Clear Skin Naturally

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:

  • ExerciseI 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!


Stars and Athletes Who Use Acupuncture!!

acu in kneeI’ve often heard that many famous athletes and stars use Acupuncture. Recently, I saw a list in the publication, Acupuncture Today. They tell us that athletes use acupuncture to “recover from soreness and fatigue faster, to feel stronger and feel more balanced.”  That inspired me to look further online, and I found that using Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is actually a trend among many stars!  This highlights the fact that Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can be used even if you are feeling healthy, to promote optimal well-being, or to recover from minor injuries.   These are just a few of the most famous athletes and stars.  Follow some of the links I’ve embedded to read about many, many more!

Kobe Bryant –  This NBA superstar actually posted photos of his leg with acupuncture needles in it on his social media platforms.  He wanted to show his fans he was using  Eastern medicine along with conventional therapies to recover form a recent injury.

Mickael Pietrus –  Another famous NBA player originally from France, Mickael was treated while at the Shaolin Temple in China! Afterwards, he said he no longer had any pain in his knee and was ready to go back to play earlier than expected.

Sandra Bullock –  It’s well-known that Sandra gets acupuncture regularly, and even requires that it be included in her contract!  It’s her “secret weapon” for staying younger looking and keeping up vitality.

Robert Downy, Jr. –  My girlfriends and I have had a crush on Robert for a long time, and now I know why!  He uses TCM regularly, and says it has “had a profound a profound impact in all areas of his life for many years.”  He even does Qi Gong, and was given an award for his advocacy of TCM.  Maybe I felt his energy all along!

Jason Hammel  –  A pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles at the time (now he’s with the Cubs), Jason used Acupuncture at the suggestion of his wife, and said he was “astonished” at how good it made him feel!  It helped his energy, to enliven a “dead arm,”, and he also went in to use it as an alternative to medications for cholesterol.  The cholesterol meds had given him body aches and hampered his abilities.

Finally, many Olympic athletes use Acupuncture and TCM.  Kevin Overland, a Canadian speed skater, used it to recover from a hip injury and won a Bronze medal, according to Acupuncture Today.  Many athletes in the London Olympics also used Acupuncture.  Five time Olympian high jumper Amy Acuff uses Acupuncture to heal from injuries and regulate her nervous system.  And there are many, many more!  In summary, Acupuncture is becoming known for being good for what ails you.


Meet Your Liver!!

As many of you know, I was busy this past fall taking care of my mother, who is now in End Stage Liver Disease due to a rare autoimmune condition.  Damn, I never thought I would know as much about the Liver as I do now!  At the moment, my mother has recovered from her last bout of blood loss (due to GI bleeding, common in this situation) and is gaining energy, in a kind of remission for a while, you might say.  This leaves me some time to write to you about all that new knowledge I’ve gained.


If you come to see me at all for Acupuncture or Chinese Herbs, you already know that your Liver is a pretty important organ.  In Chinese Medicine, it’s one of the first things to get messed up, with Liver Qi Stagnation, meaning the Qi energy is not moving well, kind of stuck.  This can lead to all sorts of other problems.  From a Western Medicine point of view, this makes total sense!  You might also already know that your Liver is your body’s filter.  It’s located on the right side of your body, just under the ribs, and they say it’s about the size of a slightly deflated football.  It filters toxins (including alcohol and fats) from the blood by using various enzyme processes to break things down and change things to forms we can either use or more easily excrete.

So Qi Stagnation is kind of like the filter getting clogged a bit, although in Chinese Medicine, we say this can happen not only from toxins we ingest, but also from emotions, particularly stress and anger.  That might seem “out there” to some, until you think about the fact that stress and anger causes the release of certain hormones in the body that the Liver then has to break down!  For most people, this clogging leads to irritability, maybe some aches and pains,especially around the ribs or in the shoulders, maybe some stomach upsets, PMS in women.  In more severe cases it can lead to headaches, insomnia, and even high blood pressure, to name just a few.

We also say in Chinese Medicine that the Liver stores the Blood.  Well, if you’ve seen a Liver, it is a pretty bloody looking thing, and ALL of our blood has to flow through it to get filtered.  But did you know that the Liver stores vitamins, minerals, and sugar until we need to use them?  So it IS a storage place!  And it’s said that the Liver demands 25% of the blood pumped by each heartbeat! So if you’re low on blood or anemic, it can really have an effect on the Liver.  I witnessed this happen as each time my mother’s blood levels got extremely low, Liver failure symptoms started to show up, like ascites (fluid in the abdomen) and edema (in the legs).  Once they gave her blood and stopped the bleeding, the Liver function gradually returned some, even though she only has 10% left!

