Traditional Chinese Medicine Tips for Healthy Skin

Acne, Eczema, psoriasis, allergic dermatitis, rosacea – these are just some of the conditions that Traditional Chinese Medicine can treat. Acupuncture, gua sha, Chinese herbs (topical and internal), and Nutrition can all help heal your skin from the inside out.

The external and internal causes of disease: Six external evils – Wind, cold, damp, heat, summer heat, and dryness are seen as the causes of illness in Traditional Chinese Medicine. They can act alone or in combinations with each other, or internal imbalances to create problem skin.

Internally, we’re looking at the Lungs and Large Intestine as the first source of imbalance, since the Lungs are in charge of the skin and the Large Intestine is its paired organ. Then we look at the Spleen which may have trouble processing things like dairy, white sugar, white flour and greasy foods and then cause skin conditions that are greasy, or pus-filled. (Did I mention this might not be the best thing to read while eating?)

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), we diagnose by these causes instead of their Western names of Acne, Rosacea, Psoriasis, Eczema, etc., when figuring out how to treat them. If someone has ‘Damp-heat’ for example, they could potentially present with acne, psoriasis, or eczema. Even though these conditions may look different, they may have the same cause.

Common skin problems in TCM-speak

Wind-cold and Wind-dryness – Wind-cold can be externally caused by cold weather, food, and allergens. For example, in psoriasis in children, pale red, white and thick scales with some itching would be due to Wind-cold. But pale red, moist with scales (in people of any age) would be caused by Wind-dryness. Wind-dryness is typically more severe in autumn or dry climate.

Lung heat – is TCM–speak for Wind outside of the body that exacerbates heat in the lungs, skin and tissues. In acne, for example, itchy whiteheads or blackheads generally in forehead and nose would be caused by Lung-heat.

Stomach heat – can be caused by high fat, fried or spicy foods, or foods that we’re sensitive or allergic to or that we’ve overindulged in (like alcohol and spicy foods). Stomach heat is responsible for whiteheads and blackheads around mouth, chest and upper back & oily skin.

Blood heat – can come from emotional disturbance and stuck Qi. This turns into heat, enters the blood level and gets lodged in the skin and tissues. It can also be due to disharmony of “Chong and Ren channels” (hormonal). Skin conditions caused by Blood heat are red and spread quickly with intense itching. It may also look like scattered red around nose and mouth and spider veins on the cheeks. This tends to be more severe in the summer or hot climate.

Damp-heat – this maybe be dark red, greasy and/or with greasy or thick crust-like scales as in Psoriasis.

Fire or Heat toxin – Lung or Stomach heat (see above) combines with external toxins to form lesions. This looks like inflamed, painful pustules.

There are many, many more examples and combinations but this is an introduction, not a textbook, so I’m going to stop here.

Environmental Do’s & Don’ts

Don’t pick at skin, don’t scratch or intentionally open wounds. Do try to make sure whatever touches your skin is clean – your hands, your cellphone, your jewelry. If possible, use earbuds when on the phone.

Consider that beauty products themselves can cause skin problems. If you have an unusual breakout of any kind, consider what you’ve recently changed – soap, sunscreen, shampoo, jewelry, cosmetics, plants, etc. See Kirsten Cowan’s articles about Putting your Skin on a Detox Regimen and Three Ingredients to Avoid. Be sure to check out Angelica & Peony’s facial serums.


You might have guessed this was coming. Acupuncturist and Herbalist Jeffrey Yuen talks about the 4 whites: sugar, white flour, dairy (cow), salt. These are the four biggest culprits causing inflammation in the body. Inflammation can cause skin problems as well as pain. So to start, you’ll want to limit these. I don’t tell people to eliminate these from their diet all together forever, but you can try taking them out of your diet and then reintroducing them one by one and see how they affect your body.

There are other foods to add and limit in your diet if you have Oily & Problem Skin, or if you have Dry Skin. For Oily & Problem Skin, we’re looking at limiting foods that cause Dampness in the body. For Dry Skin, we’re looking at foods that help nourish Blood and Yin (body fluids):


Two Great Recipes to Heal Your Skin

Bone Broth

This is simply one of the most nutritious foods available and is very healing for the digestive tract. The collagen from the bones helps the elasticity and strength of our skin. Sure, you can buy this at the health food store, or even from a bone broth delivery service, but it’s so easy and much cheaper to make it yourself. The following recipe is from “Real Food All Year: Eating Seasonal Whole Foods for Optimal Health & All-Day Energy” by Nishanga Bliss. She advises getting fresh bones from the butcher, or saving bones from meals in the freezer.

Makes about 4 quarts

  • 1 pound of more of fresh, meaty bones such as oxtail or shank, or 1 quart of more leftover beef, lamb, or pork bones

  • 1 tablespoon lard or bacon grease (if using fresh bones)

  • 1 pound or more beef soup bones (marrowbones)

  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

  • Filtered water

If you are using fresh bones, heat a cast-iron or other heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the fat and, when it is melted, add the bones, browning well on all sides; this will take about 20 minutes. Combine the browned bones with the soup bones and vinegar in a large stockpot or slow cooker, and add filtered water to cover. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat to a very slow simmer. Simmer for 36 to 48 hours.

If you are using leftover bones, combine them with the soup bones and vinegar, and filtered water to cover, in a large stockpot or slow cooker. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat to a very slow simmer. Simmer for 36 to 48 hours.

Allow the stock to cool, and strain before using in a recipe or freezing.

Pumpkin Aduki Bean Stew

The recipe is from Recipes for Self-Healing by Daverick Leggett. He writes“This stew nourishes the Kidney and Spleen and helps to drain dampness. The aduki beans strengthen the Kidney Qi and Yin and have a diuretic action; the squash nourishes the Spleen Qi.” Note: while the recipe calls for vegetable stock, you could also use bone broth from the above recipe.

  • 12 ounces of aduki beans

  • 2 strips kombu seaweed

  • 1 small pumpkin or butternut/acorn squash

  • 6 cups vegetable stock

  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce

  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

  • ¼ teaspoon salt

  • 1 tablespoon honey

  • Black pepper

Soak the aduki beans overnight, rinse well then cook them in twice their volume of water with the kombu until they are soft.

Chop the squash fairly small, removing the seeds, and cook in the vegetable stock until soft.

When both the aduki beans and the pumpkin are ready, combine them with the soy sauce, ginger and salt and simmer slowly with the lid off until the liquid has been reduced by half. Add the honey at the end, letting it blend in for a while without allowing the stew to boil, and season with freshly ground pepper.

You can get more information about Traditional Chinese Medicine for Healthy Skin on our TCMTalk Pinterest Board and watch the replays of all of our TCM Talk Periscopes. Kirsten and I focused on Healthy Skin this month. In March, we’ll be focusing on Women’s Health during Women’s History Month. Be sure to follow us there and on Twitter at TCM_Talk and feel free to tweet us your questions or email us at


Helping Ourselves: A Guide to Traditional Chinese Food Energetics and

Recipes for Self-Healing by Daverick Leggett

Real Food All Year: Eating Seasonal Whole Foods for Optimal Health & All-Day Energy by Nishanga Bliss.

Denise Cicuto