Our skin is not only our protective barrier to the environment, but also a mirror to our internal health. In TCM, imbalances in our body often manifest themselves as skin disorders. Their root causes may involve the imbalances between Yin, Yang, Qi and the Blood, or pathogenic factors such as wind, dryness, dampness, cold or heat.
TCM treats skin disorders in a unique way. It addresses both the root causes and branch symptoms of a condition to restore healthy balance to the body.
The following are two of the most common skin conditions that can be better understood from the TCM perspective. As every individual has differing conditions and body constitutions, it is advisable that one always consults a licensed physician for a detailed diagnosis and corresponding treatment.
Acne is a commonly seen skin condition among adolescents. In TCM, however, acne is not discriminated by age but by patterns or by types of internal imbalance. It is often associated with heat and damp heat lingering in the organs and meridians. Careful differentiation of heat is therefore crucial to treat the pattern of disharmony accordingly.
• Lung Heat manifests itself as acne around the forehead and near the nose. The tongue will turn red with a thin yellow coat. Often, the patient will experience chill due to sensitivity to wind and show aversion to heat.
• Damp Heat has the tendency of triggering chronic acne. The skin is usually oily and the acne is inflamed and pus-filled. The patient will experience constant thirst but with no desire to drink, and may have an aversion to heat. Generally, the tongue is red with a sticky coating.
• Stomach Heat indicates digestive and constipation problems. It often comes with symptoms such as acne breakouts on the chest, shoulders, back and around the mouth, as well as a red tongue with a thick yellowish coat. The patient may feel thirsty all the time. He or she may have big appetite and prefer greasy, spicy foods.
• Blood Heat carries symptoms like mild to moderate acne, a flushed red face and an extreme sensitivity to heat. The patient may develop a long-term acne problem. The tongue is usually red and may have a yellow or crimson colour coating. There may be the tendency to pass dry stools and darker urine.
• Toxic Heat shows symptoms similar to Blood heat, only that the acne is often more serious and pus-filled. The skin around the inflamed area is usually red. It is often accompanied by a red tongue with a sticky yellow coating. The patient may complain of lethargy.
Other external causes like environmental hazards, improper use of cosmetic products, lack of sleep, overwork, poor food choices, as well as emotional factors such as stress, anxiety and depression, could also contribute to the disharmonies within.
In TCM, acne is oftentreated using a prescribed herbal medication. Generally, one is advised toconsume more fruits and vegetables, drink more water and maintain a balancedand healthy diet to prevent acne. Drinking cooling Chinese herbal tea like Coix Barley (Yiyiren, 薏苡仁)and Chrysanthemum tea (Juhua, 菊花) is ideal, especially in hot weather.
Eczema is a type of skin disorder that is characterised by inflammation, itchiness, redness, flaky and dry skin. In more severe cases, sores, scabs, blisters and bleeding may occur. It is also referred to as atopic dermatitis.
The onset of eczema and the severity of its symptoms differ from person to person. In most cases, eczema tends to attack any part of the skin suddenly with symptoms such as flush, swelling of the skin, cluster of red papulae, blisters and intense itching at the affected area.
When the condition has been stabilised, the affected part of the skin may have crust formation, pigmentation, scales, blisters and exudation. In chronic cases, these symptoms may subside and recur periodically. The appearance of the affected skin may become dry, thick and rough, accompanied with scales, and dark red or brown pigmentation. Itchiness will become intense when there is contact with heat or before going to bed.
In TCM, eczema is a complex condition that can have many different manifestations. It is an allergic reaction that is caused by both internal and external factors. Internally, the main causes of imbalances are dampness, heat and wind. Other factors like stress, depression, climate and diet could also contribute to the cause.
The TCM therapeutic principle works by clearing away the heat and dampness through bowels, urine and skin; by expelling wind and detoxifying the body, as well as moistening the dryness and nourishing the Blood.
A combination of acupuncture treatment, external applications and the intake of herbal medication can bring about relief.