As we age, so does our skin. But there is no reason why aging skin cannot remain youthful-looking – as Stella Tan, 59, discovered.
A mother of three and a retired secretary, Stella had spent a lifetime juggling multiple roles that left little time for vanity. “I bumped into an old friend who casually pointed out the crow’s feet around my eyes, and it came as a bit of a shock,” she admits.
Her self-confidence took a beating, she says, adding: “As I looked at my reflection in the mirror and counted the wrinkles on my face, I realised that time had stolen my looks while I was making a living.”
It prompted the start of a new skincare regime, but the expensive serums that claimed to stop time helped little. She decided to try TCM, leaving her first appointment with a powdered herbal concoction that included Milkvetch Root (Huang Qi/ 黄芪), and advice to drink Ginseng tea and Pearl powder mixed with hot water or green tea once a week. Within two months, she noticed a change in her complexion – her face was brighter and the wrinkles less obvious.
Beating the clock
Western medicine blames ageing on two broad categories of factors – programmed and damage-related. Programmed ageing is the proverbial biological clock, a process predetermined by genetics. Then there is the accumulated damage that causes biological systems to fail, such as free-radical damage and telomere shortening, through which the section protecting the end of each chromosome deteriorates and becomes too short, causing the cell to die.1
Either way, the ageing process is viewed as irreversible, except by expensive surgical procedures.
Practitioners of TCM disagree. According to TCM, age-related changes are brought about by the accumulation of metabolic waste, internal deficiencies and the degeneration of organs, all of which can be managed.
Practitioners believe that the health of the heart, spleen and lungs play a central role in maintaining nourished skin throughout a person’s lifetime. The heart governs blood and the circulatory system, while the lungs are responsible for disseminating fluids in the body. The spleen plays a crucial role creating blood and the vital life-giving energy known as qi, and controls the muscles which allow smooth transportation of these elements, so the skin is nourished.3
A deficiency in heart qi causes ineffective transport of nutrients, while a diminished spleen results in a failure to produce sufficient blood and qi. This in turn affects the lungs’ ability to distribute fluids which causes dry skin and wrinkles.4
Exacerbated by a build-up of excess waste products and a slower metabolic rate as one ages, malnourished skin is often dull, wrinkled, dry and littered with age spots.
Aging often affects women and men differently, says Eu Yan Sang TCM physician Anita Pee.
In women, the Yang Ming Meridians – which channel qi toward the stomach and large intestines — are the first to deteriorate, with the corresponding changes appearing in the face. For men, the first sign of aging tends to be a decline in kidney essence, which leads to loose teeth and hair loss.
Beauty from within
TCM physicians respond to changes brought about by ageing with therapies that strengthen the spleen, which increases blood production and circulation while nourishing yin to improve hydration. This results in better texture and elasticity of the skin.
Herbs that nourish the heart, spleen and lungs are thought to be especially effective in helping women maintain a youthful appearance. Ingredients such as Lingzhi (灵芝), Ginseng (人参), Chinese Wolfberries (枸杞子), White Fungus (银耳) and Bird’s Nest (燕窝) can be used to maintain soft and lustrous skin5. Herbs such as Peach Kernel (桃仁), Dahurian Angelica Root (白芷) and Magnolia Flower (辛夷) can also be added to recipes to help with the disposal of excess metabolic waste.6
TCM practitioners believe in the healing properties of food, and dietary changes are often part of a holistic treatment programme. Ancient Chinese literature has extolled the benefits of sesame, honey, mushrooms and milk products to achieve rejuvenated, youthful looks.7 Other foods that help to nourish Yin and boost blood production are Chinese Angelica Root (当归), Red Dates, Oysters, Mulberry fruit, White and Black Fungus, Black Rice, Black Soybean and Sea Cucumber.
Acupuncture or tui na, meanwhile, stimulate acupoints which regulate the function of organs and meridians that in turn enhance the circulation of qi in the skin.8 “Acupuncture and tui na can help to balance the body’s yin, yang, qi and blood,” says Ms Pee. “Done twice a week, acupuncture can help with fine lines, winkles and sagging skin.”
Finally, do not underestimate the importance of good lifestyle habits in ensuring that you look as radiant as you feel. Ms Pee explains: “The best way to ensure great skin and reduce visible of signs of aging is to have adequate sleep, a balanced healthy diet with less oil and sugar, good sun protection, regular exercise, adequate hydration, and proper stress management.”
1 Liochev, S. I. (2015, December 17). Which Is the Most Significant Cause of Aging? Retrieved from US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4712935/
3,4 Huang, F., Parker, R., & Cui, H. (2011). Cosmetology in Chinese Medicine. PMPH-USA.
6,7 Shen-Nong Limited. (n.d.). Keeping the Skin Young. Retrieved from Shen Nong Website: http://www.shen-nong.com/eng/lifestyles/tcmrole_aging_skinyoung.html
8 Acupuncture Today. (2011). Tuina. Retrieved from Acupuncture Today Website: http://www.acupuncturetoday.com/abc/tuina.php