EYS TCM Clinic

Facing The Facts: Tackling Skin Issues

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Facing The Facts: Tackling Skin Issues

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.

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 manage 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 managed 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 managed 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 manage it with herbs like Loquat Leaf, Mulberry Root Bark and Coptis Rhizome, all of which help dispel this heat.

Severe psoriasis, meanwhile, is characterised 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 managed 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 managed 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.

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 managing 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 managing melasma.

The researchers evaluated data from six trials published before July 2013 where acupuncture was used to manage 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 managing 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.

References
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


Related Articles

Mirror, Mirror: Tackling Skin Issues

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.

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.”

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 managing 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 managing melasma.

The researchers evaluated data from six trials published before July 2013 where acupuncture was used to manage 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 managing 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.

References

1 Howard, D. (2016). Is a man’s skin really different? Retrieved from International Dermal Institute website:
https://www.dermalinstitute.com/article/is-a-mans-skin-really-different/
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

Teen Acne

Nineteen-year-old polytechnic student Megan Koh first developed acne five years ago. “It was itchy and painful at times,” she recalls. When antibiotics from her dermatologist failed to clear her skin, her sister encouraged her to try TCM.

When she first visited the TCM clinic, the acne on her cheeks and chin were red, swollen and pus-filled. The physician explained that she had developed them due to hormonal changes during puberty. He recommended acupuncture, which would strengthen her body, improve her energy and manage the issue from the inside out.

In addition to acupuncture treatments, he prescribed oral medication in the form of pills, powder and a liquid mixture for both day and night, as well as creams to apply on the affected areas two to three times a day. He also recommended that she avoided fried and spicy food, cold drinks and ice cream.

A month after beginning treatment, “my breakouts were not as frequent, the acne spots were smaller and some were not filled with pus,” she says.

Getting to the root causes

Acne affects up to 50 million Americans each year. Research shows that 85 per cent of those between the ages of 12 and 24 will experience some amount of acne during their teen years1.

Acne occurs when the skin over-produces sebum, causing pores to get clogged. The build-up also causes surrounding hair follicles to swell, allowing the bacteria that live on the skin surface to enter the pores and infect the sebum.

The condition appears in various forms, ranging from mild to severe. Whiteheads and blackheads appear as small blemishes on the skin. Papules are red and inflamed, while pustules are painful, pus-filled lesions. In severe cases, skin may develop large and inflamed nodules or cysts, which may leave permanent scarring2.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) terms, there are three underlying causes of acne. Firstly, consuming too much spicy, sweet or oily food can lead to heat and dampness accumulating in the stomach and spleen. This disrupts the normal flow of ‘qi’, a person’s life force. “The damp-heat moves upward and outward instead. It gets trapped at the skin surface and manifests as acne,” says Eu Yan Sang physician Anita Pee.

Managing teen acne

Once the cause of the teen’s acne has been determined, TCM physicians will usually draw up an individualized treatment plan, taking into consideration the underlying cause of the acne as well as the teen’s physical constitution and any lifestyle or dietary factors that may be exacerbating the problem, says Ms Pee.

Chinese herbs have significant anti-acne properties, as a 2003 study by Korean researchers from the Skin Research Institute shows.

The study compared Oriental herb extracts with erythromycin, an antibiotic, and retinoic acid, both of which are commonly used to manage acne. It found that an herb called Angelica dahurica and erythromycin had comparable effects, while another herb, rhizoma coptidis, was more effective than retinoic acid3.

Other Chinese herbs that can help curb acne include:

  • 连翘 (forsythia) and 蒲公英(dandelion): Manages acne caused by excess heat within the body by clearing heat and toxins, reducing swelling and dissipating nodules. Forsythia reduces oily secretions, while dandelion has anti-bacterial properties and contains vitamins that promote skin healing.

  • 薏苡仁(coix seed): Manages acne caused by damp heat and more severe forms such as nodules and cysts. It strengthens the spleen, clears heat and drains pus.

  • 赤芍(red peony root): Manages acne caused by damp heat such as cystic acne. It clears heat, cools blood and dispels blood stasis.

Other practical steps to manage acne include adopting a good skincare routine, consuming less fried, oily and sweet food, drinking at least eight glasses of water a day, having adequate sleep, managing stress well and exercising regularly.

In most cases, patience is key: “It will usually take about 3 months to manage normal acne. Serious cases will take about 6 months,” says Ms Pee.

How TCM diagnoses acne

In TCM, the areas on the face or body covered with acne serves as an indicator of the state of the person’s organs and meridian points4.

Lung heat manifests as acne on the forehead and nose. The person will show an aversion to heat and also experience chills because of his or her sensitivity to the wind. The tongue will appear red with a thin yellow coat.

If acne appears on the chest, shoulders, back and around the mouth, the person has stomach heat, which indicates stomach or constipation problems. He or she is likely to be thirsty all the time and have foul breath, and may have a big appetite. The tongue appears red with a thick yellowish coat.

