Medical Treatment of Skin Conditions
Although many patients seek treatment for skin conditions, Western medicine has been largely unable to find long-lasting, safe and effective treatment. Dermatology is a specialty branch of medicine focusing on:
- Mucous Membranes (e.g. lining inside mouth, nose, and eyelids)
Dermatologists diagnose and treat more than 3,000 different diseases. These include skin cancer, eczema, acne, psoriasis, and nail infections. They see patients of all ages from newborns to elderly. Therapies and treatments provided by dermatologists include, but are not limited to:
- Laser therapy (cosmetic resurfacing of skin, vitiligo
- Cryosurgery (freezing of warts, skin cancers, other dermatosis)
- Allergy testing (‘patch testing’ for contact dermatitis)
- Systemic therapies – including oral antibiotics, immunomodulators, antihistamines, and injectable products
- Topical therapies – steroids, antibiotics creams, phototherapy (light therapy), etc.1
Treating Skin Conditions Naturally with Chinese Medicine
By treating skin conditions naturally with Chinese medicine, a lasting change is created within the body that heals the skin from within while soothing external symptoms. Below are a few of the things that can be treated with Chinese medicine:
Herpes Zoster (shingles)
The skin is one of the largest organs in the body and is in constant contact with our external environment. It acts as an important barrier between our internal environment and the world around us; the skin also plays an important role in detoxification of the body. Often times when there is something going on with the skin; for example rashes, hives, acne, rosacea, eczema, etc, it is a sign that there is an internal imbalance within the body that needs to be addressed.
A natural approach to dermatology includes addressing not only the symptoms of the skin condition, but also addressing underlying causes and/or triggers that are creating the symptoms. A natural treatment approach to dermatology is often more holistic in nature and obtains results that are deeper and longer lasting. In Chinese medicine we call this approach treating the root (underlying cause), while also treating the branch (symptoms). After a complete and thorough health history and evaluation of the skin disorder, an individualized treatment often includes the following:
- Dietary modifications
- Herbal medicine formulas internally
- Herbal medicine formulas topically
- Acupuncture, Moxibustion
Let’s take a look at Acne
Acne is a common inflammatory condition of the hair follicles and sebaceous glands that typically manifest as pimples, blackheads, whiteheads, or cysts. Acne is often more prevalent in teenagers, but is found in people of all ages from newborn babies to menopausal women. Although acne experienced as an adolescent may not be a serious life-threatening condition, and can have a major impact on self-esteem and create a psychological burden that needs to be addressed as well. 2
Acne is commonly caused by:
- Hormonal imbalance – overactive oil gland secretion; overproduction of testosterone
- Improper food intake – excess greasy, spicy, processed or refined foods
- Inadequate sleep – Lack of sleep (especially between the hours of 10pm and 12am) does not allow for adequate cell regeneration
- Improper cosmetic use and or skin washing – this may mean washing the skin too frequently with harsh soaps; or the use of cosmetic products with harsh chemicals and preservatives in them
- Other causes that may exacerbate acne – digestive disorders, smoking, drugs, poor blood flow, irregular menstruation, stress2
Treating Acne Naturally with Chinese Medicine
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), acne is categorized into two basic sections.
- Organ Imbalance: this could be digestive dysfunction, accumulation of heat in the body leading to inflammation, etc.
- Improper food intake: (diet of greasy, spicy foods, foods that are sweet and create damp accumulation in the body leading to acne, etc.).
The natural treatment of acne in Chinese medicine is much more than just treating the area of acne itself with topical products, though it often includes this. When we see a patient for any type of skin problem, we start by asking them a lot of questions, some of which may seem totally unrelated. The reason for so many questions is so that we can gain a far greater picture about what might be causing an imbalance in the body that is showing up as acne on the skin. Once we have a better idea of the bigger picture and a differential diagnosis has been made, then the above listed treatment modalities are used (dietary modification, acupuncture & herbs). The treatment of acne (as well as any skin disorder) also involves the active participation of the patient in making dietary and lifestyle changes, as well as a commitment to treatment for usually around 2-3 months.
Various accompanying symptoms are taken in to account when formulating a customized diagnosis and treatment plan for the natural treatment of acne.
- If there is accompanying red face, irritability, foul breath, thirst, etc we will focus more on clearing heat from the body.
- If there is irregular menstruation, PMS, dark complexion, insomnia we may focus more on regulating the hormones as well as clearing heat and regulating the emotions.
If you are interested in taking a look at your skin condition through a different lens, and would like to explore natural dermatology and natural treatment for acne, book an appointment for an Chinese medical evaluation and customized treatment plan.
Jennifer Etheridge is a licensed acupuncturist at Integrative Acupuncture in Montpelier and Williston, Vermont. A graduate of Southwest Acupuncture College, she specializes in natural dermatology for patients of all ages.
2 Chen, John K. Treating Acne & Blackheads with Western and Chinese Medicine