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Taking Care of the Skin You’re in with Chinese Medicine

By Maureen M. Conant, L.Ac.

It’s summertime! The sun is shining (hopefully) and Seattle is a great place to be in the summer. More time spent outdoors and more skin exposed means more vulnerability to the sun’s damaging rays. Beautiful, healthy skin may or may not be something you are lucky enough to have been born with, but regardless, there are ways to enhance and improve the skin you’re in. Whether your concern is protecting your youthfulness, clearing up a nagging acne or eczema problem, or just creating a healthy glow, Chinese medicine can assist you.

Beauty problems that show up on the skin originate internally. Your skin is the largest organ of your body. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the skin is associated with the lungs and large intestine. This may seem a little strange, but if you think about it, they all share the function of filtering toxins. A diagnosis in TCM such as 'damp-heat in the large intestine' or 'lung heat' may be the internal root cause of your acne. The solution in those examples would be to clear the damp heat, clear toxins, cool and moisturize the lungs.

Not only is the balance of the internal organs important, but beautiful skin also depends on the abundance of blood, qi, and body fluids you have, which all nourish the skin. Someone with pale, sallow, dry skin may likely have a lack of Qi, Blood or Yin, which moisturize the skin and gives it a rosy glow. On the other hand, someone with oily skin, reddish complexion, or who is more prone to acne, tends to have an excess of yang and heat in the body. Your TCM practitioner will diagnose your condition and then aim to treat the yin/yang/organ imbalance with acupuncture, herbs and nutritional advice.

Your acupuncturist will select a combination of points to address your particular skin care concern. So, if you are battling acne, acupuncture can help to balance hormones. It also helps speed along the detoxification process, if your acne, eczema or dull skin is a result of toxic overload. Acupuncture facial rejuvenation treatments (an ‘acupuncture facelift’) slow the signs of aging and give your face a wonderful glow. Acupuncture can also reduce the appearance of scars.

Herbs are used to correct the underlying imbalance contributing to the skin problem. For cases of acne and eczema, or redness, the herbal formula would target clearing heat, dampness and toxins, while balancing the lungs and large intestine. For dull, dry sallow complexions, the herbal formula selected for you would target nourishing and replenishing a lack of Qi, Blood and moisture to the skin. This approach also leads to clearer skin because when Qi and blood are abundant and flow properly, wastes are removed more efficiently.

Just a few of the many herbs used in Chinese medicine for clearing the skin include: honeysuckle flower (jin yin hua), pearl powder (zhen zhu), gardenia fruit (zhi zi), lithospermum root (zi cao), peony root bark (mu dan pi), sophora root (ku shen), dandelion (pu gong yin), chrysanthemum flower (ju hua), and forsythia fruit (lian qiao). Others used for rejuvenating pale, tired and dry skin include: dang gui, ophiopogon root (mai men dong), prepared rehmannia root (shu di huang),glehnia root (bei sha shen), and asparagus root (tian men dong).

Chinese herbs can also be applied externally to help relieve eczema, rashes and sunburns.

Recipe for sunburn/sun damage: 1 tablespoon loose green tea leaves or 1 tea bag, 2 tablespoons aloe vera gel. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil and pour over green tea in a glass bowl. Steep until cool. Discard tea. Add aloe vera gel, mixing thoroughly. Apply to affected areas with cotton balls. Green tea has healing properties, is cooling and its antioxidant properties help repair sun damage.

Your skin is reflective of your diet and is an easy, effective way to improve your complexion. Foods that help nourish dry skin include: pears, bananas, apples, berries, cherries, melons, plums, chinese dates, avocados, black beans, mung beans, black sesame seeds, peanuts, almonds, olive oil, fish, chicken, and tofu. Foods to avoid for dry skin conditions are pungent, acrid foods such as garlic, peppers and ginger. Foods that help clear heat and detoxify include: asparagus, green veggies, cucumbers, lettuce, green beans, most fruits (with the exception of citrus), mung beans, and honey. Foods to avoid for excess heat conditions are hot spicy foods, alcohol, coffee, pungent foods, and oily foods.

Lifestyle is a big part of taking care of your skin. Naturally, always use sunscreen. Consider quitting smoking. Smoking causes damage to the skin and accelerates aging. If you are ready to tackle quitting smoking, acupuncture treatments help curb cravings. If you are trying to quit smoking, an herbal formula can be prescribed to help ease cravings and help nourish damaged lungs.

Skin regenerates at night, so don't skimp on sleep. Drink plenty of water to keep skin hydrated. Avoid using harsh skin care products with alcohol in them, which dry out the skin. Your routine should include a gentle cleanser, toner, moisturizer and sunscreen.

Recipe for a facial steam with the Chinese herb jin yin hua, (honeysuckle): 1/4 cup of dried honeysuckle blossoms. Bring 2 cups of water to boil and add the honeysuckle blossoms to the hot water in a glass bowl. Let steep for 2 minutes. Place the bowl on a solid surface, drape a towel over your head, allowing the vapors to steam your face for about 10 minutes, or until the water cools. Discard or drink the liquid. Honeysuckle flowers help clear toxins that can cause heat rashes, acne, and eczema.

Getting a moderate amount of exercise is also important. Your skin releases toxins when you sweat and the increased blood circulation helps filter wastes. To conclude, the key, according to Chinese medicine, is a combination of common sense, moderation and getting to know when your body’s patterns of disharmony arise. Consult a practitioner to get diagnosed and get help with your new skin routine, especially before taking any herbs.

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