There are many different conditions which can be put under the umbrella of skin care: acne, eczema and psoriasis to name just a few. It is also one of the first parts of our bodies to show the signs of aging.
Skin conditions can be stubborn and difficult to treat. They are most commonly soothed with creams and lotions. However, these do nothing to address the underlying cause of the condition and only mask the symptoms. Once you stop using your cream, your skin condition will often return soon after.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is an holistic therapy which aims to find the root cause of any disease and treat it, from the inside out. This makes it an excellent choice for treating most types of skin conditions.
The Skin – A Delicate Barrier
Your skin acts as a barrier between the inside of your body and the outside world. It protects you from infection, keeps your body temperature stable, prevents injury by sensing pain and allows you to feel the world around you through your sense of touch.
Your skin is made up of three layers; the epidermis (the outer layer), the dermis (the middle layer) and the hypodermis (a thin layer of fat). It contains nerve endings, blood vessels, sweat glands, hair follicles and collagen which gives it elasticity.
Your skin is in constant contact with the environment. It has to deal with extreme temperatures, wind, rain and a barrage of toxins. However, your skin is delicate, which is why it is prone to ageing, and why some people suffer from skin conditions.
Skin conditions can also be a sign that something is not functioning correctly within your body. Eczema can occur due to allergies or food intolerances. Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition, where the body replaces skin cells faster than it can shed them. Acne can be a sign of hormonal imbalances such as PCOS, and many skin conditions can be worsened by stress.
This is why it is crucial to look beneath the surface and address the root cause of any skin condition.
The Skin in Traditional Chinese Medicine
In TCM, the skin is seen as an extension of the Lung. Together these two organs play a vital role in immunity and protecting you from harmful, environmental influences.
As well as protection, your skin is responsible for sweating and elimination through the opening and closing of pores. It is nourished and moistened by blood, and dry skin can be a result of blood deficiency.
As it is on the surface of the body, the skin is prone to attack from what are known as the six external pathogenic factors. These are environmental factors which can penetrate the body when it is weak, causing disease. They include:
It is these pathogenic factors which play one of the most important roles in diagnosing skin conditions from a TCM perspective. Once the pathogenic factor responsible has been identified, it can be expelled using herbs or acupuncture. The body's protective function must also be strengthened to prevent further attacks in the future.
Six Pathogenic Factors and the Skin
Heat – Heat or fire can arise as a result of overwork, poor diet (especially spicy and fried foods), excessive consumption of alcohol, caffeine or smoking. The symptoms on the skin will be redness, dryness or feeling hot. Heat easily combines with wind or damp to cause skin problems. These include acne, eczema and psoriasis.
Summer Heat – Summer heat happens as a result of overexposure to hot weather, for example heat stroke. It does not generally affect the skin although it can cause dry lips and sweating.
Cold – Cold can be caused by a cold climate or as a result of too many cold or raw foods in the diet. It can combine with damp in some forms of psoriasis.
Damp – Damp can be caused by living in damp conditions, but usually arises from poor digestion and a diet high in rich or fatty foods. It causes thickening of the skin, pus, pimples and lumps such as cysts and warts.
Dryness – Dryness can be due to an excessively dry environment, too much heat in the body, or the body not producing enough body fluids. Any condition which involves dry or cracked skin may have dryness as its root cause.
Wind – According to TCM theory, wind can attack the body allowing other pathogenic factors to enter. In terms of skin conditions, it causes itching and rashes that are not fixed in one location. It is often involved in allergic reactions such as hives.
These factors can also combine to cause skin conditions with a mixture of symptoms, for example:
Wind-heat – Red, itchy rash that moves around the body e.g urticaria, hives
Damp-heat – Eczema with thickened skin or psoriasis with thick, red skin and bleeding
Damp-cold – Psoriasis with thick skin, shedding of white scales, better in summer, worse in winter
Treating Skin Conditions with Traditional Chinese Medicine
First it is necessary to identify which pathogenic factors are responsible for your skin problems.
During your first consultation, your practitioner will take a detailed medical history including past and present symptoms, diet and lifestyle. They will then be able to diagnose the cause of your skin condition and decide on the best course of action.
Pathogenic factors can be expelled using herbs or acupuncture, and any underlying weaknesses will also be addressed. You may be given personalized diet and lifestyle advice to help you to get on top of your skin condition more quickly.
Because TCM is an holistic therapy, it addresses the underlying cause of your condition as well as the symptoms. This means that sometimes progress can seem slow, but this is because we are treating on a deeper level than the medicated creams that you may be used to using.
TCM is also safe, natural and should not cause any side effects. It can be used by people of all ages, even young children.
Acupuncture for Skin Conditions
Acupuncture is a branch of TCM which uses fine needles to restore balance to the body's systems, maintain health and treat disease.
Acupuncture has been shown to help with many of the factors that contribute to skin conditions.
Acupuncture has the following benefits for your skin:
- Reduces inflammation
- Improves circulation
- Regulates hormone levels
- Balances the immune system
- Relieves stress
Treatment may be given in the affected area and other parts of your body to treat any underlying imbalances.
Acupuncture as an Anti-Aging Treatment
Acupuncture can also help to slow the signs of aging on the skin by reducing fine lines and wrinkles and improving muscle tone to prevent sagging. It is often combined with a form of massage called gua sha. This is done with a special tool and helps to improve circulation, giving your complexion a healthy glow.
Unlike surgery or Botox, acupuncture will not leave you looking stiff and unnatural. It is a gentle treatment which works together with your body to give you naturally younger looking skin.
Our recommended treatment plan for skin care includes 10 sessions of facial acupuncture and 2 sessions of facial gua sha.
So if you are suffering from a skin condition, or would simply like to slow down the signs of aging and have healthier looking skin, give TCM a try. You may be pleasantly surprised by the results!