By Kathleen Rushall
Skin is the body’s largest organ. It is also the most visible and vulnerable organ. Skin conditions are very common and the discomfort of conditions like acne, rosacea, eczema, psoriasis, and dry skin is often followed by distress over their appearance. While acne is most common in adolescents, and eczema is becoming increasingly common in children, each of these conditions affects people of all ages. Eczema is the appearance of dry, scaly, red patches of skin. Rosacea is the term used to describe an uneven and often permanent blush across a person’s forehead, cheeks, and chin, which is often accompanied by small bumps and visible blood vessels. Psoriasis can spread across the body, but is most commonly found on the elbows and knees. It is the result of excess skin production that forms red or whitish scaly patches that can be itchy and painful.
Acupuncture and herbal therapy in Treating Skin Conditions
Dermatology is a recognized specialty in traditional Chinese medicine.1 Traditional Chinese medicine treatments for skin disorders have been in use since 1100 to 221 B.C. in China. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapy are the most common methods in TCM used to treat skin conditions and can provide longer-lasting relief than Western methods. Chinese herbology is effective for several reasons. Because of the complexity of plant materials, it is far more balanced than medicine that is based on isolated active ingredients, and is far less likely to cause side effects. Herbal medicine seeks primarily to correct internal imbalances rather than to treat symptoms alone, and therapeutic intervention is designed to encourage this self-healing process.2
In Asia, eczema is called ‘skin asthma,’ due to the fact that many of the children with eczema will also develop, or already have, asthma. In her article “Treating Childhood Eczema with Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs,” Soma Glick says “In Chinese medicine, the skin belongs to the lung zang. The strong incidence of eczema accompanied by respiratory ailments confirms this connection.”3 By paying close attention to the connections within the body and its ailments, Oriental medicine practitioners are often able to help more than one illness at a time. Acupuncture can yield miraculous results for eczema, and modified versions of the treatment have been created for children with eczema, and are known to also alleviate asthma.
Clinical Studies Supporting TCM in Dermatology
Numerous clinical studies have been conducted that prove Oriental medicine’s efficacy in the treatment of skin conditions. In a clinical trial at the famous Beijing Guan Anmen hospital, Department of Dermatology professor Zhu Renkang enrolled 108 patients with widespread plaque psoriasis to investigate the effectiveness of Chinese herbal medicine in treating this stubborn disease. His results revealed that 72.2% of the patients had a total clearing of skin, and 11.1% had significant improvement, meaning that there was over 80% improvement in the patients’ conditions.4 A report documented in 1992 in the British Journal of Dermatology (1) reveals that traditional Chinese herbal medicine has been shown to be extremely effective in the treatment of severe cases of atopic eczema.
Understanding the Root Causes of Skin Problems in TCM
In Oriental medicine, the two main sources behind skin problems are believed to be ‘heat’ and ‘dampness.’ The term ‘heat’ refers to distress in the body which can be caused by overwork, emotional stress (such as jealousy or anger), and/or over-activated hormones. The insufficient flushing of waste and toxins from the body, as well as water retention, and a humid or moist environment can cause ‘dampness’ in a person. 5 Attention to these alternative factors in a person’s health and lifestyle is an important element in traditional Chinese medicine. By expanding the diagnosis beyond the obvious symptoms, TCM can provide patients with long-lasting and successful treatments for almost every skin condition, and alleviate related ailments as well.