One thing that I didn’t know that I found out through researching my mother’s condition is that the Liver also produces clotting factors.  This is why if the Liver function gets really low, like in End Stage Liver Disease where less than 10% of it is operating, there can be a difficulty to stop bleeding since there aren’t enough clotting factors.  Don’t worry, though, this only happens in extreme cases.

How can we take care of our Liver?  The good news is that Acupuncture and herbs work really well to clean things up once some stagnation has happened or build the blood if it is low.  Chinese Medicine also has always recommended exercise, and now Western Medicine does, too!  It’s considered one of the best ways to fight fatty Liver disease, which is important not only for the Liver, but also because fatty Liver disease can lead to type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

While I consider Chinese herbs and a good cleansing diet a couple of times a year to be the best ways to clear the Liver, vitamin E is also considered important.  Having at least 24 IU per day can lower the risk of Liver Cancer.  You can find it in almonds, olive oil, and spinach among others.  If you do have any concerns about your Liver, or would just like to cleanse, come and see me and I can help you out!

Endometriosis, A Success Story:

YES!-imageThere IS help for Endometriosis. For those of you who have it, you’re saying “What!?” For those who don’t, you’re probably saying, “What the hell is that?” Even so, read on, because if you end up knowing anyone who has it, they’ll want to know about this. Strangely enough, Endometriosis is a disease where tissue that is the same as the endometrium, the lining of the uterus, grows OUTSIDE of the uterus. Mostly it’s found in the abdominal cavity, perhaps attached to ovaries or the intestines or just the supportive ligaments. Occasionally, it’s even found inside the intestines or lungs, and, rarely, the nose! The difficult thing about this is that this tissue grows and fills with blood in response to hormones, and then sheds, exactly the same as inside the uterus. It also tends to spread in some women. This means that it can become extremely painful, especially at period time, and it can also become an impediment to fertility.

No one knows what causes endometriosis. Various theories exist, including backflow from the uterus and damage to DNA by toxins or yeast overgrowth. Regardless of the cause from Western Medicine point of view, it presents as a pattern of Blood Stasis in Chinese Medicine. There may be other patterns together with this, but there is always Blood Stasis. While it is not an easy thing to treat for any practitioner, there IS help! It takes a concerted, full spectrum approach in which Acupuncture and Chinese herbs play a central role.

In the past year, I’ve had several examples of an aggressive approach having some success in reducing endometriosis. In one case, let’s call her Sylvia, the endometriosis was very widespread and causing significant pain, so the patient decided to have it surgically removed, along with the uterus. Unfortunately, it tends to come back (even without the uterus, which perhaps negates the backflow theory?). So Sylvia came to me, both for help in recovering from the surgery, and to keep the endometriosis from spreading. Two months after the surgery, she had already been told that some new growth was appearing on an ovary, what is often called a “chocolate cyst.” The doctors were recommending hormone therapy for this. Sylvia was also having a lot of pain; in fact, she came into the clinic walking stiffly and slowly.

Sylvia set up an aggressive plan of regular acupuncture, cooking strong Chinese herbs to move the blood, and at the same time seeking out pelvic floor massage and doing yoga for exercise. After she had regained some strength, we also added in cupping therapy on the abdomen and low back and weekly abdominal massage, a deep massage I do that is similar to Chi Nei Tsang, a Chinese form of abdominal massage.

After just a few weeks, Sylvia was checked by her OB/GYN, who was surprised to find that the chocolate cyst had disappeared! He said to her, “Keep doing Acupuncture!” Sylvia also experienced great reductions in pain, and improvements in energy level and overall health. Since then, she has continued her routine. Several months into the Acupuncture, Sylvia was checked again. Still no chocolate cysts, and it was decided that hormone therapy was not necessary. Sylvia continued her routine, partly due to the long recovery time from such a surgery, but she was still regularly checked. Six and nine months later, some small ovarian cysts came and went, but they were never blood-filled. Sylvia rarely has any pain, and feels confident that we are keeping the endometriosis at bay.

