Can Chinese Medicine Help Your Skin? We Asked The Experts

By Chere Di Boscio

After around 5,000 years of practice, there can be little doubt that there’s something to Chinese medicine. Despite what many Western doctors may claim, this traditional medicine has been used to successfully cure everything from colds to cancer for millennia. But what can it do for your skin?

For dermatological conditions like acne, rosacea, eczema, psoriasis, and dry skin, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) works by putting the body back in balance and encourage self-healing.   In fact, dermatology is a recognised specialty in TCM, with acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy being the most common methods employed to rid the skin of manifestations of disease. These methods can provide longer-lasting relief than Western solutions, and due to the complexity of plant materials prescribed, they’re more balanced than pharmaceutical   creams that are based on isolated active ingredients, and are less likely to cause side effects.

Numerous studies have been done to demonstrate Oriental medicine’s efficacy in the treatment of skin conditions. For example, in a clinical trial at the fahmous Beijing Guan Anmen hospital, Department of Dermatology professor Zhu Renkang enrolled 108 patients with widespread plaque psoriasis to investigate the effectiveness of Chinese herbal medicine in treating this stubborn disease. His results revealed that 72.2% of the patients had a total clearing of skin, and 11.1% had significant improvement – quite impressive, seeing that in the West, topical steroids are often prescribed (and these thin skin over time, making the problem worse).

‘Skin Asthma’ and Eczema

In Asia, eczema is dubbed ‘skin asthma,’ due to the fact that doctors noted that patients with eczema will also develop, or already have, asthma. This is totally in line with how, in   Chinese medicine, the skin belongs to the lung zang (or meridian).  This is where an acupuncture needle would be inserted, for example. Strong incidence of eczema accompanied by respiratory ailments confirms this connection – but few Western doctors notice these connections.

By paying closer attention to the connections within the body and its ailments, Oriental medicine practitioners are often able to help more than one illness at a time. Acupuncture can yield miraculous results for eczema, and modified versions of the treatment have been created for children, and are known to also alleviate asthma, too. But acupuncture isn’t the only solution: a  1992 report in the British Journal of Dermatology   revealed that traditional Chinese herbal medicine has also been shown to be extremely effective in the treatment of severe cases of atopic eczema.

Spleen, Heat and What You Eat

In Oriental medicine, the two main sources behind skin problems are believed to be ‘heat’ and ‘dampness.’ The term ‘heat’ refers to distress in the body which can be caused by overwork, emotional stress (such as jealousy or anger), and/or over-activated hormones. The insufficient flushing of waste and toxins from the body, water retention and a humid or moist environment can cause ‘dampness’ in a person. Noting  these factors in a person’s health and lifestyle is an important element in traditional Chinese medicine. By expanding the diagnosis beyond the obvious symptoms, TCM can provide patients with long-lasting and successful treatments for almost every skin condition, and alleviate other related issues, including ageing skin.

According to Ervina Wu, co-founder of plant-based 5YINA skincare, “TCM  is a mind-body-spirit medicine that remains more relevant today than ever.  Beauty is a reflection of our inner and outer states of well-being.   Practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine view the skin as part of the spleen and stomach organ systems, and strongly believe that what we eat affects our skin; wellness and beauty are inherently intertwined. ” For that reason, TCM doctors will often prescribe diets and special teas to help balance the body and boost the complexion. These diets focus balancing the aforementioned ‘damp’ and ‘heat’ imbalances. Few would deny the strong links to what we eat and how it affects our skin, so no surprises that today, Western medicine is finally catching up a bit with increasing research being on the gut-skin axis.

Ms. Wu notes that another important principle of Chinese Medicine is living mindfully with nature and benefitting from what it provides. She says: “The inspiration behind 5YINA came from our study of this traditional wisdom.   Our products contain herbs including  Liquorice, Peony Root, Ginseng, Tremella, Astragalus, Camellia, Safflower, and having witnessed the profound effects of this medicine, we wanted to share this knowledge with more people.” Pearl, Goji Berries, Reishi, Mugwort, Frankincense, Myrrh, Red Root (Arnebia), sesame, and Chinese Angelica are also commonly used topically in Chinese Medicine, and are present in Wu’s skincare line.

She also strongly recommends staying in tune with the seasons by changing your skincare routine accordingly: “Our skin behaves according to the changes in light, temperature, and humidity,” she states. “In the colder months, you may experience dryness, tightness, or even peeling skin.   It make sense to switch to a more nourishing and protective product just like how we layer our wardrobe during fall and winter. Our products work for most skin types and some products are particularly suited for certain skin concerns.   For example, if you tend to feel dry this fall, the Quiescent products will help nourish and protect your skin through the colder months.   You can easily select products based on your skin concerns on our website.”

She highly recommends using a jade roller to help massage skincare products in. It’s a technique that’s been used for many centuries to combat puffiness, balance energy, drain excess lymph and smooth and tighten the complexion.

A Natural Lift

Chinese women rarely get full on surgical facelifts; instead, they opt for an acupuncture based lifting. This practice can reduce wrinkles, eliminate fine lines, lift sagging skin and improve skin colour and texture. Its effects last for about three months, and it takes just under an hour of your time. But how does it work, you may wonder?

Apparently, when needles are inserted at pressure points, energy and endorphins are released. This minor trauma improves blood flow and stimulates cell re-growth. The needles in at vortex points where energy is travelling to and from organs along meridian lines. When energy flows more efficiently, circulation is improved, helping the body rejuvenate. But that’s not all – as with microneedling, when tiny needles are put into your skin, this encourages collagen production.

Acupuncturists will work on the whole body, not just the face, though. In keeping with the holistic view of Chinese medicine, needles may be placed in your feet and hands to increase blood flow, cleanse the organs and improve digestion. Increased blood flow allows more oxygen to enter cells, thus plumping out your complexion.

The treatment doesn’t promise the same results that a surgical facelift would give you, but after three treatments spaced a week apart, you will notice clearer, rosier skin, plumped up fine lines and best of all, you’ll also sleep better and feel more relaxed and able to deal with stress. No need for Botox, then!

Chinese Takeaways

So can Chinese medicine help your skin? And if so, what can we take away from all of this information? In short, if you have a skin condition, consult a Chinese doctor for the best way forward. He or she will diagnose the root of the problem and prescribe herbs, acupuncture, dietary changes or a combination of these to help eliminate the issue.

If it’s simply anti-ageing you’re after, acupuncture can do wonders, or you can try a great natural skincare brand that incorporates Chinese herbology into its products, like 5YINA, and massage them in with a great jade roller.

Chere Di Boscio
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