Though Chinese medicine has been practiced for over 4,000 years, it wasn’t widely accepted in the Western world until fairly recently. Dermatology, however, is a unique subspecialty where acceptance has thankfully flourished, leading to a blend of Western and Eastern techniques to control various dermatologic maladies, most notably acne and eczema.
In my practice, I’ve found traditional Chinese medicine often ameliorates skin symptoms and ailments Western medicine can’t cure. By focusing on the root cause of various issues — poor circulation, energy stagnation, excessive internal heat — Eastern medicine often succeeds where academic, double-blinded, placebo-controlled, pharmaceutical-driven Western medicine has failed. Oftentimes, it’s the simple release of a meridian that can reestablish the balance of Yin and Yang, instantly returning the body to a healthy state.
When patients come to me saying, “I’ve tried everything, every wash, every prescription … and my acne still won’t go away,” it’s clear they haven’t tried using an Eastern approach to skin care. When I tell them acne needs to be treated from within, instead of by slathering various ointments and creams on their skin, they’re often shocked.
The Western approach to acne believes the cause is three-pronged: bacteria, hormonal fluctuations and exfoliation. To treat acne, it’s often a one-size-fits-all approach, with only a few tools used on everyone, no matter how different their acne is. In contrast, Chinese medicine believes acne (known as Fen Ci, which translates to “white horns”) is caused by an overactive yang or “heat” evils, an an internal “dampness.” Stress, “hot” foods, hormonal activity, poor circulation and agitated thought are all causes of excessive heat that rise up through the body and present on the face in the form of acne. Damp environment, raw foods, insufficient sweating and poor digestion are all causes of the dampness that contribute as well.
Obviously this approach to acne doesn’t lend itself to a Western course of treatment. After all, how can any dermatologist prescribe a medication or topical treatment to combat heat evils and internal dampness?
Unlike Western medicine, Chinese medicine even attributes various acne locations to specific internal conflicts. For example, blocking of the stomach meridian results in chest and face acne, whereas blockage within the lungs and stomach results in facial acne. Patients experiencing this type of acne may also note dry mouth, dark urine and constipation, with a fast pulse and bright red tongue.
In this instance, treatment with calming foods like cucumber and green teas can be very helpful, alongside a regimen of Pi Pa Fei Yin, an herbal mixture that helps to cool the blood and clear the lungs. For sores that last a particularly long time, the traditional Chinese therapy is to activate blood circulation using an herbal blend of circulatory stimulators: Tao Hong Si Wu Tang.
As someone who blends Eastern and Western therapies in my practice, I’d sooner recommend gan cao (licorice root) to treat certain types of acne instead of over-the-counter alternatives like minocycline or doxycycline. Another agent that inhibits pus-producing cells from migrating to the face is dong qui (female ginseng).
Acne, or Fen Ci, is far from fully understood … in both hemispheres. A blend of Eastern and Western medical techniques server my patients best.