TCM takes a holistic approach to health. To be healthy, one’s qi (vital energy) and blood must flow freely throughout the body and its organs, maintaining a balance of yin (cooling) and yang (heating) elements. Because all of the body’s functions are interdependent, bad skin can be caused by a number of different types of imbalances.
One possibility is a malfunctioning metabolism, caused by the poor circulation of qi or blood. When your body fails to eliminate waste properly, those toxins will be expelled through your skin, causing acne.
Skin problems can also be a sign of inflammation arising from an excess of heat in the body. Excess heat in the lungs is a common culprit, as the lungs are responsible for providing the skin with blood and qi. If you have digestive problems, stomach heat could be the cause. Meanwhile, excess heat in the blood is accompanied by signs of inflammation throughout the body, such as rashes or sensations of heat.
The last cause of bad skin is “damp heat.” This occurs when dampness accumulates in the body and combines with heat, leading to symptoms such as oily skin, eczema and acne.
Nourish yin, eliminate yang
If you think you have too much heat in your body, eating yin (cooling) foods will help to calm and lubricate your skin. Try to include green and moisture-rich foods such as cucumbers, watermelon, lotus root, celery, lettuce, pears, lentils and squash in your diet.
Avoid alcohol, deep-fried foods, spicy foods, caffeine and dairy. These foods are too heating and will exacerbate inflammation.
On the other hand, if you think damp heat is adversely affecting your skin, try adding papaya, asparagus, turnips and adzuki beans to your diet to eliminate dampness. Avoid excessively cooling foods such as raw food, iced drinks, ice cream and dairy.
Wolfberries: otherwise known as goji berries, are known to nourish yin and to promote the circulation of blood and qi. They are also packed with antioxidants that promote skin health and reduce the signs of aging. Wolfberries have a light, sweet taste and can easily be added to soups, porridge, meat and vegetable dishes. You can also add some dried or fresh wolfberries to a cup of tea.
Mung beans: This yin (cooling) legume detoxifies the body, clearing heat and replenishing qi. The easiest way to consume them is to make mung bean soup by simmering the beans for about 20 minutes. You’ll know it’s ready when the beans split open. In China, a refreshing bowl of refrigerated mung bean soup is popular during the hot summer months.
Red dates: also known as jujube, are yang (warming) in nature and touted for their anti-aging benefits. To strengthen your qi, add some dates to a simple congee, with a dash of brown sugar to taste.
Dandelion tea: This detoxifying drink has diuretic properties, flushing away toxins from the liver, kidneys and bladder that would otherwise cause acne. It also cleanses the blood and improves digestion. Dandelion is a yin herb, so it shouldn’t be taken by those with yang-deficient constitutions (people with cold hands and feet who tend to be sensitive to cold).
Use a jade roller: This ancient skincare tool has been used by Chinese noblewomen for centuries. It promotes blood circulation in the face, ridding the body of bad qi and making your skin brighter and more elastic. To use it, move upward and outward from the center of your face, rolling across your cheeks and forehead. The best time to do this is right after your usual cleansing and moisturizing routine.
Take an herbal bath: Soaking yourself in warm water will relax the pores and let your skin “breathe,” allowing it to absorb the medicinal elements of a Chinese herbal bath. Popular skin-enhancing ingredients include dried lotus leaf, poria, wolfberries, aloe leaves and chrysanthemum. After grinding your chosen ingredients together, boil them in water for 20 minutes. Next, add it to a warm water bath, hop in, and soak for 30 to 45 minutes.