Those with oily complexions and acne that is inflamed and pus-filled, meanwhile, may have damp heat. He or she experiences constant thirst with no desire to drink, and may be averse to heat. The tongue is red with a thick, yellow coating.

Blood heat may be the cause of mild to moderate acne, usually on the nose, around the mouth, and between the brows. Besides experiencing symptoms such as a flushed red face, extreme sensitivity to heat, dry stools and darker-coloured urine, the tongue is usually red with spots.

Toxic heat has similar symptoms to blood heat, but the acne in this case is more serious and pus-filled, and the skin around the inflamed lesions is usually red and painful. The tongue is red with a sticky yellow coating, and the teen may feel lethargic.

Excessive heat and wind in the lungs can also lead to a breakout. In TCM, wind is believed to have a pathogenic, or disease-causing, ability. “When pathogenic wind attacks, the uppermost part of the body, mainly the lungs, is affected first,” she explains. “Combined with excess heat, the wind-heat trapped in the lungs manifests as acne on the skin surface, and is often itchy.”

Finally, acne also develops when there is too much dampness in the body. A weak spleen impairs the body’s ability to process nutrients from food and water. This, in turn, disrupts the flow of qi, blood production and circulation. “Dampness and blood stagnation obstructs skin pores and causes the formation of deep-rooted and large acne,” she says.

References
1 Author unknown. (2017). Acne. Retrieved from American Academy of Dermatology website:
https://www.aad.org/media/stats/conditions
2 Author unknown. (2017). How to recognise all the different signs of acne. Retrieved from Acne.com website:
https://www.acne.com/types-of-acne/acne-signs/
3 Nam, C. Kim, S. Sim, Y. Chang, I. (2003). Anti-acne effects of Oriental herb extracts: A novel screening method to select anti-acne agents. Retrieved from US National Library of Medicine website:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12637783
4 Author unknown. (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

Beauty: From The Inside Out

When his father was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2014, Benjamin Kwan was under mounting stress. Almost overnight, his skin became inflamed and itchy. “It was very uncomfortable and frustrating, and I lost sleep because of it,” the 28-year-old entrepreneur recalls.

He tried several over-the-counter creams for his eczema before moving on to steroidal creams prescribed by a skin specialist. But the eczema persisted. Seeking alternatives, he turned to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

He was prescribed a powder containing a mixture of herbs which he dissolved in water and drank twice a day. Within days, the itchiness had lessened and the rash began to subside. Two to three weeks later, it had mostly disappeared, except for the areas around his hips and knees. He continued taking the herbs and that, too, disappeared over the next three months.

“I was so much happier and could sleep through the night again,” he says.

Restoring balance

TCM practitioners believe that good skin is an outward reflection of physical, emotional and mental health. “TCM views the body as an integrated whole, in that the health of the internal organs is reflected externally. The heart and liver are impacted by stress, and that manifests externally as acne on the forehead or the bridge of the nose,” explains Eu Yan Sang physician Lin Xiao Yan.

In TCM terms, good health is defined as a body in balance. Yin and yang are two opposing yet interdependent forces that exist within the body. For perfect health, yin, a cool, quiet yet nourishing force, and yang, a warm, active and invigorating force, must be in balance. A person’s life force, or Qi (气, pronounced “chi”), flows through the body to sustain this balance, and thereby, a person’s health.

When yin and yang are perfectly balanced, particularly in the heart, lungs and spleen, the complexion appears radiant and well nourished. Conversely, when one force dominates the other, and the organs are not operating in sync, issues will manifest.

Excessive heat (yang) in the heart, resulting from emotional tension or consuming too much spicy food1, for example, can result in itchiness. A deficiency of yang energy in the heart, meanwhile, can make the complexion appear dull.2

TCM believes that the lungs – one of the body’s five yin organs – control the skin and hair, promote the circulation of qi in the body, and nourish the skin with fluids. When the lungs are healthy, the skin is moist and supple; if they are dry and heaty, the skin becomes flaky and itchy and may experience a burning sensation due to a lack of nourishment.

The spleen, meanwhile, removes dampness in the body. When there is a dysfunction of the spleen, the accumulation of excess dampness and heat can cause an increase in the production of sebum, leading to acne outbreaks, rashes or eczema.

Addressing the source of problems

A variety of therapies, including herbal medication, acupuncture and tui na, alone or in combination, can be used to address skin problems. The ultimate aim of treatment is to restore yin-yang balance to the heart, lungs or spleen, and a smooth flow of qi in the body.

In cases of eczema, herbal remedies have proven effective. In a 2009 study by researchers at Japan’s Yoshiteru Shimoide Clinic of Internal Medicine, 87 percent of the 274 long-term eczema patients treated with herbal remedies were symptom free after just four months, while a further 12 percent showed marked improvement.3 The research subjects were adults who had suffered from eczema for an average of 12 years, and had patches of chronically itchy, dry, inflamed skin over at least 10 percent of their bodies. The herbal remedies were selected and administered based on the symptoms of the individual patient.

