Acne is a very common inflammatory condition of the skin affecting people of any age worldwide.
Potentially leading to decreased self-esteem, self-confidence, anxiety and even social withdrawal, acne shouldn’t be dismissed as something purely aesthetic and should be properly addressed.
There are a number of ways you can do this. Whether you opt for Western medications and topical creams, or a blend of herbs and acupuncture and diet changes, or a mix of both, all types of acne can be successfully treated.
If you’re interested in discovering more about how Chinese Medicine can help improve skin health and overall health, clear acne long term and reduce acne scarring, come and visit us or request free personalised health advice.
How can we help?
Chinese Medicine has a high success rate in healing acne vulgaris. It provides an effective alternative to drug-based treatments, without harsh side effects or having to stay on medications indefinitely.
Treatments will depend on the type of acne the patient presents with, their symptoms and underlying imbalances. Typically, they will consist of a highly personalised blend of Acupuncture, mostly on the body, Medicinal herbs, to either brew and drink or take as capsules, dietary therapy and lifestyle advice.
Treatment will target both the root cause of the condition and the actual breakout, helping to improve or restore skin health from the inside out.
This is achieved through regulating the endocrine system and stabilizing hormones, promoting circulation and reducing inflammation while soothing the gut and clearing toxins that impact skin health.
Additionally, Acupuncture may help reduce acne scarring. In fact, there’s some initial evidence that Acupuncture might stimulate collagen production and physically break down some built-up fibrosis and adhesions normally found in scarred areas.
How quickly will you see results?
The minimum course of treatment we recommend to see improvements is usually about 4 weeks.
Everyone responds differently to treatments and time may vary from patient to patient. However, when using Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine for clearing acne, results are often very quick. Changes in the skin might be seen within 1 – 2 weeks, with a visible reduction in inflammation and much less frequent breakouts, while clear skin may be noticed within 6 weeks.
Both Chinese Herbal medicine and Acupuncture require consistency and regularity but can provide successful results without the need to stay on treatments long-term. In fact, as the skin starts to become clear, the treatment will be adjusted and the herbal formula dose gradually reduced.
Acne is a chronic and inflammatory skin condition characterised by inflamed hair follicles – where the hair originates and sebaceous glands are located.
Acne typically appears on the face, neck, upper chest, back and shoulders. It can be mild and non-inflammatory with small blackheads or whiteheads, or more severe and deeper with, often painful, papules, pustules, nodules and cysts. Such severely inflamed acne spots might be long-lasting and lead to scarring.
Acne is not a sign of poor hygiene and is mostly triggered by internal conditions and hormonal changes. In fact, it can be quite common in teenagers, with symptoms usually starting before or at the onset of puberty.
Nevertheless, acne can also affect adults and, sometimes, even elderly people, taking a heavy emotional toll on them. About 40-50% of men and women older than 25 years have some degree of facial acne which can persist into middle age.
Regardless of age and severity of symptoms, if not addressed effectively and in time, inflammatory acne may cause skin damage more difficult to reverse, such as skin thickening, dilatation of blood vessels and cysts.
A number of treatment options are available and both Western and Chinese Medicine can help treat acne vulgaris successfully either on their own or combined together.
Western Medicine view
In the Western view, acne is known to be closely related to changes in hormone levels, namely androgens: groups of hormones that influence the growth, development and maintenance of the reproductive system in both men and women.
Androgens can trigger higher production of sebum, an oily substance naturally produced to protect and moisturize the skin by sebaceous glands in the hair follicles. Excessive secretion of sebum can end up blocking skin pores, thus creating an ideal environment for bacterial growth and proliferation of Propionibacterium acnes.
Bacteria trigger a series of chemical reactions and set off the inflammation process of the clogged follicles. This, in turn, results in a higher cohesion of epidermal cells that take the shape of pimples, the characteristic lesions of acne.
In a chain reaction, the leakage of the follicles in the surrounding skin can spread and worsen the inflammation, often resulting in papules, pustules, nodules or cysts, which are hard and deep closed pimples potentially leading to scarring.
Given the role played by the androgen hormone in the onset of the disorder, acne is most likely to develop around puberty and at times when hormonal balance tends to be altered in women such as monthly periods or pregnancy, polycystic ovary syndrome and other women’s health conditions.
The Western medical approach to acne usually includes topical treatment with antibiotics, intended to clean or unblock the skin pores, drug therapy, hormone regulators and Vitamin A derivatives. It’s important to note that these, although effective, should be relied on only temporarily due to their varied side effects.
Chinese Medicine view
In the Chinese Medicine view, the skin is a faithful mirror of one’s internal health, and any skin condition is seen as an external sign of an internal imbalance. When it comes to acne, such imbalance shows up on the skin as an overproduction of sebum, inflammation, redness and pimples.
Chinese Medicine usually associates acne with imbalances in the ZF organs potentially leading to hormonal issues or toxin buildup (learn more about ZF organs). These imbalances are thought to be caused by several factors, most commonly poor diet, overworking, stress, congenital conditions, lifestyle and digestion.
According to Chinese Medicine, different types of acne will result from different imbalances – mostly what Chinese Medicine physicians refer to as excess internal heat, blood stasis or dampness -, they will impact different Zang-fu organs and present different symptoms.
For this reason, a personalised course of treatment is crucial.
Chinese medicine takes a highly individualized approach to health and disease and looks at the culprit causing the imbalance in order to determine the most efficient course of action.
Typically, the standard treatment will involve a combination of Acupuncture, topical remedies and herbal teas or Chinese herbs together with some lifestyle tweaks. One of the main benefits is that Chinese Medicine causes no harsh side effects and, since the root cause is targeted and treated, once the balance is restored, there will be no need to keep taking herbal medications long-term.
There are many things you can start doing right now to help relieve symptoms for almost all types of acne and complement your treatment.
Here are some of the suggestions Chinese Medicine has for preventing or reducing acne:
- Try to avoid or limit processed spicy, greasy and sweet foods – these are inflammatory and might exacerbate skin disorders or slow down wound healing.
- Avoid or try to limit refined sugar and alcohol consumption.
- Eat a whole food diet, and foods high in zinc, vitamins A and E, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants.
- Stay hydrated, as water helps flush out toxins.
- Exercise and look after your mental health, to ease stress and anxiety.
- Try to avoid overwashing which will cause irritation.
- Avoid long periods of exposure to the sun.
- Try salicylic acid-based cleansers and skin products. Salicylic acid is a good ally for acne-prone skin types and it may be useful for the temporary resolution of mild, non-inflammatory acne.
+ *Clinical trials
Li HQ et al. [Acupuncture treatment in 42 cases of acne vulgaris.] Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibustion, 1998, 18(3):166)
Wang J et al. [Auriculo-acupuncture treatment of 32 cases of facial acne vulgaris.] Shanghai Journal of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, 1997, 16(3):25) [in Chinese].