Let’s be honest, the Acupuncture and herbs may not have been able to resolve the extensive amount of endometriosis that Sylvia had just before surgery. Surgery was most likely necessary at that point. However, Chinese Medicine does appear to help keep the endometriosis from returning, or when it does, we are dealing with smaller amounts. And, as I keep mentioning, it does take a disciplined, regular effort. This is the same kind of thing we need to do to help promote fertility in many patients: regular acupuncture, strong Chinese herbs, abdominal massage, and possibly other kinds of massage, along with diet changes and exercise. When I see a patient like Sylvia walking through the door smoothly and easily, with no pain, and a smile on her face, I know it’s worth it.

Chinese medicine and fertility, a success story!

Hurray! I’m so excited! Soon, a darling baby will be born, and Chinese Medicine helped all along the way. I want to share a story with you that is both happy, and illustrates how Chinese Medicine works. The mother has given her permission, but names have been changed to protect privacy.

Over two years ago, Melodie came to me to work on fertility. She was 31 or 32 at the time, still a prime age to get pregnant, and very hopeful. However, she was only menstruating every 3-4 months. This had been her pattern her entire adult life, ever since starting to menstruate. A very few women do only menstruate this often, so we assumed at the time that this was the way she was set up. Her idea was that since she had fewer chances to get pregnant, she wanted to enhance them by being as healthy as she could and promoting her fertility.

On examination, I found her to be generally very healthy, she had no major complaints, and her OB/GYN exam was normal. Other than the occasional headache, a normal amount of stress in her life, and these sporadic periods, she didn’t seem to have a lot of health problems. I mostly had to go by her tongue and pulse signs, which can be major indicators of health to an experienced Chinese Medicine practitioner. Even these were not too out of the ordinary, except that her pulses did show a weakness in the Kidneys, which from Chinese Medicine point of view is very much related to the reproductive system. The Kidney energetic system governs the reproductive system as well, and the Kidney Yin, Yang, and Essence have to be strong in order to reproduce.

The entire case study would be long and probably only interesting to another practitioner, so suffice it to say, we started treating. Melodie came almost every week for acupuncture, and I quickly got her to start cooking Chinese herbs at home. We used the acupuncture at first to encourage her organs and hormones to work as best as possible, once a week. She was also very dedicated about cooking the herbs at home. These were very important to nourish the Kidney “essence”, basically “fertilizing the ground”, and making the eggs nice and healthy. Since Melodie’s Kidney deficiency was probably long standing, this can take a long time, months, to over a year.

Interestingly, as time went on, Melodie started having periods more often. From every 3-4 months, she started menstruating closer together, down to every 2 months, and after about a year she was menstruating every month. Once Melodie’s menstruation became normal, we could use the acupuncture to regulate her cycles, doing different treatments at different times of month, to in turn nourish the growth of the endometrium, encourage ovulation, and maintain the endometrium.

After a couple more months, Melodie still wasn’t pregnant, though, and it’s true that coming every week and cooking herbs every day can take some time. She got a little discouraged, and decided to take a break and also take pills instead of cooking herbs. During that month, she didn’t have a period, and she realized how important the cooked herbs were. After a nice Christmas break, she came back to both the acupuncture and herbs, and within 2 months, she was pregnant!

You can only imagine how excited she and her husband were, and I along with them. It always feels so good to see these positive results from the Chinese Medicine, and getting pregnant is one of the happiest occasions. At the beginning of her pregnancy, Melodie didn’t have much nausea or other symptoms, so took a break from acupuncture. If she had had nausea, or morning sickness, I would have had her come in, because acupuncture is one of the best ways to alleviate it. Half way through her term, she came back, and we’ve used the acupuncture to help alleviate the heartburn, low back pain, and edema that can come in the later months. Then, at about 33-34 weeks, Melodie found out the baby was transverse, was not taking the head down position needed for a baby to be born normally. Again, there is acupuncture that can be used to encourage the baby to turn. We did the normal protocol, and 10 days later, voila, the baby was head down.

Now we’re in the home stretch, the baby could come any time in the next few weeks! I’m doing acupuncture that helps boost Melodie’s Qi, making sure she has plenty of energy for the intensive labor and delivery. Since she has been coming nearly every week for the last trimester, I anticipate things will go well. Patients who have gotten acupuncture weekly in their last trimester have almost always had a smooth labor and delivery. If only I’d known about all this when I was pregnant 20 years ago!!!!