Anyone can scrape around the eyes with a tool but it takes special skill to really understand the body-wide context of facial features like eye bags and dark rings. In this episode, Clive looks at what these features mean both in the local context of your face and also how they stem from circulatory and muscular relationships within the body. Chinese medicine is all about patterns and motions and Facial Gua sha is no different. He shows you how eye bags are closely related to your stomach and digestion, and how dark rings are connected to the kidneys. He also explains how these are treated and the cautions of applying temperature to the face.
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Hello and welcome to episode 2 of season 2 of the Gua sha show. And today we’re exploring under your eyes and how to approach this area with Facial Gua sha. And I’m going to show you, how a little of the right knowledge can transform how you understand and treat the face!
Understanding Under Eye Issues: Eye Bags and Dark Rings
So the most common facial features under your eyes that people often would like treatment on are eye bags and dark rings. And of course, they’re very common. They might range from having a few too many late nights to a permanent feature and this really depends on what’s happening in your body and what stage you are in life.
So when you get eye bags and dark rings what’s technically happening to the eye area?
In the case of eye bags, it could be the case of fluid accumulating in the lower eye area giving it a swollen appearance. There can also be a weakening of the skin which allows it to sag and it’s also possible for the fat pad which supports your eyes to slip into this lose area.
With dark rings, you’re usually seeing the superficial capillaries below the skin and because the light wavelengths which show through the subcutaneous tissue are limited, you mainly see blue/purple colour. A temporary increase in blood volume can make these more visible. And the skin in this area is naturally thin and when it gets even thinner, these colours will be more pronounced.
What Causes Under Eye Bags and Dark Circles?
So what causes these conditions? Let me start by giving you the standard reasons.
Aging - lack of collagen (provides structure to connective tissue)and elastin (gives resilience and elasticity to the skin) weakens the skin.
Problems sleeping is often given - the idea being that when you sleep, fluids settle in the tissue beneath your eyes.
Allergies/sinus problems - cause swelling in sinus tissue, which can appear as puffiness under your eyes.
Eating salty foods - your body retains fluid when you eat salty foods.
Not removing makeup - it can irritate the tissue beneath your eyes, causing it to swell.
Genetics - some people are simply prone to having under-eye bags because it runs in the family.
So what can you do? Lots of people opt for some kind of procedure.
Common Procedures for Under Eye Treatment
You might get dermal fillers which is when they inject material into your cheeks and under your eyes to smooth it out. So in effect you build around eye bags to camouflage them. This lasts 6-12 months.
You might get laser resurfacing which removes the surface layers of skin in the under-eye area with a laser. Or a chemical peel which dissolves old skin cells with chemicals. Again, temporary.
The drastic option is a lower eyelid lift where the fat in the lower eye area is readjusted and the muscle and skin are tightened to create a smooth appearance.
But we’re interested in a natural solution and this is where Facial Gua sha fits in.
The Role of Circulation System and Musculature in Under Eye Treatment
Let’s now give you a more advanced idea of what’s happening and we can see what causes them in another way. This will then make it easy for us to know how to treat them.
So two things are important. The circulation system and your musculature.
1. With the circulation system, we can use the sophisticated system of Chinese medicine channels to understand what is feeding each area of the face with the minerals, nutrients and fresh blood that it needs. This is Gua sha and if we were to ignore this aspect, then you’re not doing Facial Gua sha, you’re doing face scraping. Which is something completely different.
So if you go and check any Chinese channel chart, you’ll see that the stomach channel starts right under the eye. In fact, it doesn’t but that’s the image you’ll probably find. It actually begins in between your eyes but it does go under your eyes. So immediately we know that this area is connected to the stomach channel. And if you look at a chart, you’ll see that the stomach channel goes all the way down the front of your body to your toes. It also passes directly through the stomach and pancreas. So just from this knowledge, take a guess at what might be behind an accumulation of fluids under the eye. Yes, your stomach and your digestion.
