TCM Treatment Guide for Acne
Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, is a medicinal approach to the body, health, and life in general that has been around for thousands of years, dating as far back as 200 BC. It is a method that, instead of approaching a problem with the goal of making the symptoms go away, aims to balance the body so that the underlying disease manifesting the symptoms no longer has power.
For many, this approach may seem to be confusing. The actual symptoms, themselves, may be “ignored,” while focus is concentrated on seemingly unrelated areas of the body. But you can’t argue with the results.
When you consider that TCM has been in practice since long before the advent of Western medicine and continues to have a very enthusiastic - and healthy - following, there’s got to be something behind it!
So just what is the TCM approach to acne, and how can you incorporate TMC into your acne treatment regimen?
What is TCM?
TCM is a whole body approach to health and disease treatment, with the understanding that your body’s vital energy, called qi, travels through pathways (meridians) all around your body, connecting all of your organs. Instead of working individually and separately, TCM understands that your body’s organs mutually support each other. In order for you to function completely and wholly, your qi must be balanced, and your organs operate in balance with each other.
In addition to qi, TCM allows for the belief that we have two different types of energy circulating through our bodies: yin and yang. The environment and proper flow of blood and energy throughout the body have a very strong impact in all areas of our health, including our skin.
Disease and other physical, emotional, and mental problems can develop when qi is blocked, weak, or excessive, causing yin and yang to be out of balance. Restoring that balance is essential. That is achieved through the use of herbs, diet, acupuncture, cupping and qigong.
How Does TCM View Acne?
Traditionally, Western medicine views most acne primarily as a combination of hormonal disturbance, excess sebum production, disarray of epithelial cells, and immune dysregulation. TCM views it on a much larger scale, seeing several different patterns of internal balance.
One of these imbalances is excess heat in the system. Too much stress can cause excess heat. In the case of acne, the heat may be originating in the lung system, the stomach system, the menstrual/blood system, or from the presence of a toxin in the body.
There could also be a stagnation in the system. Stagnation occurs when the circulation of blood or the fluid system becomes too slow. This is commonly referred to as congestion. In TCM, this can be viewed as coming from the blood, where you may be experiencing pimples that are dark red or purplish and stubbornly won’t go away or from the fluid system, which can result in cyst-type acne.
In order for a TCM practitioner to determine what factors are contributing to the problem, they literally need to know every little detail of how your body is performing and functioning all over: from the exact color of your menses, to your sleep/wake cycles.
Balancing your qi isn’t just a matter of spot-treating your blemishes. TCM treats acne from the inside, creating a healthy source, so there will be no more manifestation of the imbalance.
Some Traditional TCM Acne Treatment Considerations
Start With Your Diet
Since we’re concerned with cooling the excess heat, the foods you eat can have a big effect. Steer clear of greasy, spicy, sweet and fried foods, as these can not only add heat (the temperature kind, not the taste kind), but can lead to stagnation of the blood and fluids.
The foods you eat contribute to the balance of yin and yang within the body. In the case of acne, the yang is usually more prevalent. Yang foods tend to be those that are more stimulating, wet, and moist. Some examples of yang foods would be apricots, basil, beef, cayenne, chicken, coffee, ham, olives, onions, etc. In order to better balance the yin and yang, you should eat more of the calming yin foods: banana, bran, cucumber, melon, pumpkin, sunflower seeds, and tomatoes.
The temperature at which you eat your foods can also be a contributing factor. Too hot or too cold can lead to heat trapped in your blood vessels, which can show up as acne. Room temperature meals work best, because they leave your body in a more relaxed state.
Choose Natural Topicals
TCM doesn’t completely shy away from topical treatments. It does recognize the need to help alleviate the discomfort of symptoms and to balance the surface of the skin to assist in healing from the inside. It looks to utilize natural, organic ingredients that are cooling.
You probably already have a few of the acne-fighting staples stashed in your kitchen cabinets: honey, oatmeal, and turmeric can all help to cool the internal heat that causes acne breakouts.
A common go-to to help with acne is a face wash that includes in Yi Hua (honeysuckle flowers).
Remember that a lot of acne breakouts are contributed to stagnation, so getting up and getting your blood moving is top on the list for helping to clear breakouts. You’re not looking to kill yourself here with excess, but you definitely want to break a sweat. Acne has been linked to stress for a very long time, with the increase in stress hormones causing an excess of oil production. Keeping stress levels low can help to banish the blemishes. If you’re already under a lot of stress, “relaxing exercise” like yoga or tai chi is worth looking into.
Look to Herbs For Balance
There are herbal formulas available that can help to correct the imbalances in the body. This is a matter that is best visited with a TCM practitioner, though, as each person’s root cause of acne can be very different and unique. Remember, we’re not just treating the symptoms here. Four different people with acne could require four different herbal formulations to treat their underlying disease processes.
Adaptogens are frequently used to help to induce a normalizing effect on the body’s nervous system, helping it to adapt and adjust to stresses in the environment. You may recognize a few of these as ashwagandha, ginseng, and holy basil. They aim to give your body the support it needs to help adjust, fix, and maintain normalized function.
Utilizing special mapped points along your body’s meridians can help to restore balance of your qi flow. Acupuncture and acupressure can help to regulate that by clearing heat and toxins from the body. It also helps to reset and balance the nervous system. That done, it can pave the way towards better digestion, healthier toxin elimination, hormone regulation, and better blood flow. In turn, that can help to regulate your hormones, allowing your body the chance to clear inflammation and bacteria away.
Healing your body and returning it to a more normalized state can take time with TCM, as it’s not just a quick bandaid-type fix. Often, treatments require longer periods of time, like months or more. But the end result is a healthier countenance, inside and out.
Dr. Wang Herbal Skincare co-founder Steven Wang, MD has enjoyed a long and successful career as a board certified dermatologist. He currently holds the title of Director of Dermatologic Surgery and Dermatology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Basking Ridge New Jersey. Dr. Wang and his father Gui Wang, a licensed acupuncturist with over 40 years of experience, have teamed up to create Dr. Wang Herbal Skincare.
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