Healing Acne Holistically With Traditional Chinese Medicine

By Sally Perkins

Acne is the most common skin disease in the United States — 50 million Americans experience breakouts each year which can continue into your 30’s and 40’s, the American Academy of Dermatology reports. While most of us turn to skincare or makeup to externally treat acne, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) addresses the underlying root causes. TCM recognizes acne as typically the result of excess internal heat caused by imbalances in the body. Treatment involves herbal formulas targeted to specific skin types, as well as dietary changes which eliminate inflammatory foods. In most cases, acne improves in as little as one month but takes roughly six months to disappear completely.

Excess Internal Heat


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In Chinese medicine, acne is primarily caused by excess internal heat. Excess heat builds up in the body when it’s under constant stress or hormonally imbalanced. This acne-causing internal heat is generated in the lungs (which control the skin), intestines, menstrual system, and by specific toxins in the body. Often, however, acne doesn’t just originate from one place; there can be multiple influences involved. For example, facial acne can result from a block in both the lungs and stomach.

The Problem of Stagnation

Chinese medicine also recognizes stagnation (or impaired blood circulation) as a root cause of acne. If stagnation is the reason for your acne, your spots may be sore, stubborn, deep red, or even purple. You may also breakout before your period and experience painful menstrual cramps. Alternatively, fluids in the body can stagnate and result in phlegm. Cystic acne is often a result of phlegm stagnation (as well as blood stagnation).

Clean Diet for Clear Skin


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TCM recommends avoiding inflammatory foods — particularly greasy, spicy, and damp foods — as they heat up your blood, which results in breaks outs. Don’t eat anything too hot or cold in temperature, either. Sticking to room temperature food will prevent contributing to excess internal heat. Your body needs to be relaxed in order to function optimally, rather than devoting its energy to digestion. Reducing overall stress also helps calm the body and clear the skin. Low cortisol levels help your skin stay clear and blemish-free.

Restoring the Body with Herbs

Herbs are essential for stabilizing the body. Traditional Chinese medicine treatment includes herbal mixtures which calm the body, cool the blood, boost circulation, and detox the lungs. Adaptogens are used to balance hormones, soothe the nervous system, and improve digestion — with the result of beating acne and calming irritated skin. The specific herbs used depends on your skin type and can be determined by your dermatologist.

Unlike Western medicine, traditional Chinese medicine doesn’t rely on a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment. Dermatologists tailor treatment to suit each specific case with the aim of cooling excess internal heat, cleansing and detoxifying the body and externally healing the skin. Your dermatologist will work with you to find natural, effective, and holistic treatments to keep your skin healthy and acne at bay for life.

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