For both men and women, the body’s largest organ plays the role of protective barrier and mirror to the internal state of health. The skin is not only the first line of defense against sunlight, chemicals, infections and cuts, but also reflects how well internals systems and organs are functioning.
But differences in biology, genetics and lifestyle mean that each gender’s skin protects and reacts differently1 to internal and external factors. In Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) terms, these differences are explained by yin and yang.
The opposing yet interdependent forces of yin, a cool, quiet nourishing force, and yang, a warm, active and invigorating force, must be in balance for perfect health – and skin. Women, however, are prone to be deficient in yin, particularly when menstruating, pregnant, in labour and breastfeeding. These activities deplete the blood, which is yin in nature, says Eu Yan Sang physician Anita Pee.
“Young working mums often juggle multiple roles at work and at home, leaving little time for rest and for the body to replenish its blood and essence (yin) stores,” she adds. “A woman’s yin also naturally decreases with age.”
Besides yin deficiency, other issues can show up on the skin, she says, including qi stagnation from emotion stress and blood stasis that results from this stagnation. Men, too, have their share of skin issues, says Ms Pee. “Men are more likely to consume foods that are high in sugar and fat content, and drink alcohol, which exacerbate the accumulation of heat and dampness in the body, making them more susceptible to skin problems related to excessive heat (yang),” she explains.
How acupuncture boosts skin health
While acupuncture is more commonly used to relieve aches and pains, it can be beneficial for skin health.
A 2010 study by researchers from Beijing Daxing Hospital found the therapy very effective in treating acne. The study involved 200 acne sufferers who were divided into two groups: an acupuncture treatment group and a drug therapy control group. The former underwent four sessions of acupuncture treatments, while the latter was prescribed antibiotics in the form of tetracycline and metronidazole tablets.
After two months, some 94 percent of the patients in the acupuncture treatment group saw positive effects, with 34 stating that they had fully recovered and 43 more reporting that over 70 percent of their skin lesions had disappeared. By comparison, 82.5 percent of participants in the drug therapy control group experienced a beneficial outcome, with 16 reporting a full recovery, and 21 reporting that over 70 percent of their skin lesions had disappear5.
Another study, published in 2014 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine by researchers from the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, found that acupuncture was also effective in treating melasma.
The researchers evaluated data from six trials published before July 2013 where acupuncture was used to treat women with melasma.
The affected areas decreased by over 90 percent in the 468 female participants who underwent acupuncture treatments6, leading researchers to conclude that acupuncture was more effective in treating melasma than Vitamin C and E tablets.
TCM physicians believe that acupuncture helps dispel the heat and dampness that cause skin problems. They also believe that the insertion of acupuncture needles into the skin triggers the body’s self-repairing mechanisms - specifically, it boosts collagen and elastin production in the affected areas and causes skin to appear plumper7.
Acupuncture can also lift and sculpt the jawline by tightening loose facial muscles, and reduce puffiness of the face by addressing internal issues like digestive problems and poor lymphatic drainage. The result: a healthier-looking complexion.
Facing up to men’s skin issues
As far as skin is concerned, men have several factors working in their favour.
For one, they have thicker skin – 25 percent thicker to be precise, thanks to testosterone, commonly known as the “male hormone”. Men also have tougher skin and higher collagen density than women, one explanation for why women appear to age faster.
They are also paying more attention to their skin. Where vanity was once considered a woman’s domain, men are now more open to using skincare products to prevent or treat skin issues, and are more willing to spend money on maintaining their appearance.
However, some skin issues remain difficult to dodge. One of the more common ones men face after hitting puberty is stubborn acne. Some 80 percent of teenage boys suffer from acne, as compared to 70 percent of teenage girls she sees, says Eu Yan Sang physician Anita Pee.
Acne in men is typically caused by an accumulation of heat and dampness in the stomach and spleen, possibly exacerbated by the consumption of spicy and oily food, she says.
For 28-year-old Rob*, acne on his back and face had persisted for two years before he visited a Eu Yan Sang clinic. The pustules were dark red and hard, and he also had pimples on his face that were small, red and oozing pus.
