Skin problems, for most of our readers, mean eczema but there are other skin conditions - rosacea and acne, for example - which may not itch as badly but can still be very distressing. Antibiotics are the treatment of choice of most GPs usually combined with some degree of dietary manipulation.
But while the role food plays in these conditions continues to be disputed, ‘skin psychologist’ Helen Sher uses water therapy along with nutritional support to manage - and often dramatically improve - both conditions. Michelle Berriedale-Johnson finds out more.
Rosacea is a disfiguring condition in which the skin of the face becomes heavily flushed and covered with small pimples. Although no one is quite sure what causes it most experts believe that the blood vessels become damaged when repeatedly dilated by stimuli resulting in flushing and redness. If infection is present then the person can develop inflammatory pustules or pimples. Alcoholism, menopausal and other flushing, a tendency towards seborrhea (the infection of the sebaceous glands as in acne), B-vitamin deficiencies and gastrointestinal disorders are all thought to be implicated.
The condition seems mainly to affect fair-skinned people of Celtic origin in early middle age and, bizarrely, migraine headaches are three times more common amongst rosacea sufferers. Although women are more commonly affected, when men develop rosacea it is often more severe. In really bad cases the skin round the nose may thicken making the nose red and bulbous - a condition called rhinophyma. WC Fields’ trade-mark red nose was a classic case of rhinophyma. Certain topical medications also appear to trigger rosacea in some cases, as do acne and anti-wrinkle treatments such as microdermabrasion and chemical peels.
The standard treatments for rosacea are antibiotics (used as creams and taken orally) and the avoidance of foods and drinks which are likely to trigger flushing - alcohol, spicy foods, very hot or very cold drinks and foods high in histamine. But, although the antibiotics may keep the condition under control, it tends to return as once they are discontinued - which is where Helen Sher and her water therapy step in.
From her teens, Helen, an extremely well preserved, seventy-plus Canadian who has lived in England for many years, was fascinated by make-up and beauty therapy. And she was still in her teens when she first read about water therapy.
The theory is that, like a fruit or a plant (think of a prune versus a plum, or a lettuce which has been deprived of water) the human body, and especially the skin, needs lots of water, taken both internally and externally, to keep it hydrated and ‘plumped out’. Deprive it of water and not only does it shrivel and wrinkle, but it is unable to flush out the dirt, bacteria and toxic fall out of everyday living.
In its natural state the surface of our skin is slightly acidic which creates an environment in which germs and bacteria find it hard to survive. However, most conventional skin and beauty products, and especially those ‘disguising’ ones that rosacea sufferers will be tempted to use, are both strongly alkaline (thus neutralising the skin’s natural ability to combat bacteria) and thick and heavy, clogging the pores and sealing in germs and infections.
Helen’s approach is minimalist. Discard all the heavy makeup (she has developed her own very light alternatives, which are remarkably good at concealment when needed) and apply loads of warm water - splashed on the face 20-30 times in the morning and in the evening. Drink even more water, especially in the morning. Cut out excess alcohol, and all junk foods and try to address the digestive problems (often a leaky gut) which so often accompany rosacea. She suggests a broadly based supplement and the amino acid glutamine to help heal the gut wall.
Helen’s track record with rosacea is impressive. Her files bulge with letters from sufferers like Charlotte Vilen who had spent years battling with her disfiguring scarlet flushes but, as long as she keeps to her splashing regime, now remains clear skinned.
What about acne?
As a condition, acne is rather better understood than rosacea. It results from an interaction between hormones, skin oils (sebum) and bacteria which result in the inflammation of hair follicles. In other words, excess oil, dead skin cells and bacteria clog up the pores around hair follicles, trapping themselves and then turning septic. Because skin oil production is largely regulated by the hormones, excess oil - and therefore acne - tend to occur at times of hormonal change and disruption such as puberty, menstrual periods or pregnancy.
As with rosacea, the conventional treatment of choice is good skin hygiene and a range of antibiotics applied topically or, if the acne is serious, taken orally. One of the most popular of the latter is Roaccutane which, although it often improves the skin condition has been reported to occasionally cause depression, psychotic symptoms and even suicidal tendencies in some people.
Scientific evidence linking specific foods and acne is sparse although a Harvard University study of nearly 50,000 women published in February last year suggested that the high levels of hormones in most commercially produced cow’s milk is a significant factor in the development of acne. Some complementary practitioners also believe that excess sugar levels and sweeteners can trigger or worsen acne and that hormonal balance is also affected by poor diet and nutrition.
Helen Sher’s acne regime differs little from her rosacea regime, except that she is even more insistent that heavy makeup, harsh invasive peels and cortisone skin creams only make matters worse, drying and thinning already damaged skin.
Plenty of cleansing water, what she calls her SOS camphor based lotion which draws excess oil from the skin, and colloidal silver sprays to minimise bacterial infection are what she recommends.
Colloidal silver - or tiny silver particles suspended in water - was used as a topical antiseptic for more than 100 years until the arrival of antibiotics which conventional medicine believed to be more effective and safer. However, with the overuse of antibiotics, colloidal silver has revived in popularity and is now used as a topical antiseptic both in the complementary and conventional medical worlds.
As with rosacea, Helen also encourages her acne sufferers to try to regulate their hormones with as wholesome and balanced a diet as possible and to supplement with a good multimineral and vitamin.
And, as with rosacea, she has drawers full of letters from acne sufferers, both male and female to attest to the success of her regime. In fact, over 30% of her clientele are men - and nearly all of her clientele have come to her after months, and often years, of dispiriting experiments with ever more powerful drugs and hideous and painful skin eruptions.
You could also check out www.patient.co.uk for more information/support for both acne and rosacea in the UK.
Since this article was first published, sadly the Sher System has closed for business.