Brown Tail Moth Series: Itchy Skin Conditions & Herbal Medicine

When it comes to brown tail moth exposure prevention is the best route to take. Wear long sleeves and pants, a hood or wide brimmed hat, and watch for/stay away from infested locations. Staying well hydrated can also be a key step in prevention because it helps the skin and mucous membranes protect the interior of the body. Shower with warm water, not hot, when coming in after being outside and wash your clothing in hot water. Brush the dogs off before letting them in the door to keep any hairs outside the home.

In the last article in this series, I said we have an arsenal of treatments for reactions to brown tail moth but I emphasized that everyone is different and reacts differently. For some inhaled hairs can cause cough and chest discomfort. If this occurs and you have difficulty breathing please seek urgent care or see your primary care provider. You should be evaluated in person with a complete history as this could be very serious. Acupuncture and herbal formulas can certainly help with the cough and chest pain and we’ll be glad to treat you but use your best judgement. Acupuncture won’t interact with any prescriptions except to likely help them work better.

Some acupuncturists are also licensed in Chinese herbal medicine. Some of our treasured ancient herbal formulas come immediately to mind for treating the itching that brown tail moth hairs may cause.

Xiao Feng San translates as Eliminate Wind Powder.  In East Asian Medicine we call itching “wind”, or we say that wind causes itching. We are not talking about the movement of air but using a metaphor to describe what is happening. Wind refers to any symptom that comes and goes, that moves about, or that comes on suddenly. Wind can originate externally or internally in the body. It often carries with it dampness, heat or cold, or a combination of these. Heat is seen in the red raised rash that brown tail moth hairs create.

I prefer to use powdered herbs for their excellent preparation and because they can be modified to make them more digestible, however,  they can be somewhat bitter and unpalatable. Many of our formulas come in “teapills” : tiny round balls. The tea pills contain herbs, activated carbon, botanical wax and talcum. They are gluten and soy free. They can be easier to take but cannot be modified to treat particular symptom manifestations. The cold nature of the herbs in this formula may be hard on your stomach so we can add an herb or two to make it more easily digestible. I wouldn’t recommend this formula if you are pregnant or breast-feeding.

Wind is worse when there is a deficiency of blood or yin. Blood moistens the tissues, plumping them up and softening them, Yin refers to the material substances and fluids of the body as well as the ability to cool and regulate heat. If you have chronic dry skin or anemia the itching response to the brown tail moth hairs may be worse for you and we would use a formula to nourish yin like Dang Gui Yin Zi. The skin is more susceptible to pathogens and irritants when it‘s dry. As stated above, staying well hydrated can help the skin and mucous membranes protect the interior of the body. When the air is very dry or sun exposure is excessive then a topical moisturizer is beneficial, your favorite hand lotion is an example of this.

Let’s hope we don’t run into any moth hairs, that the goldfinches eat them all up and you don’t get itchy but if you do, we are here for you.

Stay tuned for the next installment, where I’ll talk about acupuncture and moxibustion for itching.


This blog series is written by Cleo Wolf L.Ac. Cleo is an acupuncturist, herbalist, and a NCCAOM Diplomate of Oriental Medicine at Jade Integrated Health in Brunswick and Portland

Check out Cleo’s full bio here!

Take a Hike at Jade Brunswick

Take a Hike at Jade Brunswick

Behind our new location at 12 Windorf Circle in Brunswick is a magical northern forest with trails galore. You will find pleasant easy walks that are well signed and blazed. Maps are posted at the trail junctions and can also be found online at Maine Trail Finder.