“Men generally have more yang than women, and heat and fire tend to accumulate at the yang meridians on the back, giving rise to acne in that particular area,” explains Ms Pee.
Acne problems like Rob’s are usually treated with herbs to dispel heat, reduce dampness and remove toxins. These could include Forsythia, which reduces oily secretions, and Dandelion, which has antibacterial properties and contains vitamins that promote skin healing. Coix seed can help strengthen the spleen and eliminate dampness while clearing heat and draining pus, while Red Peony Root clears heat and toxins in the blood, and promotes blood circulation.
Rob saw positive results in a week, when new acne growth slowed. After a month, his complexion had become clearer.
Besides acne, men are also more prone to skin conditions like tinea versicolour or ringworm, rhinophyma, and psoriasis.
Tinea versicolour, a fungal infection that causes itchy, scaly spots to form on the skin, is also linked to damp-heat, says Ms Pee. This is typically treated topically with Rhubarb, which purges heat from the body, and dried Alum, which reduces dampness2.
Rhinophyma, a form of rosacea (skin redness) that causes the nose to become red and bulbous, is frequently – and mistakenly – thought to be the result of excessive drinking. TCM practitioners believe that it is caused by heat in the lungs and stomach, and treat it with herbs like Loquat Leaf, Mulberry Root Bark and Coptis Rhizome, all of which help dispel this heat.
Severe psoriasis, meanwhile, is characterized by thick, red patches covered with white scales. These form as a result of accelerated cell turnover3.
In a 2017 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, Swedish researchers from Umea University analysed data gathered from 5,438 psoriasis patients and found that women have a statistically lower rate of severe psoriasis than men across all age groups4.
Psoriasis in men is usually caused by blood stasis or blood heat. Psoriasis caused by blood stasis manifests as dark, thick and hard scales on the skin. It can be treated with Tao Hong Si Wu Tang, a herbal formula that includes Peach Kernel, Safflower Flower, Chinese Angelica Root, Lovage Root, Red Peony Root and Rehmannia, and which promotes blood circulation. Psoriasis caused by blood heat, and which manifests as reddish and intensely itchy skin, can be treated with Rehmannia, Red Peony Root and Tree Peony Root Cortex, which clear heat in the blood.
Besides herbs, acupuncture is also widely used to address skin issues (see box). The holistic approach advocated by TCM will usually also include dietary and lifestyle changes including getting adequate amounts of sleep, eating less oily and spicy food, avoiding prolonged exposure to UV rays, and implementing a good skincare routine.
1. Howard, D. (2016). Is a man’s skin really different? Retrieved from International Dermal Institute website: http://www.dermalinstitute.com/us/library/17_article_Is_a_Man_s_Skin_Really_Different_.html
2. Eu Yan Sang. (2016). Skin woes. Retrieved from Eu Yan Sang website: http://www.euyansang.com.sg/skin-woes/eysbeauty8.html
3.Mayo clinic staff. (2017). Psoriasis: definition. Retrieved from Mayo Clinic website: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/psoriasis/basics/definition/con-20030838
4. Author unknown. (2017). Men more prone to severe psoriasis. Retrieved from Health24 website: http://www.health24.com/Medical/Skin/Fungal-skin/men-more-prone-to-severe-psoriasis-20170412
5. Author unknown. (2017). Acupuncture acne treatment protocol found effective. Retrieved from Healthcare Medicine Institute website: http://www.healthcmi.com/Acupuncture-Continuing-Education-News/1712-acupuncture-acne-found
6. Chai, Q. Fei, Y. Hong, Y. Cao, H. (2014). Acupuncture for melasma in women: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Retrieved from the Journal of Alternative and Contemporary Medicine website: http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/acm.2014.5103.abstract
7. Author unknown. (2016). How acupuncture can rejuvenate your skin. Retrieved from Eu Yan Sang website: http://www.euyansang.com.sg/how-acupuncture-can-rejuvenate-your-skin/eysbeauty4.html