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 disappear7.
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 treatments8, 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 plumper9.
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 women’s skin issues
Women’s skincare is big business which continues to grow as both young and old spend billions in the quest for flawless, youthful-looking skin.
However, a yin deficiency - common during menstruation, pregnancy, labour and breastfeeding - will often show up in the skin as acne, pigmentation issues like melasma, or eczema, says Ms Pee.
Unlike men, who experience breakouts on their back, women are more likely to experience acne breakouts on the chin.
Before menstruation, yin deficiency in the kidneys can cause a build-up of internal heat which shows up on the chin, explains Ms Pee. Herbs such as the Glossy Privet fruit, which nourishes the kidneys, and Rehmannia root, which reduces heat, can help2.
Melasma is another skin condition that can cause more than a spot of bother. “Yin deficiency in the liver and kidneys can result in inner heatiness, disrupting blood flow to the skin and causing dark spots on the face,” explains Ms Pee. Qi stagnation due to emotional stress can also lead to pigmentation characteristic of melisma.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology3, 90 percent of those who develop melasma are women.
Chinese herbs such as gotu kola4 can help lighten dark spots by clearing heat and dampness, and reducing toxins and swelling. When in powder form and mixed with water, the paste can be applied directly onto blemishes.
Other commonly prescribed herbs include Chinese Wolfberries, Chinese Dodder Seeds and Siberian Solomon Seal Rhizome, which nourish the liver and kidneys. Salvia Root and Spatholobus Stem, meanwhile, help improve blood circulation.
Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, can also cause much discomfort, since it causes the skin to become inflamed, itchy, flaky and dry. In more severe cases, sores, scabs, blisters and bleeding may occur.
According to Ms Pee, this is caused by internal factors such as dampness, heat and wind in the body, and external factors like stress, diet and climate changes5.
Both oral and topical herbal medications, which include herbs like Patchouli to boost spleen health and eliminate dampness, and Broom Cyprus Fruit, Dictamnus Root Bark and Sophora Root to reduce itching, as well as acupuncture (see box), can help.
The hormone surge of oestrogen, progesterone, oxytocin and endorphins when pregnant6 can cause and even worsen the problem, as 30-year old housewife Adelene Low-Chng found out when she was pregnant with both her first and second children in 2012 and 2015.
Her TCM physician gave her capsules containing herbs with anti-itch properties to take orally, and a lotion to apply topically. After two weeks the itch subsided and, after she delivered, the situation completely resolved.
The appearance of wrinkles and saggy skin as women age can also be troubling. Exposure to sun and wind, and illness are among factors that can cause these signs of qi- and blood-deficiency to appear even earlier. Ms Pee suggests either acupuncture to promote blood circulation in the facial region and boost qi and blood, or herbs like Angelica root and Astragalus root.
As with most ailments, preventing the problem is always preferable, says Ms Pee, adding: “It is important to use adequate sun protection, exercise regularly, have a balanced and nutritious diet with sufficient fluid intake, and get enough rest.”
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. Lim, L. B. (2016). Kidney, liver health linked to acne. Retrieved from The Straits Times website: http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/kidney-liver-health-linked-to-acne
3. Author unknown. (2017). Melasma: Who gets and causes. Retrieved from American Academy of Dermatology website: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/color-problems/melasma#causes
4. Author unknown. (2016). 5 herbal remedies for melasma. Retrieved from LifeMartini website: http://www.lifemartini.com/herbal-remedies-for-melasma/
5. Eu Yan Sang. (2016). Skin health: Mirror to our internal health. Retrieved from Eu Yan Sang website: http://www.euyansang.com.sg/skin-health%3A-mirror-to-our-internal-health/eysbeauty1.html
6. Harris, S. (2016). Eczema and women’s hormones. Retrieved from WebMD website: http://www.webmd.boots.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/eczema/features/eczema-womens-hormones
7. 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
8. 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
9. 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