Traditional Chinese medicine has been successfully practiced for thousands of years. The experience of ancient TCM practitioners is increasingly used in modern dermatology and cosmetology as well. The path to healthy and beautiful skin in TCM can seem complicated as it requires more mindfulness, consistency, and a holistic approach. However, the result is not only a good skin condition but also the health of the body as a whole.
TCM Dermatology: Balance-Focused Approach
If you come to a TCM practitioner with a skin disorder, don't expect just to get a prescription for a healing ointment or cream. This is a popular and familiar approach in Western dermatology. But for TCM, any skin condition is just the tip of the iceberg. The main parts of this iceberg are your physical, emotional, and mental health. Simply put, a skin problem can be indicative of deeper health issues that the TCM practitioner will try to identify through questions about your other complaints (not skin-related at first glance), lifestyle, eating habits, and even the emotions you experience most often in recent times.
Chinese medicine considers the human body as a single mechanism and any external manifestations are the result of internal problems. All these problems are caused by an imbalance of Yin and Yang, two opposite but interdependent energies. Yin is nourishing, calm and cool while Yang is invigorating, active, and warm. When they are in balance, you receive internal and external health. When one dominates the other, diseases of the internal organs begin, which immediately affect the condition of your skin. Restoring this balance is complex and may include dietary prescriptions, lifestyle advice, and TCM practices such as acupuncture, herbal therapy, and diet therapy. Thus, TCM dermatology seeks and eliminates the root of the problem and treats the whole person and not just their skin.
Causes of Skin Conditions in TCM
According to TCM, most skin problems are related to pathogenic factors such as heat and dampness. These factors affect the internal organs (mainly the lungs, spleen, and heart), upset the Yin-Yang balance in our body, and lead to skin imperfections.
Heat refers to Yang energy, and excessive heat leads to Yin deficiency, which in turn causes dry skin. Heat appears as a result of overwork, emotional stress (anger, jealousy, and so on), or abuse of spicy food. Excessive heat in the heart leads to itching of the skin, heat in the lungs manifests itself in pimples on the bridge of the nose and forehead, heat in the stomach is accompanied by digestive problems and pimples on the shoulders, back and around the mouth.
The spleen is responsible for removing dampness from the body. When this organ cannot function properly, dampness and heat build up and increase sebum production. As a result, we face problems such as oily skin, acne, rashes and eczema. Spleen dysfunction can be caused by excessive fatty and fried foods that overload it unnecessarily.
Frequent hypothermia, irregular meals, excessive consumption of raw and cold foods, excessive exercise, as well as chronic stress and fear lead to Yang deficiency. This pattern is bad for the lungs and threatens us with frequent colds and chronic coughs. The lungs, in turn, are closely connected with the skin, and therefore Yang deficiency quickly makes itself felt in the form of pallor and pasty complexion.
Undoubtedly, these are just general and superficial relationships. That's why it's important to go to TCM practitioners - they pinpoint your unhealthy patterns and tailor the appropriate treatment.
TCM Healing Practices for Skin Issues
The overall goal of all TCM skin practices is to restore the Yin-Yang balance and ensure a smooth flow of Qi (the vital energy that maintains this balance) in your body. Often these practices are used in combination for greater effectiveness of treatment. In addition, they can be given preventively by a TCM practitioner, as prevention is the best treatment in Chinese medicine.
Acupuncture is the insertion of needles into specific points on your skin (acupoints). These points are located throughout your body on different meridians. Each of them solves certain health problems. After identifying the problem, you can determine which points need to be acted upon in order to eliminate them. Today, the effectiveness of this practice for the treatment of skin conditions has been scientifically proven:
significantly reduces the intensity of skin itching
treats psoriasis and reduces the frequency of its relapses
reduces the number and duration of urticaria episodes
alleviates the rosacea symptoms and prevents relapses within six months
relieves eczema symptoms such as redness, itching, and inflammation
helps get rid of acne outbreaks.
There are no forbidden products in TCM, each of them has a special benefit and is designed to restore balance in our body. Therefore, the diet should be based on your problem (external and internal), the climate in which you live, and the time of year. There are several examples of nutritional recommendations depending on the condition of the skin:
If you have oily skin, you should cut down on heavy and fatty foods and choose easily digestible vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains that drive out heat and dampness. It is noteworthy that a similar diet is now recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology.
If you have dry skin caused by Yin deficiency then you should lean on Yin nourishing foods such as oysters, black beans, sweet potatoes, bananas, avocados, beef, eggs, and asparagus. Today, the benefits of almost all of these products for dry skin are scientifically proven.
Swollen skin indicates an excess of dampness in the spleen and kidneys. To restore balance, TCM recommends cutting down on fatty foods, animal products, and salty foods. Again, a similar list of foods can be found among other different science-based recommendations.
One of the principles of Chinese medicine says that we should live in harmony with nature and benefit from what it gives us. Hence, it is not surprising that TCM practitioners have long used plants for the health and beauty of the skin. They were used both internally (teas, tonics, supplements) and externally (creams, oils and other beauty products).The incredible healing properties of some TCM herbs could not help but become the subject of research in modern science. Its discoveries led to the active use of these gifts of nature in cosmetology outside of Asia:
Ginseng promotes skin rejuvenation by promoting the production of collagen and elastin.
Goji berries protect skin from UV rays and regenerate skin cells
Licorice fights hyperpigmentation and dark spots
Rhodiola prevents premature aging due to aggressive external factors
Chinese Angelica promotes wound healing
Reishi protects DNA cells and improves skin structure
Tremella keeps skin youthful and supple through super hydration.
The healing properties of plants are not the only reason for their popularity in cosmetology around the world. The scientists also concluded that herbal beauty products are non-toxic, less allergenic, free of parabens, and have significantly fewer side effects. This once again confirms that unity with nature is a direct path to the beauty and health of the skin.
We love traditional Chinese medicine as it is the art of balance and harmony, which we sometimes miss so much in everyday life. We hope to inspire you to look at your skin in a new way and rethink how you take care of it. Be sure the result is worth it.