestine are creating auto-immune responses (or allergies) to certain foods. This is typically traced back to infant-hood—if you weren’t breast-fed, if you were introduced to grains too early—and the focus is on repairing the lining of your intestines, or “healing the gut”. Candida overgrowth, or the proliferation of “bad” bacteria in your intestines, is thrown in the mix, too.
The naturopathic treatment of eczema involves strict dieting. The elimination diet—where you remove all potential allergens from your diet for a number of weeks and reintroduce them one-by-one; the specific-carbohydrate-diet, or the GAPS diet, where grains and other complex carbohydrates are removed for up to two years in order to heal the gut-lining; the anti-candida diet, where all forms of sugar are eliminated for months at a time.
I’ve personally undertaken each of these diets throughout these past years and my issue w/ them in the treatment of something like eczema is that they place additional stress on an already stressed-out system.
And my eczema still flares up every Fall.
On to the energetic view of eczema, which is, as described by Louise L. Hayes, that it results from anger, “breathtaking antagonism”, and “mental eruptions.” Its treatment is the introduction of new thought patterns including, “harmony and peace,” “love and joy surround me and indwell me,” and “I am safe and secure.”
Personally, I find my flare-ups increase during periods of stress, which aren’t always linked with anger, at least not in an obvious way. Energetic medicine takes time, and when my itch returns I’m looking for something that can soothe me in the short and long-term.
Which is why, come November, I always make a big, gleaming batch of salve. You’ve probably heard the maxim, “If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t put it on your skin” before, but I’ll say it again because it’s so darn true. Unlike corticosteroid creams, this ointment is 100% edible, made with three ingredients, all of which I can easily pronounce.
Salve and a regular habit of drinking nettle infusion are what have proved most effective in treating my eczema, in nourishing my skin from the inside and out. It couldn’t be easier to make, and you’ll feel like a total alchemist genius once you do: literally turning liquid into solid gold.
The salve I make is 4 parts beeswax, 2 parts shea butter and 2 parts olive oil. I use it for the small patches of eczema on my hands and for chapped lips and, sometimes, for the dry skin on my face, so I like it to be firmer—less like cream, more like balm. If you want a creamier consistency, use less beeswax and more of the other oils. If you can’t find shea butter, use coconut oil, jojoba oil, whatever you have on hand.
I always add in 4 tablespoons of an herbal-infused oil, as well. You can make one by stuffing a jar filled w/ the herb of your choice and covering w/ jojoba oil and steeping for 6 weeks, or you can buy one from your local herbalist.
Some of my favorite skin-loving herbs include lavender, seabuckthorn, burdock-seeds and comfrey leaves. You can use one, or a mix of all four.
There are two methods of making salve:
#1. In a saucepot over heat. This method is messy, as the salve dries quickly and can be difficult to remove from your pot, your stirring spoon, your kitchen counter-top, etc.
#2. In a big, lidded glass jar. After discovering this method last Spring, I haven’t looked back since.
Step 1: Fill a large stockpot w/ water. Bring to a boil.
Step 2: Add beeswax and oils (excluding the herbal oils) to glass jar and seal.
Step 3: Add jar to water and let heat until the beeswax has melted. You can remove the jar w/ tongs to check on it every once in a while. While beeswax is melting, place newspaper down on kitchen counter and place shallow, wide glass jars or metal tins on top—this will be your pouring station.
Step 4: Remove jar w/ tongs and unscrew lid. Add herbal oils and shake.
Step 5: Pour into jars or tins. Let cool.
Step 6: Apply liberally and w/ love.
Happy salving, friends!
Guest Post by Lauren Haddad who is a whole foods chef, and a certified nutritional practitioner. She is an American currently living in Switzerland and writes for Thesoakedbean where she shares nourishing recipes as well as her vast knowledge on herbs and natural medicine.