These might not be on the chart as they are deep from the torso upwards, but the liver and the heart channels come up the body and through the eye area. It’s the heart channel which is interesting here because it shows us one of the connections to dark circles. You’ll find the heart channel on the inside of your arm and then it disappears into the body through the armpit. It’s actually part of the same channel as the kidney. In fact they are two parts of the same channel - one of them on the arm (heart) and the other on the leg (kidney) but together they’re one channel (Shaoyin). So how about if I told you that dark circles can be related to the functioning of the adrenal/kidney system - water metabolism, respiration and the storage of substances. The darker the are, the more disturbed this system is.
So just with circulation knowledge, we know that the stomach, liver or kidney channels might be involved and might need to change in order to makes the necessary changes on the face.
2. How about the muscles? The orbicularis occuli, which is the large circular muscle around your eye area, is part of two chains of muscles. The upper part of the muscle is associated with the bladder channel which goes over your head and down your back. And the lower part is the stomach muscle chain. This means the large muscles which go all down the front of your body including those on your face, your abdomen - the rectus abdominis, and thighs -the quadriceps. So think about it. The lower eye area muscle structures are connected with other muscle structures in the front of the body and if there are disorders in any of these muscles, they could in theory obstruct the smooth flow of blood, minerals and nutrients to or from the lower eye area.
So if I were to tell you that you need to treat the tight area in your thigh, in order to help the accumulation of fluids beneath your eye, I hope that you might see some sense in it. It isn’t some random instruction. It’s an acknowledgement of how the body is put together. I can’t explain how this works within the confines of this podcast but when you move your body in any direction, a group of muscles are needed in order to stabilize the body as it moves. It’s these groups that the ancient Chinese worked out and which have been confirmed as remarkably accurate with modern anatomical investigations.
So you’ve got eyebags or dark circles under your eyes. What do you do?
How to Use Facial Gua Sha for Under Eye Treatment
Well you can always start with local treatment in the muscle above and beneath the eyes and in the cheek area.
It’s a very sensitive area and great care must be taken not to damage the skin beneath the eyes, nor to go too close to or accidentally touch the eyeball with a tool.
Strokes are outwards away from the mid-line and the best way to treat is to follow a simple plan. The easiest thing is to get hold of a copy of the first or revised version of my Facial Gua sha book and you’ll see my protocol for treating under the eyes. It’s called Facial Gua sha: A Step-by-step Guide to a Natural Facelift. The front cover has a close-up of my wife holding a tool. The revised edition came out this year but both editions contain this protocol.
A common suggestion you might come across is to apply a cold compress but watch out. Applying something cold presumes the presence of heat and inflammation. Suppose there isn’t inflammation. In fact, often there isn’t. What happens when something gets cold? It contracts. This is what cold does. So rather than vasodilating action of heat, cold is going to have the opposite reaction.
You remember being told that you had ice an injury, right? And you may be familiar with the abbreviation RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) but you may not be aware that even Dr Gabe Mirkin, a former assistant professor at the University of Maryland, the man that introduced it, no longer recommends it and even goes as far to say that there is data that shows it delays healing. So don’t go straight to the ice pack and make the area cold. Instead you could try warmth. A warm eye pack will increase the local temperature of the tissue and so aid in the circulation of blood.
It could be hot or cold but which one depends on the presence of heat. If there’s no heat why do you want to constrict the area with cold?
Understanding the Role of Stomach, Liver, and Kidney Channels in Under Eye Treatment
We know there’s a strong relationship to the stomach. So apart from local treatment on the face, treatment on digestion might be needed. This can mean treating tight areas of the stomach channel or on the mid to lower back in the Stomach area (the details of that is in the Holographic Gua sha book). Also the sternum, thighs and lower legs.
Also the kidney (on the leg), heart channel (on the arm). The liver channel (on the leg) and the bladder channel (it’s actually heavily implicated in any issue with the area of the orbicularis occuli mucle) - on the head, back and legs.
A woman is like a flower, and the flower is a beautiful and vibrant face; the channel is like a stem, which is a trickle that transports blood and qi; the organ is like a root, and the root is the original source of all things.
Professional Committee of Gua Sha of Traditional Chinese Medicine, China Folk Medicine Research and Development Association of Chinese Medicine