If you suffer from dry, rough, itchy or flaky skin, the natural response is to moisturise it with a suitable skin cream.

Yet you can do far more to protect and rehydrate the skin by lubricating it from the inside out. Rediscover the healing potential of hemp, one of the oldest known plants to be cultivated by man.

The Latin name for hemp is Cannabis and has become inextricably linked to "pot". Hemp and marijuana are actually different strains of the same family.

Marijuana has high levels of the narcotic substance THC in its flowers and leaves, whereas hemp only contains about one per cent of the psychoactive chemical.

Hemp is grown for the production of fibre, seeds and oil and cannot make you feel "high", however much is ingested or inhaled.

Hemp seeds contain chlorophyll, vitamins, minerals and complete protein in an easily-digestible form, making it a perfectly balanced food.

Those with skin problems should take particular note of its mild-tasting, greenish oil rich in essential fatty acids (EFAs).

These beneficial fats help to hold our skin cells together and protect them from excessive water loss.

We cannot produce essential fats ourselves and need to obtain them from our diet in the form of oily fish, seeds and nuts.

However, it seems not many of us are eating the recommended amounts. Instead, we tuck in to hydrogenated fats our body doesn't recognise or excessive amounts of saturated fats which can cause our skin to become more inflamed.

The cold-pressed oil from hemp seeds is an ideal way to top up your EFA requirements because it contains both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the right proportions for long-term use.

Medical researchers at the University of Kuopio in Finland recently followed a group of patients with atopic dermatitis (eczema).

They saw a remarkable reduction in dryness, itching and an overall improvement in their symptoms after they had been using hempseed oil every day for two months.

Hempseed oil is a valuable source of GLA, a naturally-occurring fatty acid which the body makes from the essential fatty acids in our diet. However, there are individuals who cannot transform essential fats into GLA due to a genetic weakness, hormonal problems, toxicity, nutritional imbalance or viral infections.

Finnish studies found that hempseed oil bypasses this problem by increasing blood levels of GLA. This is an important finding because decreased-serum GLA levels are associated with chronic health disorders such as allergies and immune problems.

Use hempseed oil as a salad dressing or mix with spreads, juices or smoothies. Adults can take one or two tablespoons of hempseed oil (children one or two teaspoons) daily in order to maintain a balanced source of essential fats. The oil should be stored in the fridge and not heated.

A company called MotherHemp, based in Lewes, has exclusive rights in Europe to Finola hempseed which contains higher levels of GLA.

For details of its de-hulled hemp seeds, quality cold-pressed oil and a variety of delicious hemp products, visit www.motherhemp.com.

It is also available from Sainsbury's supermarkets and healthfood stores or call 0870 887 7000 to order.

Martina is a qualified nutritionist at the Crescent Clinic of Complementary Medicine, 37 Vernon Terrace, Brighton. Tel: 01273 202221 or email: martina@thehealthbank.co.uk