The Treatment of Acne with Chinese Medicine

Acne is something that has affected us all at some point in our lives. Although a seemingly mild medical situation, severe acne, especially of the face, leaves individuals feeling self-conscious and uncomfortable in their own skin. People try all sorts of creams and washes and spend lots of money on advertised cures with mixed results. Happily, acne is a condition for which Chinese medicine has a treatment and the springtime is the perfect season to address this skin issue.

You are always best served in Chinese medicine by meeting with a licensed practitioner who can offer you a diagnosis and differentiate one type of acne situation from another. The power of Chinese medicine is in a personalized treatment. For example, you and I might both suffer from acne but have it treated two different ways with Chinese medicine depending on who we are and our personal situation.

Chinese medicine treats acne through herbal medicine, acupuncture, diet suggestions and exercise routines. In Chinese medicine, metaphors are used to describe the pathogens in the body. Acne is most often seen as ‘heat’ in the lung and stomach meridians. (For more info on meridians see our article Chinese Medicine Meridian System.)

The lung meridian starts in the middle of the body and moves up to the chest. The stomach meridian starts at the face and goes through the chest.

When heat is in excess in the body it rises up to the face. If a patient eats too much spicy, greasy, sweet or fried foods then dampness or undigested metabolites are created and transform into heat. If this dampness continues for a long time then it can transform into phlegm, and cause stagnation of blood and more heat.

Chinese medicine differentiates two types of acne: heat in the lungs and stomach, and stagnation of phlegm with dampness and blood stagnation.

The heat in the lungs and stomach will present acne that is mainly on the face with oily or shiny skin. The patient with this kind of pattern might also have a dry mouth and feel thirsty, may be constipated and have dark urine. Their tongue will be red. The treatment principle is to clear heat.

Herbs that may be used would be Scuttellaria (huang qin), Phellodenbrium (Huang Bai), Rhemannia root (sheng di) or Tree peony root (mu dan pi).

Acne due to a stagnation of phlegm, dampness and blood will present acne that is dark red and appears in clusters. The sores will also be quite long lasting. The treatment principle here is to activate blood circulation. A classic formula like Tao Hong Si Wu tang may be used along with herbs that circulate blood like Angelic root (dang gui), Peony root (bai shao), or red peony (Chi Shao).

As mentioned in the introduction, seeing a Doctor of Chinese medicine is your best bet for successful treatment of acne. Things you can try on your own might include a topical face wash with Jin Yin Hua (Honeysuckle flowers), Margarite acne pills or pearl cream available at any Chinese herbal dispensary.