TCM for RosaceaAdina Stanescu, R.TCMP April 1, 2005
Chinese Herbs Help Clear Blood Stagnation Caused by Toxic Heat Build-up
The primary feature of rosacea, as the name suggests, is flushing. This inflammatory condition is transient at first, triggered occasionally by alcohol, spicy food or the “heat” of emotional stress. Over time, if untreated, it can become permanent, without any ebb and flow.
Rosacea may also feature red, acne-like bumps, or rarely pus filled pustules. Inflammation of the eyelids and swelling of the face may be present in severe cases. People of Celtic origin are disproportionately affected.
Conventional medicine has no effective treatment for this condition. If pustules are present, they can indeed be helped by antibiotic treatment, but this would be lengthy and incur the risks and side effects generally associated with antibiotics. Furthermore, over time the pustules return. Topical steroids (cortisone cream) are sometimes mistakenly used to treat rosacea, and unfortunately they may make it much worse, or trigger a similar condition called perioral dermatitis. Retinoid compounds such as the infamous Accutane are also prescribed by conventional physicians, despite the risk of liver damage. Unfortunately, none of these methods lead to lasting, appreciable improvement.
Traditional Chinese Medicine treats this problem very successfully by tailoring the treatment to the phase and particularities of each case, as follows:
As mentioned, the early phase is characterized by transient flushing and blushing. There may also be some digestive complaints such as acid reflux, excessive appetite, bad breath and constipation. TCM considers this stage a manifestation of stomach heat, as the stomach meridian vertically traverses the cheeks. At this point, the rosacea can be treated fairly quickly, often within about eight weeks.
At this stage the redness is permanent and unchanging, and is often accompanied by red bumps and possibly coarse skin. Congested capillaries may be visible at the surface. Occasionally sufferers skip directly to this stage of the condition, sometimes without any preceding history of flushing, and for no apparent reason. However, experience at the TCM Skin Clinic suggests a strong emotional connection to this type of sudden flare, especially of pent-up anger and resentment over a long time.
As such, from the point of view of TCM, the persistent phase of rosacea is much more a problem of stagnation of blood flow in the channels of the face — a problem of poor circulation. We commonly tend to think of poor circulation as being a cold condition, intuitively. However, this stage of rosacea is a very good illustration of heat causing congestion of the blood vessels and “thickening” of blood, so that it can no longer flow properly. In fact, it is interesting that women with this condition tend to also have gynecological symptoms of blood stagnation such as clotted blood and painful periods. These often clear up as the rosacea treatment is administered.
Prescriptions consist of blood-quickening herbs, as well as herbs for any accompanying features such as eye involvement or facial swelling. Persistent rosacea will necessarily take longer to treat completely, up to 18 weeks.
No matter what the case, treatment is almost entirely internal, as all skin disease can only be successfully treated from the inside. Occasionally a herbal cream may be prescribed. Once cured, the treatment can be discontinued and the condition will not relapse.
(Editor’s note: A rich diet and inadequate exercise also contribute to the build-up of toxic heat. Regular consumption of lamb, red meats, and even dairy can cause toxic heat to pool in the intestines. Therefore, dietary adjustments, especially an increase of vegetables and fruits, will further help to alleviate this condition.)