Obviously, humans were treating skin problems with plants since long before records were kept ? and long before the invention of chemical/drug remedies. However, there was little-to-no research to back up these choices. Fortunately, the explosion of interest in natural remedies in recent decades has caused an equally large leap in the scientific investigation into how they work. If you prefer to use a plant-based treatment and have a skin problem that can be helped by it, there's no reason not to use it. In fact, botanical active chemicals have many benefits for skin problems. However, it's not inherently safer.
Essential oils can also be irritating or even toxic if not properly diluted. Allergic or contact dermatitis type reactions are possible but usually don't appear until multiple applications have been used. However, cross-sensitivity to botanicals can occur ? for example, with tea-tree oil and lavender ? which means a previous use of a botanical product may have sensitized your horse, even if it had different ingredients.
We don't think of plants or flowers as being oily, but even grass contains about 6% fat. The distinct aroma of plants and spices usually originates in their oil fraction. Essential oils are oils that have been extracted from leaves, flowers or woods. Many essential oils are antimicrobial, making them topical disinfectants.
In fact, a study published in October 2009 compared the effectiveness of essential oils with things like iodine, chlorhexidine and peroxide. The goal was to see if they were effective against Candida and drug-resistant bacterial strains found in hospitals. Thyme white, lemon, lemongrass and cinnamon oil were all highly effective. Eucalyptus, tea tree, lavender, grapefruit, clove bud, sandalwood, peppermint, kunzea and sage oil were also effective. See our ingredients chart.
Store and Use Properly
Natural products don't usually contain preservatives, which makes it important to store them properly. Oxidation is hastened by warm temperatures, and oxidized chemicals have a change in structure that can alter their effectiveness.
Products should be stored away from sunlight, in light-proof containers, lids tightly closed and at cool temperatures. Avoid contaminating creams or ointments by always using a wooden tongue depressor or piece of gauze to remove them from their container.
With horses known to have sensitive skin, always test by applying the product to the skin of the back of the pastern and waiting 24 hours before using on the problem area.
We used these products on a variety of skin conditions from abrasions/rubs and minor wounds, to insect irritations and infections. All were used according to manufacturer?s recommendations.
Your choice of a product depends upon what you're trying to treat (see ?best for? in the products chart). For example, problems covering a large area of the body surface are best addressed with liquids, possibly combining a salve, cream or ointment with similar ingredients on the worst areas. Dermatitis along the belly or elsewhere related to insect bites always needs a thicker product that will effectively shield it from further bites.
For clean minor wounds and abrasions, we like products that have low potential for irritation and stimulate healing. Our top performer was Well-Horse, with Skin Renovator an extremely close second. Both work well on major and less-serious wounds. (For more on treating major wounds, see October 2009.)
Our Best Buy is NaturVet?s Aloe And Comfrey Gel. If you need more infection help, we like Healing Salve 1 from Zephyr?s Garden.
For superficial bacterial or fungal infections and wounds with surface infections our pick is Equinature?s Aloe And T-Tree. The wipes have a mild scrubbing action that removes surface scaling and minor scabbing. These products have a nice skin conditioning effect as well.
For itchy, oozing, summer skin problems like midline dermatitis, rubbed manes and tails, and sweet itch there were several products that addressed one or more aspects well. However, our overall pick is easily C4G for its superior pain/itch relief, barrier effect and insect repellent effects. If Dermatophilus is your issue, TeaClenz from Healing Tree is the most economical and most effective in this group.
Eleanor M. Kellon, VMD