When I was a teenager I had terrible acne, and I remember how debilitating it was at the time. At that time of life, I was especially aware of how I appeared to others, and it bothered me that my face was covered in spots. Looking for help, I went to my GP who prescribed a course of antibiotics which, not knowing any better, I took for months (ouch!). They didn’t do any good.
Eventually, after some years of considerable social anxiety, and no improvement even into my early twenties, I started looking for alternative treatments.
In the end, all it took for me was to give up dairy products. Once I’d done that my skin cleared very quickly, and of course, I only wished that I had discovered it sooner!
(Although, needless to say, everyone is different, and not everyone’s acne is caused by dairy)
Now, with hindsight, I understand what was going on for me – Chinese Medicine explains it all perfectly. Let me elaborate…
The Western View (What Your Doctor Will Say)
Acne Vulgaris, commonly called just ‘acne’ is a condition of spots, pimples, blackheads and/or whiteheads on the skin caused by overactive sebaceous glands which secrete oily substances onto the skin. It is most common in adolescents but can effect any age group. Attacks of acne can be related to stress, hormones (eg in relation to the menstrual cycle) and use of certain drugs. It can also appear during pregnancy.
Conventional acne treatment is limited – topical antibacterial or antibiotic creams can help to control symptoms, or antibiotic tablets like I had, or even hormonal treatments in more severe cases – Women are often offered the contraceptive pill, especially if acne is linked to the menstrual cycle. Side effects can occur with all of these treatments, for instance sore and red skin as a result of topical creams, and stomach upsets and candida as a result of antibiotics.
The Chinese Medicine Understanding
Chinese medicine looks at the problem completely differently and the Chinese medical treatment of acne can be extremely effective, especially when an integrated approach is used. As always the aim is treat the root cause and not just the manifestation – making it a truly holistic treatment.
Acne is normally diagnosed as ‘Dampness’ or ‘Phlegm’, particularly if there is a lot of pus, and ‘Heat’ (also called ‘Fire’) which causes the redness – although cases, and treatments, differ on a person-to-person basis so there is no ‘one size fits all’ diagnosis. (there’s more on the process of diagnosis in Chinese Medicine in my book “A User’s Guide To Chinese Medicine“)
Chinese herbal medicine is the treatment of choice for acne – it can be used on its own or in combination with other treatments, and usually has very good results. Herbs can help to regulate the hormones and the production of oils by the skin, clear Dampness, Phlegm and Heat, reduce the formation of new spots and allow the skin to heal.
In terms of other treatments for acne, acupuncture and/or tui na massage help to regulate the hormonal system, reduce stress and clear the pathogenic ‘fire toxins’ which cause the spots. The treatment has a normalising effect on the skin, reducing greasiness and improving the circulation, resulting in better skin condition and fewer spots.
Chinese Nutritional therapy can be very useful, identifying certain foods which may be making the acne much worse. In my case, a change in diet was all that was needed (but it’s important to note that just giving up dairy products won’t work for everyone – nutritional consultation will identify whether there are any dietary alterations that could be useful for you specifically.
Getting Help With Acne
Whether teenage or adult, acne can be a distressing condition. I know, I’ve been there! If you or anyone you know suffers with acne, do consider treatment from a Chinese medicine practitioner. You’ll need an individual, personal diagnosis to get the root cause, and then a tailored treatment program that’s specific to the exact situation and history.
You can get information about my own UK acupuncture and Chinese Medicine clinics (in Bristol & S.Wales) here