Clear Your Complexion: Traditional Chinese Medicine for Acne

Clear Your Complexion: Traditional Chinese Medicine for AcneIn my practice I see more and more patients with skin disorders such as acne. These are most often the result of our environment and the accumulation of toxins caused by a poor diet. Acne is a skin condition that commonly occurs in adolescence. It can start at puberty and continue as a problem into adulthood. Severe acne can be both heartbreaking and disfiguring. Left untreated, it can have serious physical and psychological consequences.

Hormonal activity at puberty stimulates the oil-producing (sebaceous) glands and excess oil creates a fertile breeding ground for bacteria. Bacterial infection collects debris (and pus) that blocks the gland. The area becomes red and inflamed and a whitehead appears, developing into a pimple, which may become a blackhead or develop further into a painful cyst or boil. The most commonly affected areas are the face, nose, chest and back.


According to Traditional Chinese Medicine there are four types of acne, which can be caused by lung heat, stomach heat, blood heat or damp heat. Generally speaking, ‘heat’ means inflammation or toxin-caused inflammation. In ‘lung heat’ acne cases, the patient often has respiratory symptoms such as a dry cough or a congested nose. ‘Stomach heat’ acne indicates the patient has digestive problems. ‘Blood heat’ acne patients feel heat throughout their body and their acne can become a long-term problem. ‘Damp heat’ acne means that dampness could be the cause, or the patient has a damp factor in their system.

TCM treats acne with acupuncture, acupressure, Chinese herbal therapy and adjustments to the diet. Properly applied, acupuncture increases immune response by balancing the flow of vital life energy (qi) throughout the body.  It is a complete system of healing providing effective treatment for many skin diseases, including acne. It is a natural therapy without any unwanted side effects.

Acupressure (also called tuina) is Chinese therapeutic massage, which follows the same principal as acupuncture and is especially good for people who are afraid of needles.

Chinese herbal therapy is a potent way to detoxify the body and establish the natural balance and harmony. Chinese dietary therapy is essential for many conditions and is particularly important for effective treatment of acne.

The basic treatment principle for acne is to clear heat from the related meridian and organ – thereby removing the underlying cause of the problem. Acupuncture treatment for acne focuses on the lung meridian and large intestine meridian. TCM practitioners believe the lung is the primary organ responsible for skin health; and the large intestine has a great impact on the physiologic function of the lung. The spleen and stomach meridians are also often the focus in acne cases. Frequently acne can be caused by spleen and/or stomach problems. When ‘blood heat’ is determined to be the cause, overall cleansing is necessary and acupuncture points involve multi-meridians. In the case of ‘damp heat’ acne, the spleen becomes the primary focus and removal of dampness is often effective in restoring skin health.

Chinese herbal therapy may administer herbs internally or externally – depending on an individual patient’s condition. Herbs that can be effective include dandelion, mulberry leaf, bamboo leaf, mung bean, radix rehmanniae, honeysuckle flower, forsythia fruit and poria. Dandelion and mung beans are commonly used. They are excellent for detoxification of the body and are safe for long-term consumption. Mung beans are effective for clearing pesticides and heavy metals like mercury and lead from the body – anyone can eat them on a daily basis.

To prepare dandelion, we make dandelion tea – just throw a handful of fresh dandelion leaves (organic dandelion leaves are available in health food stores) in 1 to 1.5 litres boiling water; simmer about 10 minutes, and then drink the tea while it is lukewarm. For maintenance, raw dandelion leaves are great for salad – due to their bitterness, mix leaves with other green vegetables, salad dressing is optional.

Mung beans are good for soup. Chinese people usually use a ratio of one part beans to six parts water (or 1 cup beans to 6 cups water). Bring to a boil, then cook (simmer) for 15 to 25 minutes. When it’s ready, drink the liquid and eat the mung beans. (You can tell when they’re done because the beans will split open.) To serve, strain water from beans and place in a bowl. You can add olive oil and spices to make it tasty, but for cleansing it is better to eat mung beans plain.

“Those who take medicine and neglect their diet waste the skill of the physician.”  Ancient Chinese proverb


In the Chinese tradition, a meal is not just an accumulation of calories but an opportunity to supply our organs with a balance of yin and yang. Disease most often occurs when the body is out of balance. Food is one way to make up for deficiencies and drain excesses from the body. To stay acne-free a healthy diet is crucial.

Every day we are exposed to thousands of toxic chemicals and pollutants in the atmosphere, water, food and soil. One way that the body tries to eliminate these toxins and pollutants is through the skin (especially if the other organs of elimination are already congested). Our bodies have a natural way of eliminating toxins via the immunity of the various organs. When toxins in the body accumulate faster than they can be eliminated, or when our immune function is weak or not able to work efficiently, our skin may have problems and acne may erupt.
‘Let nothing which can be treated by diet be treated by other means.’ Maimonides ~ 1138 – 1204


Fresh vegetables – Organic fresh vegetables have the ability to clear toxic heat; they are rich in phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. We should eat them as much as possible – three times a day.

Nuts and seeds – Nuts and seeds contain essential fatty acids which are the body’s building blocks. They strengthen immune cells, lubricate joints and provide energy. They are vital to a healthy skin.

Whole foods – Brown rice, whole grain products, buckwheat, oatmeal and dry beans are rich in protein and fiber. They also contain detoxifying properties.

Water, water, water! – Water is vital for good skin health. To maintain good skin condition drink 2 to 4 liters of water every day. Water can flush poisons out of the body through the skin and bowels, clean the lymphatics, and aid digestion of food. It also adds moisture to the skin. We may survive for days without food but cannot live that long without water.


Sugar — Sugar is the most important culprit to eliminate in acne cases. Sugar feeds negative bacteria (candida) in the body like gasoline feeds a fire. It stimulates the eruption of acne and accelerates skin infection. It should be completely eliminated from the diet. Any foods rich in sugar that may transit into our body quickly should be avoided.

Refined grains – White rice, white bread, cake, cookies, candy, ice cream, soft drinks, beers.

Shellfish — Shellfish generally grow and live in shallow ocean water, they eat a wide variety of foods from the ocean floor, and are full of toxins.

Saturated fat — It is wise for acne patients to limit saturated fat intake or even better to eliminate it from the diet. Of all the saturated fats, beef fat is the worst for skin health due to its negative impact on blood circulation (causing heat and congestion). Other sources of harmful dietary fat are unskinned chicken, pork, lamb, duck, whole milk and all packaged food made with animal fats. As well, synthetic sources of saturated fat include margarine, solid vegetable shortening, oil and all processed foods made with partially hydrogenated oils.

The first line of defence against acne is a good diet. Follow the above guidelines, and see a Chinese Medicine specialist,  and you’ll be on the right path to solving the problem naturally.

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