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Skin - Acne and TCM

Peggy Rollo, ND, Reg. Acup.

Medical Herbalism 2(2):6

IN TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE (TCM), acne is a hot condition, comparable to inflammation in western medicine. Heat can originate from overconsumption of rich foods that are poorly digested. The heat builds up in the digestive tract, and then progresses to involve the blood. The treatment principle for acne is to clear heat from the skin (“heat in the lungs”), digestive system (“stomach heat”), and blood (“blood heat”). The severity of acne and the causes in an individual case are clearly delineated by Oriental diagnosis. Treatment is directed at a specific cause.

When acne affects the body at a superficial level, symptoms of heat manifest near the surface rather than in deeper organs. Signs of this mild form of acne are dry mouth and nose, thin coat on the tongue, red markings in the eye. Topical skin treatments with warming herbs that promote circulation (chamomile, calendula) are especially helpful for improving the function of pores and glands and eliminating surface heat. Astringent herbs that clear heat (comfrey, plantain) can be used both topically and internally.

Acne caused by stomach heat must be treated on a deeper level than just the skin. Heat in the digestion is evident when there is bad breath, constipation, thirst for cold and an overactive appetite, in addition to the skin condition. Cooling herbs that improve digestion alfalfa, dandelion) are the indicated treatment. Food, like herbs, can be used medicinally. Eliminate warming foods such as butter, egg yolks, chocolate, nuts and alcohol. Increase cooling foods, especially watery fruits and raw vegetables such as cucumber.

When heat enters the blood level, treatment must be directed to more internal organs. Blood is detoxified by the liver, which manifests heat on an emotional level as anger or irritability. Observation of the patient shows a flushed face with red papules, a fast pulse and red tongue or red spots on the tongue. Alterative herbs with cold or cooling energy improve the ability of the liver to detoxify blood and cool liver heat (burdock, yellow dock and dark green leafy vegetables.)

If there is an element of dampness in addition to the heat syndrome of acne, inflammation can become an infection (“damp heat”). Signs of damp heat include weepy lesions with purulent discharge, and a tongue with scalloped edges and a thick yellow coat. The treatment principle for acne with infection must include herbs with antiseptic and cooling qualities (goldenseal, echinacea, oregon grape root). Dairy products, tofu and sweets may cause stagnation and dampness in the digestive tract.

Treatment with Western herbs, like treatment with acupuncture and Chinese therapeutics, can be made more specific and more effective for acne as well as other health problems. Utilizing a TCM diagnosis provides practitioners with a method to match the energetics of the patient to the energetics of the medicine prescribed.
Copyright 2001 Paul Bergner    375


    Medical Herbalism: Clinical Articles and Case Studies

Dr. Rollo is in private practice in Portland, Oregon.
Copyright 2001 Paul Bergner    376