In a retrospective study4, conducted between August 2006 and May 2008 at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, TCM therapies – including herbal medication and acupuncture – were also found to be effective on children. Dr. Julia Wisniewski, who headed the project, is quoted to have said that there was a need for alternative treatments for eczema as many patients with severe allergies continue to have flare-ups a decade after standard therapy with steroids and immune-suppressing agents.

Besides eczema, TCM can be used to manage a range of other skin problems, from acne to more severe conditions such as psoriasis. Psoriasis, an autoimmune disease that results in itchy, scaly patches of skin, is often accompanied by psychological problems – including anxiety and depression – due to its highly visible symptoms.

A 2004 clinical assessment conducted at Taiwan’s Chang Gung Memorial Hospital5 successfully used indigo naturalis to help reduce the appearance of the physical symptoms of psoriasis, leading to improved well-being. Almost three-quarters of the 42 patients enrolled in the trial reported a complete clearing of psoriasis in the attended areas after three months.

The study is particularly important given the numbers – according to a 2016 report by the World Health Organization, at least 100 million individuals worldwide are affected by psoriasis.

Acne sufferers, meanwhile, benefit most from acupuncture in combination with therapies such as herbal treatments and cupping, according to a 2013 study that evaluated 43 trials involving 3,453 patients.7

The best approach, however, is preventive, says Ms Lin. Herbal treatments formulated for the individual, and taking into consideration his or her lifestyle and other factors, can help keep the body in balance, and the skin clear. Herbs such as lily bulb, for instance, nourish the lungs and calm the heart, preventing excessive heat from accumulating. Mulberry leaves alleviate dryness in the lungs, while barley removes heat and dampness in the spleen.

Loke Y. L., a 32-year-old teacher in Singapore who consumed a herbal powder over the course of a year, found that it helped more than just her skin. “I used to fall ill frequently and would take more than a week to recover from the flu. But since taking TCM medicine, I seldom fall sick,” she says.

Mitigating factors

Internal imbalances are not the only causes of skin problems. The environment around us also plays a part. “Certain diseases are more prominent in certain types of weather, environments, or geographical locations,” Ms Lin says. “When the skin is exposed to excess heat and humidity, itchiness, rashes, and blisters can occur.” In these situations, herbal medications, as well as practical steps such as not bathing in hot water and keeping out of the sun, can help relieve symptoms. Lifestyle changes – sleeping by 11pm, a balanced diet and regular exercise – will also have a positive impact.

The best herbs for great skin

It is no wonder that TCM herbs like goji berries have made their way into the creams and serums produced by skincare brands around the world, and that TCM is generating brands of its own.

Here are some beauty-boosting herbs:

  • Chinese wolfberries, also known as Goji berries: Nourishes yin and improves blood production. Packed with antioxidants and boosts collagen and elastin production8

  • Ginseng: Brightens the complexion and diminishes signs of aging9

  • Soy beans: Smoothens wrinkles10

  • Lingzhi and licorice: Anti-ageing and detoxifying properties11

  • Cordyceps: Revitalises the complexion and strengthens skin against environmental damage12

  • Green Tea: Packed with bioflavonoids and catechins, which promote elasticity, improve tone and restore skin at the cellular level13

  • Gingko biloba14: Contains antioxidants to diminish the effects of free radical damage on skin

Physician Lin emphasizes, however, that getting to the root of the problem might make for more lasting effects, adding: “The best way to manage skin problems is to identify their underlying causes. In that way, we aim to reflect beauty from the inside out.”

References
1 Clogstoun-Willmott, J. (2016). Heart Fire: The kind of heat in your heart that you don’t want. Retrieved from Acupuncture Points Website: http://www.acupuncture-points.org/heart-fire.html

2, 11 Eu Yan Sang. (2016). Tips for a healthy, rosy complexion. Retrieved from EuYanSang.com:
http://www.euyansang.com.sg/tips-for-a-healthy-rosy-complexion/eysbeauty2.html

3 Shimoide, Y. (2009). An End To Suffering From Atopic Dermatitis. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, S41.
4 Wisniewski, J., Nowak-Wegrzyn, A., Steenburgh-Thanik, E., Sampson, H., & Li, X. (2009). Efficacy and Safety of Traditional Chinese Medicine for Treatment of Atopic Dermatitis (AD). Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, S37.
5 Lin, Y.-K., Chang, C.-J., Chang, Y.-C., Wong, W.-R., Chang, S.-C., & Pang, J.-H. S. (2008). Clinical Assessment of Patients With Recalcitrant Psoriasis in a Randomized, Observer-Blind, Vehicle-Controlled Trial Using Indigo Naturalis. Arch Dermatol, 1457-1464.
6 World Health Organisation. (2016). Global Report on Psoriasis. Geneva: PDF here

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