Scrapes, Cuts, and Other Abrasions

You can injure your skin anywhere: wielding a knife in the kitchen, shuffling papers in the office, or playing with your kids in the park. You also can develop blisters — fluid-filled pouches of skin created by friction — when hiking on vacation or just wearing a new pair of shoes around your neighborhood. Whenever you break the structural integrity of your body's outermost layer, you're damaging skin (and possibly nerves and muscle fibers) and opening the door to infection.

Minor abrasions can be taken care of with a little soap and water and perhaps a bandage. Wounds that are bleeding (or hurt) a lot might require stronger measures. And if the bleeding doesn't stop after a few minutes or if the would is very big and/or deep, you should see a doctor.

Conventional medicine typically treats minor skin injuries with topical antiseptics like hydrogen peroxide, topical anesthetics like benzocaine, topical antibiotics such as bacitracin/neomycin/polymyxin B, and oral pain relievers like acetaminophen or NSAIDs. Here are some herbal alternatives:

Barberry (Berberis vulgaris)

Barberry contains the chemical berberine, which has strong antimicrobial and painkilling action. Berberine is also found in goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)

Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus)

Eucalyptus oil contains antimicrobial, analgesic, anesthetic, and antiseptic constituents, so it can relieve pain and prevent infection.

Gotu kola (Centella asiatica)

A natural anti-inflammatory and antibacterial, gotu kola is used throughout India and much of Asia to treat wounds and skin infections. Modern research shows it stimulates new cell growth and the production of collagen, the major protein in skin and connective tissue, which speeds healing and minimizes scarring.

Horsetail (Equisetum arvense)

Horsetail is an analgesic, astringent, antiseptic, and styptic (it stops bleeding) and has been used for centuries by Native Americans to treat superficial skin injuries. In the lab, it's shown antimicrobial action against Streptococcus and other types of bacteria and fungi that can infect wounds.

Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis)

Marshmallow contains antibacterial and anti-inflammatory constituents. It soothes irritated and damaged skin and forms a protective layer to seal out germs and help the skin repair itself.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Topical applications of yarrow can stop bleeding, reduce inflammation, and prevent infection-like an herbal Band-Aid.

Although you'll find it in practically any first-aid kit in America, hydrogen peroxide is not such a great antimicrobial — and it can actually delay healing of wounds and other skin abrasions. Even very low doses have been linked to neurological, respiratory, and gastrointestinal problems (and high doses have been linked to cancer).

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