Natural Remedies for Impetigo
Posted on 13 December 2016 by Leonie Satori
More common than most people would think, impetigo is a highly infectious skin condition that is often associated with small children, but also does affect adults. One of the most typical ways for adults to come into contact with impetigo is after a trip to hospital, called a nosocomial infection. In fact it is one of the most prevalent bacterial infections after surgery and although it is common, there seems to be so few effective treatments for this condition.
How conventional medicine treats impetigo
It goes without saying that to keep this kind of contagious infection under control, sensible hand washing is essential. Conventional medicine treatment for this condition consists of antibacterial soap, astringent compresses and topical and/or oral antibiotics.
A little about the bacteria associated with impetigo
Impetigo is essentially caused by two main bacteria: Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pyogenes. These are both gram positive bacteria, which although supposedly easier to eradicate, the propensity of the bacteria (especially Staph. aureus) to proliferate can make it challenging to get under control. Staph. aureus is most commonly the bacteria associated with impetigo, it is identified by a golden exudate that crusts on the surface of the skin. Strep. pyogenes is a less common bacteria associated with impetigo, this aerobic bacteria is related with sore throats.
Since antibiotics were first introduced in the twentieth century, more and more antibiotic resistant bacteria have been discovered. Incidentally, one of the best known antibiotic resistant bacterium is of course Staph. aureus. Antibiotic resistance may occur in situations where excessive use of, or exposure to antibiotics results in pathogenic microorganisms evolving to survive in the toxic environment of an antibiotic drenched body. This primitive response of pathogenic bacteria can often result in an infection such as impetigo becoming more virulent and being considered 'un-treatable' with conventional medicine.
Natural remedies for impetigo
Fortunately, mother nature provides some of the best natural remedies for fighting infections, and, like conventional medicine, natural remedies for impetigo consist of both topical and systemic applications. Owing to the prevalence of antibiotic resistant strains of Staph. aureus, it seems fitting that modern Herbal Medicine has come to the fore with a range of herbs with both empirical and evidence based antimicrobial benefits. Probably one of the most well known herbs for treating any kind of bacterial skin infection is goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis). This potent herb is known for it's bright yellow colour and a long history of use with skin conditions. The yellow colour of goldenseal is attributed to berberine, a naturally occurring compound in many herbs that have antibacterial properties, and although modern medicine attempts to isolate this single constituent from goldenseal, recent studies have shown that the whole herb extract is more effective for treating skin infections such as impetigo.
Goldenseal is most effective with impetigo when used directly on the skin, it is available in a few different formats, however I find, specifically for impetigo infections an alcohol based extract helps with providing additional astringent action.
Another herb with long history of use for skin infections is manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) and this is commonly used as an essential oil. Early Maori usage of manuka was for topical wounds, cuts and skin diseases. More recently, clinical studies* identify manuka essential oil as an efficacious remedy for various skin conditions and specifically effective for Staph. aureus and antibiotic resistant Staph. aureus (MRSA). In fact manuka oil is said to be effective against several different types of gram positive bacteria, and the added benefit with using this essential oil is the uplifting fragrance.
In clinic I have used a combination of goldenseal extract with manuka essential oil as a wash for the area of skin affected by impetigo. This solution can be diluted in a little water to reduce reactions on the skin and the antimicrobial and astringent action can help to halt the progression of symptoms of infection. Frequent application of these herbs can help to reduce the duration of infection and prevent it from spreading to further areas.
There are also a surprising number of medicinal herbs that have a history of use in Western and Ayurvedic herbal medicine that have been researched to be effective for skin infections and impetigo. Holy Basil or Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum) is just one herb with research studies showing it's effectiveness for Staph. aureus infections, this Ayurvedic herb also has broad ranging antimicrobial effects for other types of bacteria and makes a good all round immune herb.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a herb that is often associated with sore throats, and as you may remember from earlier in this article, the less common impetigo bacteria Strep. pyogenes is related with the sore throat bacteria. Thyme as a medicinal herb is considered to be one of the best broad acting antimicrobial herbs and recent studies have shown that thyme is a potent antimicrobial herb for some drug-resistant strains of bacteria.
These two antimicrobial herbs - Holy Basil and Thyme are very easy to access in home gardens and made into simple teas to boost the immune system during an outbreak of impetigo. In a pinch, these can be helpful adjunctive therapies for natural treatment of impetigo, however, due to the virulent nature of the bacteria associated with impetigo and the limited therapeutic use of herbal teas, I would suggest consulting with a properly trained Herbalist or Naturopath to prepare a medicinal herbal remedy to treat acute symptoms of impetigo.
To cover or not to cover
A frequent asked question with natural treatment for impetigo is about dressing, and whether to cover or leave the area open to air. Common, sensible hygiene practices dictate that this kind of infectious skin condition should be covered when in public places. Covering is also beneficial where a child (or adult) may be inclined to pick or scratch at the skin. However, I have seen that if using the above herbal remedies, the skin is best left to dry out and heal without the impediment of a bandage, which can sometimes cause further issues.
Treating impetigo with natural remedies - in conclusion
Anecdotal evidence has shown that treating impetigo with natural remedies to be an effective way to allow the body to naturally fight off this skin infection. In my experience, the limited effectiveness of conventional medicine, leads me to believe that using traditional Herbal Medicine and modern Phytotherapy provides an often faster recovery with fewer side effects. Essentially, if you choose to use natural or conventional remedies to treat an impetigo infection, it is always best to consult with your health professional for more personalised health advice and above all be vigilant in your approach to controlling this skin infection.
*Cooke A, Cooke M D 1994 An investigation into the antimicrobial properties of manuka and kanuka oils. Cawthron Institute Report no 263, Nelson New Zealand.
About the Author
Leonie is a Naturopath & Medical Herbalist with a passion for good food, healthy living and of course, herbal medicine. When she is not consulting in her Naturopathic clinic in Lismore or blogging about nutrition, Ayurvedic Medicine or natural health, she is studying yoga, growing her own herbs and vegetables or quietly walking in the natural bush land in Northern Rivers NSW.
Contact our health centre in Lismore to book an appointment with Leonie in our naturopathic clinic.
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