Understand your skin condition
Most people have a skin condition at some time in their life and they can be annoying, irritating, embarrassing and often affect how you live your life. Common examples are eczema, psoriasis, urticaria, acne and dry skin.
The usual reaction to chronic skin conditions like these is to see the problem as an external one. You visit the doctor or a skin specialist who prescribes cream or ointment (which are usually very expensive) to put on the condition usually for a long time. Sometimes these creams contain strong chemicals like steroids which over time can damage the body. Sometimes medication is taken which is actually for a different use but helps skin conditions as a side effect. An example of this are oral contraceptives which are known to reduce acne in some people.
In a lot of cases this is not the best approach.
Instead of focusing on treating the outside, we should be focusing on the inside. The real cause of skin conditions are often the physical, emotional, chemical and hormonal imbalances that lie in the body.
The basic idea in Oriental Medicine is that your blood vessels are organised according to where they run to or from in your body and likewise the tissue and muscles through which your blood flows. If you have an idea of how the vessels interconnect then you can understand how changes in the skin can have deeper meanings. For example, if there is a skin condition on the inside of the elbow joint, and especially if it is the same on both sides, then instead of randomly appearing on the skin - it could be a symptom of restricted blood flow through the vessels associated with your lungs. And the long-term way of treating it is to look at the strength of the lungs and the vessels which feed the arm to see why there are restictions at the elbow. Treatment can then be through diet, acupuncture, herbs or other treatments.
In Oriental Medicine, the body is a whole system of interconnected parts. Although skin problems are external, their root causes are often complex, and involve internal imbalances between different systems inside the body.
Skin conditions can appear for a whole bunch of reasons: a weak immune system, digestive disorders, a poor diet, an unbalanced lifestyle, stress, genetic constitution, or unbalanced emotions.
Take acne for example, this is a very clear manifestation of heat rising up to the face or upper body. Most people think that in order to treat acne you have to treat the face or other areas where red spots appear. The source of the problem however is in the body and too much heat is rising up because of inflamed tissue associated with a bad diet or emotional change. This is the situation for teenagers. There are a lot of changes in their bodies at puberty which cause the release of heat via inflammation. The best way to combat this is normally to change diet and eat things like fried foods, junk food, citrus fruits, meat and coffee.
Traditionally, environmental factors like heat, cold, wind, dryness and damp are often involved in problems with the skin.
The general idea is as follows:
If there’s heat, the skin appears red and hot. It gets worse with alcohol, anger/stress, hot/spicy food, and hot weather.
If there’s wind, the symptoms quickly appear and disappear and move to different areas of the body. They are also very itchy.
If there’s wetness, there might be oozing or weeping conditions, and a feeling of body heaviness.
If it is dry, it is characterized by scaly itchy skin which is worse in dry, winter or autumn weather.
If it is cold, there may be open sores, a purplish colour and slow healing, and usually a chronic condition.
In Oriental medicine, in order to discover the cause of the skin condition, you have to look at the skin itself but also food, activities, your local environment or emotions that affect the symptoms. Also other signs in the body including digestion, energy, emotions, sleep, and the functioning of the immune system. Only with all this information can we begin to think about treating it.
Skin conditions are often very complicated in their pathology but these are some general guidelines if you suffer from skin disorders connected with heat.
a. Arrange your lifestyle and work so that it is a less stressful environment; avoid becoming too angry or emotional – these will exacerbate inflammation in the liver and cause heat symptoms.
b. Avoid drinking alcohol and eating hot, spicy or deep-fried food; avoid onion, ginger, garlic, chives, shellfish and lamb – these are a direct source of heat and irritate the skin.
c. Eat a lot of cooling foods, such as celery, cucumber, green leafy vegetables, carrots, spinach, green tea, peppermint tea, mung beans, eggplant, lemon and pear.
d. Exercise in comfortable conditions, avoiding strong sunshine – exercise that is too fast or strong can cause heat. Examples are yoga, gentle walking, slow bike riding or swimming.
e. Sleep – make sure you have enough sleep; avoid going to sleep too late (best time is before 11pm)