Skin disorders like chronic hormonal acne, psoriasis, eczema - to name some of the most common - can be frightening to deal with as a patient. They not only affect self-esteem thanks to the unavoidable sight of lesions, rashes, inflamed pimples. They can also be a total living hell due to symptoms like persistent, incessant itching.
Most, even the most holistically inclined, turn to a western medical dermatologist in such cases. But for so many who suffer skin disorders, the treatments they offer don’t truly heal the skin, nor do they restore normal functioning. In many cases these medical strategies can’t be used indefinitely and when stopped, the condition often returns. Sometimes it comes back with a vengeance worse than before. Patients often find themselves frustrated and hopeless.
In the eyes of Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), a medicine that only works while it’s being used is not medicine. In our view, these methods often fail because they don’t aim to restore the functionality of skin and the deeper internal systems that govern and regulate skin. Rather, they attempt to suppress inflammation (steroids, immunosuppressants, antibiotics) artificially regulate hormones (birth control, spironolactone), or reduce the activity of sebaceous glands by a still largely unknown mechanism (accutane, retinoids).
As a TCM practitioner, we seek to understand what has disrupted the normal functioning of the skin system in order to correct it and restore healthy order.
Whereas standard medical methods regard the disappearance of the symptom as success, I call that half-baked. To resolve the symptom is only reaching the branch of the issue (if you liken the condition to a tree). TCM strategies goes after resolving the branch AND always the ROOT of the condition. To restore healthy functionality to the body and bring stability to skin, you must always dig down to the root.
HOW EXACTLY DOES TCM TREAT SKIN?
In the majority of cases, chronic or severe dermatological disorders need to be addressed using Chinese herbal medicine. That means drinking brewed medicinal teas customized to you as the patient and the unique details of your case. A trained Chinese herbalist like myself will meet with you and go over the history of your condition like a private detective seeking every possible clue to find the culprit - the disrupted system(s) in your body causing your surface (skin) to malfunction.
From this evaluation, we design a custom fit herbal prescription using Chinese medical diagnostic and treatment principles aimed at bringing your systems back to order, and restoring healthy function globally to your body. This means we elevate your overall health as we correct your skin. What a concept, yes?
An herbal prescription for skin disorders usually consist of anywhere from 8-16 herbs that are cooked together to make a potent brew, which you drink daily. Over the next 2-4 months, if the herbs are hitting the mark, patients will experience the return of healthy, normal...beautiful skin. Some cases are easy, cut and dry. Others are more tricky and require refining and adjusting through the process. Severe cases can sometimes take up to a year to stabilize (sounds like a long time, but not really if a condition has existed a lifetime).
True skin healing takes time, because skin regenerates itself every 30 days and we are working with this natural turnover process.
DOES ACUPUNCTURE TREAT SKIN?
I myself am an acupuncturist and can vouch for its power in treating many disorders. Active skin disorders are, however, in most cases more efficiently resolved using Chinese herbal medicine as a first line. Acupuncture can be supportive to the herbal treatment, but without the herbs it can take a much longer time to resolve issues like hormonal, cystic acne. Once the skin is stabilized, acupuncture and related techniques can be incredibly helpful in smoothing skin texture and treating post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and scarring.
Treating eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, perioral dermatitis and other common dermatological disorder are almost impossible without using herbs. If you’ve been trying to treat your skin issues with acupuncture and have found results unsatisfying - you might find better outcomes by switching to an herbal approach.
Most licensed acupuncturists (at least in CA and NY) are also trained as herbalists, so you can ask your favorite acupuncturist whether they work with herbs and dermatology. You can also find out if your intended herbalist has special training in dermatology. Skin issues can be frustratingly complex to treat, and usually require specialized strategies within TCM to be successful. My own ability to help my skin patients astronomically improved after I began studying with renowned TCM dermatologist, Mazin Al-Khafaji - who I continue to study with to deepen my grasp of this specialty.
IS TCM DERMATOLOGY RIGHT FOR YOU?
Personally, I think anyone with a skin disorder should try TCM dermatology first. But if the following sounds like you, then you definitely get the green light:
You want a holistic or natural method to heal and restore functionality of your skin for common disorders like: acne, psoriasis, eczema, rosacea, hyper-pigmentation, perioral dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, etc.
You have suffered long from chronic skin disorders and feel frustrated by what your dermatology M.D. has been able to accomplish.
You are willing to commit to a disciplined regimen of ingesting herbal medicines and don’t mind drinking things that don’t taste amazing. You’ll get used to it, but I can’t lie - herbs are powerful but not delicious. Although, many report that their body begins to feel drawn to the flavors, which is often true when a medicine or food is right for you.
You have a willingness to commit to the dietary or lifestyle changes that may be necessary to improve your condition. For some, this will be important in addition to the herbal medicine.
For others, you may have tried eating and living as clean as possible but continue to suffer inflammatory upset of your skin. In such cases, herbal treatment can be the missing element that brings your skin and system back into stability and normal, healthy function.
STAY TUNED FOR MORE
There is much to learn and gain from the TCM perspective on cultivating healthy, radiant skin and we will be reporting on this and more for your dermis in the coming year. Stay tuned, and sign up for our newsletter to stay updated with our latest. If you have more specific questions on whether TCM dermatology can help you, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.