As a Chinese Medicine Practitioner specializing in Women’s Health, I often treat skin disorders, especially acne, eczema, and rosacea, among others. My female patients are, of course, dismayed to see these conditions happening on their face. Yuck! The good news is that all of these patients have greatly improved their skin, and in the course of treatment, they invariable ask me what I do to have clear skin. I’ve thought about writing about this for a while, but have hesitated because many women find what I do difficult to implement. It’s simple, just against the grain of our culture. However, it’s worked for me, so I will pass it along.
First it’s important to understand that, from Chinese Medicine point of view, the health of the skin, and therefore what we often consider beautiful, comes greatly from within. How we live our lives and what we eat can have a big impact. Also, I have had some difficulty with acne in the past, but learned how to largely get rid of it, so I have had experience with it. That said, here is what keeps my skin healthy:
- Exercise – I have always exercised regularly, but moderately, from a very young age, from organized sports to hiking and yoga now. Exercise keeps the Qi energy flowing. Stagnant Qi easily leads to the heat, damp and stasis that causes acne and other skin disorders. The only caveat I would give is that I found it’s important to at least rinse your face after sweating or especially bicycling in the city. I used to get some acne when bicycling across Oakland to work, and found that an invisible layer of grime was getting on my face and causing acne. If I rinsed it off as soon as I got to work, that helped. Also, too much exercise can deplete the Qi and Yin, which has its’ own problems. Moderate.
- Don’t touch you face! – Our hand are often dirty. Seems simple, but can be hard to implement. I used to have trouble, and I had to train myself to not touch. Takes some determination, but it CAN be done!
- Splash Cold Water – In my twenties, I worked as a waitress while going to grad schools. While working at Kimballs Jazz Club in San Francisco, there was a young gay man working with me who had beautiful skin. When asked what he did, he said the secret was that he splashed his face 30 times with very cold water every day. I began doing this, and still do it to this day, although I don’t usually do 30 times. Often I do 3-4 on my face, and 3-4 on each side of my neck. I keep a separate towel for my face ONLY, and tap it gently dry afterwards. I change the towel to a clean one once a week.
- “Don’t put anything on your face” – EXCEPT a very light, hypoallergenic, fragrance free lotion. I ONLY use Earth Science Fragrance Free Almond Aloe Facial Moisturizer. That’s it. All I ever put on my face is a very small amount of lotion each morning, that I lightly massage in around my eyes, and with upward strokes on my cheeks and neck. Exercise can be hard, but this is the part that many women find extremely difficult: no makeup. I actually did wear makeup briefly in my late teens and early twenties, although I switched very quickly from the full shabang to using only a natural powder for rouge and eye shadow. (It came in a little clay bottle with a cork, does anyone remember that? I don’t remember the name, now!). Still, I was consistently getting some acne, especially little red bumps. I was trying all kinds of products and scrubs, Then I saw a doctor who said to me, “If I was you, I wouldn’t put anything on my face.” She also told me about the link between synthetic fragrance and skin eruptions, especially when combined with sunshine. At the time, I was very surprised, because I had read that sunshine could help acne, but it was true that mine seemed to get worse after being out in the sun. I tried her advice, found a fragrance free lotion, and stopped putting anything else at all on my face. Bingo, I stopped getting outbreaks of these little red bumps. Since then, I have tried wearing makeup, only natural makeup, and have found that as soon as I do, I get some acne within a day or two, especially at the chin line. I also use fragrance free shampoo, conditioner, and laundry detergent. (to protect from fragrance reactions from use of sheets, towels, and hair touching the skin)
- Anti-Inflammatory Diet – I’m generally pretty careful with my diet, with occasional splurges. I don’t drink coffee or alcohol and don’t smoke anything at all. I don’t eat spicy food. These are all very heating. I avoid dairy and greasy food. These create dampness. Acne and Eczema are both related to heat and dampness. I do eat lots of greens, whole grains, and fish, and buy organic and hormone-free produce when I can.
- Acupuncture and herbs – Even with all this clean living, I still sometimes got some acne just before my period. Soon, I came across Chinese Medicine, and decided to give it a try. Within a few months of consistent treatments and herbs, I stopped getting premenstrual acne or headaches. I had been thinking about it, and this is what clinched my decision to go to Acupuncture school. I continue to get Acupuncture regularly, at least twice a month and often more, since life is full of stress and change, and Qi Stagnation inevitably builds up. I take Chinese herbs almost every day, as I consider it part of my diet.
- Deep Relaxation, Express your Emotions – Emotions, especially stress and anger, can often “bubble up” onto the face, especially if they are repressed. So it’s NOT that you’re not supposed to have these emotions. They need to be expressed, in a healthy way. Figuring out your emotional triggers can by key. It’s also important to learn how to manage stress. We all have it, so try to reduced it the best you can, and then try some sort of deep relaxation. I’ve been a meditator for 30 years, and that works for me. That might interest you, or you might prefer to listen to guided relaxations. These days, “there’s an app for that!”
So that’s it! No complicated facial care regime, no lists of products. Just “simple” diet and lifestyle, and actually leaving your face alone as much as possible. Somehow, that can be the hardest thing to do, but it’s worth it! Good luck!