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Good Health and Bad Medicine:
 Care Of The Skin And Its Disorders - Part 1

 Care Of The Skin And Its Disorders - Part 2

 Care Of The Skin And Its Disorders - Part 3

 Care Of The Skin And Its Disorders - Part 4

 Care Of The Skin And Its Disorders - Part 5

 Care Of The Skin And Its Disorders - Part 6

 Care Of The Skin And Its Disorders - Part 7

 Care Of The Skin And Its Disorders - Part 8

 Care Of The Skin And Its Disorders - Part 9

 Feminine Hygiene

 Read More Articles About: Good Health and Bad Medicine

Care Of The Skin And Its Disorders - Part 7

( Originally Published 1940 )

Poison Ivy and Poison Oak

The best measure for the prevention of ivy poisoning consists in learning to recognize the plant, and then avoiding it. The poison-ivy vine has characteristic shiny, dark green leaves with three leaflets, white berries, and reddish stems. Poison oak, found chiefly on the West Coast, is very similar to poison ivy.

Use of a yellow laundry soap, e.g., Fels-Naptha or Kirk-man's Borax, under a shower immediately after exposure will frequently remove the poison before inflammation sets in. Ordinary toilet soap may be less effective. If the irritant has already penetrated the skin, and an eruption has appeared with swelling, redness and blisters, the application of wet boric-acid dressings followed by calamine lotion will relieve the itching somewhat. For severe or extensive poisoning, a physician should be consulted. Some doctors have had success with the use of hypodermic injections of concentrated poison-ivy or poison-oak extract for prevention. For treatment, they are probably of little value.


Itching can be a symptom either of a disorder of the skin or of a disorder of the internal organs. Eczema and "athlete's foot" are the commonest of the skin disorders which cause itching. Parasitic infestations ("crabs," lice, the itch-mite of scabies, and other parasites) may cause itching either over a restricted area or over the entire body.

Persons with a dry skin may be troubled by itching during the winter, when the tendency to dryness is increased either by exposure to the cold or by frequent baths. The use of a bland soap, free use of talcum powder and less frequent bathing (twice weekly may be sufficient) often gives complete relief.

Hives, known medically as urticaria, is often accompanied by almost intolerable itching in addition to raised wheals and redness. A sensitivity to foods is the most common of the allergic disorders which cause hives. Any food may be responsible. Very often an attack will occur after a food is eaten for the first time (e.g., the first egg an infant eats), or it may come from foods which are eaten after a long period of abstinence (the first strawberries or fresh fruits of the summer). Occasionally the drinking of alcoholic liquors at the same time that such foods as fish are eaten will bring on attacks more readily than when the same food is taken alone. Drugs such as aspirin, quinine acetanilid and phenolphthalein (an ingredient of many proprietary laxatives) are very often responsible for hives or itching eruptions.

Serious constitutional disorders also cause itching, with or without the appearance of an eruption. Diabetes, hyperthyroidism, liver diseases and blood disorders are a few of the more common internal disorders which may be responsible. "Nervousness," emotional upsets and "neuroses" also leave their mark on the skin as well as on other organs.

The causes of itching are many and often serious, and the treatment is varied and often difficult. Until medical aid can be obtained, a few simple measures may be helpful. If the itching is associated with an open sore, redness or blisters, very mild lotions should be applied. Never apply salves. They are messy, often aggravate the eruption, rarely relieve the itching and make proper medical treatment difficult. Cold wet applications are best. Boric acid (one teaspoonful to a glass of water) and Burow's Solution (diluted i part to 10 parts of cold tap water) are the safest and best solutions for acute itching sores. Several layers of gauze or clean cloth should be placed over the affected area and kept sopping wet as long as possible.

Temporary relief for an attack of hives may be obtained by applications of sodium bicarbonate or borax solutions (one teaspoonful to a glass of water) applied as hot as can be borne, and followed, without drying, by dusting with talcum. If the itching is generalized, a warm bath using a pound or so of sodium bicarbonate or borax to the bath may be helpful.


The term "eczema," although invoked frequently by manufacturers of skin remedies, has very little significance to physicians. It is simply a descriptive term to designate a diffuse, more or less acute disorder of the skin having a characteristic appearance. Like a headache, eczema has many causes. It may, for example, be due to sensitivity of the skin to chemicals. Workers in many industries suffer from acute and chronic eczema due to contact of the skin with materials and gases handled in the course of their work. Apparently innocent cosmetics and soaps can also cause eczema. Many individuals suffer from chronic itching skin eruptions due to sensitivity to cosmetics, certain textiles, to clothing or to the dyes in cosmetics, furs, leathers, clothing, etc. Occasionally, eczema is caused by taking patent medicines containing certain drugs. Sensitivity of the body to certain foods also produces an eczema-like condition in some people. Finally, many instances of so-called eczema are due to internal disorders.

Eczema is always troublesome, frequently serious and often difficult to cure, especially if, as frequently happens, the cause cannot readily be found. For these reasons the services of a competent physician or dermatologist should be sought. The task of the doctor will be made much. more difficult if the eczema has been aggravated by application of proprietary salves, soaps and lotions.

For temporary relief of the itching caused by acute eczema, and until medical aid can be sought, a sopping wet compress of boric acid solution may be applied. Milk has long had a reputation for relieving acute itching sores, and if boric acid is not available, it may be applied as a wet compress. Calamine lotion may also be tried.

A word about compresses: Do not use cotton or gauze. The former packs down too tight and hard--the latter is too rough and too loosely meshed. Use old soft linen or cotton cloth. To be effective, dressings must be kept sopping wet.



The cause of psoriasis is not known. It is a skin disease that is difficult to treat satisfactorily. Claims that proprietary salves or ointments will "cure" psoriasis are false. A few such remedies, based on some of the recognized remedies employed by physicians, do give temporary relief, especially when the disease characteristically shows a tendency to spontaneous, temporary "cure" or "remission," as it is medically termed. These drugs tend to relieve itching or reduce scaling. But in many people they also cause an aggravation of the disease. They will never "cure" it.


Sirail. Reported to contain carbolic acidóclaims unwarranted.

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