Did you know that your skin is the largest organ of the human body? It’s our first line of defense from external pathogens and it can tell you a lot about what’s going on inside you. Anything from red rashes and dry skin to dark under-eye circles can indicate an imbalance somewhere in the body. Chinese medicine practitioners observe the complexion of the face as one of their diagnostic tools. The face represents the state of Qi, blood and the Yin/Yang organs, especially the heart. The complexion is also used to assess the state of the spirit or “shen”, an extension of the heart. A lustrous complexion is said to reflect a healthy internal spirit, meaning that the Qi of the body is flowing freely, the blood of the body is nourished and we’re positively connected to the world around us.
Different imbalances show up in a variety of ways:
Dull, dry skin is often the result of external factors like air-conditioning, heating, pollution, overwork, and stress. From a Chinese medicine perspective, the Yin of the lungs and kidneys could be diminished, often from aging and lifestyle factors (Ex: Smoking). Blood dryness is another possibility that is commonly seen in people that have dull dry skin. Blood dryness is a Chinese medicine term used to describe the quality and state of the blood. It can be caused by not eating enough blood nourishing foods like bone broths, meat, and dark leafy greens as well as the aforementioned external factors.
And let’s not forget dehydration!
Dark circles are the bane of many complexions. Under-eye creams targeting dark circles can be helpful but ultimately what’s going on inside will prevail. Lack of Qi and blood circulation in the area can leave some people with blockages of blood, causing a dark purple hue near the inner corner of the eyes. Dark eye circles combined with tired, dull and dry looking skin can reflect deficient liver and kidney yin, meaning the organ that relates most to the aging process (Kidney) and the organ that is responsible for the smooth flow of Qi (Liver) are deficient of Yin (Moisturizing, cooling). Without an abundance of Yin, the skin is not nourished and the delicate eye area does not get nourishment. With this pattern, darkness with blood vessels showing through is often seen.
Puffy eyes are most often due to fluid accumulation. From a Chinese medicine perspective, the organ responsible for the transformation and transportation of fluids and nutrients, the spleen, is deficient. Due to contributing factors like, poor diet, damp climate, chronic disease and mental/emotional exhaustion, the spleen’s ability to move fluid is lacking, so as a result fluid can accumulate and show up as puffiness in the face and around the eyes.
Redness can show up anywhere on the face. All over or concentrated to particular areas, this can tell you a lot about what’s going on internally. Face-mapping is utilized by some practitioners as a diagnostic tool. It can be helpful to find out what organ systems are imbalanced during a consultation. See below for an example of face-mapping. I often see patients with redness or lines in between their eyebrows. This area represents the liver, the organ responsible for the smooth flow of Qi and can indicate a stagnation of liver Qi or another pattern related to the liver.
Acne is a common skin condition that can be quite complex to treat. It can be the result of anything from stress and diet to hormonal imbalances. Acne begins with a blockage of a hair follicle on the face, neck, shoulders, chest or back. This occurs when a plug forms in the follicle, blocking sebum- an oily substance that the sebaceous glands produce. Bacteria that normally grows on the surface of the skin begins to grow in the blocked follicle, signaling white blood cells, which cause inflammation. As the blocked follicle becomes full it overflows onto the skin causing pimples or cysts. From a Chinese medicine perspective, acne is caused by a number of different reasons. One common pattern is when the spleen, the organ responsible for transforming and transporting fluids, is deficient. The matter inside a pimple or a cyst is viewed as dampness, or an accumulation of fluids that the body has been unable to process.
Pigmentation and dark spots like melasma are often seen in women over the age of 30. This is quite common and can be part of aging or connected to hormonal fluctuations. In Chinese medicine, melasma can be due to deficient Yin of the liver and kidney as well as liver Qi stagnation. The kidney, being the organ closely related to the aging process gradually loses Yin as we age, so signs of aging like melasma and changes of pigment can be seen. Stress, anxiety, overwork, and strong emotions affect the liver and contribute to how we age and what signs of aging are seen. Melasma due to liver Qi stagnation and liver yin deficiency often show up as dark patches with a slight yellow-brown tinge. These patches of pigmentation may be worse just before menstruation and fade after.
Malar flush, seen below, presents on the cheeks. It’s often not a permanent state but can come on in the late afternoon for some people. It is an indication that the Yin or cooling, calm aspect of one’s being is deficient. This may be due to dietary sensitivities, overwork, stress, lack of rest, late nights and anxiety. Malar flush can be prominent with Rosacea, and is quite complex to address.
Even though cosmetic acupuncture is a relatively new idea, it’s mechanisms are in line with traditional Chinese medicine theory. In a nutshell, very fine needles that are made specifically for facial acupuncture are inserted in various areas of the face to stimulate collagen and elastin by creating a small “microtrauma” to the area, stimulating fibroblasts (Fibroblasts play a critical role in tissue repair) which is great for anti-aging and resurfacing the skin. When the face is needled, it promotes Qi and blood circulation and carries nutrients to the facial cells, helping to rejuvenate dull, dry skin. Distal points are also included to address constitutional imbalance(s) to work with the body to heal itself.
What we see on the outside is a reflection of what is going on inside, in fact, it’s one and the same. Cosmetic acupuncture is a safe, gentle, anti-aging practice to improve the quality of the skin and over-all health. If you resonate with some of the skin conditions discussed and/or have some questions about treatment contact Mornington Chinese Medicine.
Andrea Murphy (Dip Acu)
Andrea is available at MCM every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday
Check out her bio at >>> http://www.morningtonchinesemedicine.com.au/andrea-murphy/