Adele* first came to our clinic several years ago to be treated for facial pain. Her pain was chronic, and after acupuncture treatments which involved placing small needles in her face, Adele was able to find relief from her pain. Adele continued coming to our clinic almost weekly for months, and even years, as acupuncture was the only thing that really helped her pain. However, after awhile, Adele’s co-workers began to notice and comment on improvements in her skin. It seems that the increased circulation from the acupuncture was actually making Adele look younger!
While it may seem odd that performing acupuncture for Adele’s facial pain would cause her skin to look younger, it makes perfect sense from the standpoint of Chinese medicine. The acupuncture treatments Adele had undergone had increased the circulation of energy and blood to her face, making it appear younger and more vibrant. The following is a discussion of the causes of aging skin and wrinkles, and what you can do to improve your skin, according to the theories behind Chinese medicine.
Dryness. According to Chinese theory, the primary cause of wrinkles is dryness. Now, your first thought may be, “Great, just use more moisturizer”. However, while it may show up on the surface, the dryness that we are talking about goes much deeper. Yin, a moisturizing and cooling substance in your body can become depleted, especially as you age. Deficient Yin is a systemic form of dryness that can affect all parts of the body and can make your skin look dry and wrinkled, even though you are regularly using a moisturizer.
As you age, Yin naturally becomes depleted, causing a decrease in moisture that can be seen especially on the surface of the skin. It appears as drying, thin skin. Below the surface, the depletion of Yin causes the sagging, loose skin due to a loss of the fat (also a Yin substance) that pads our face and neck.
Poor Circulation. The circulation of both energy and blood is crucial to good health. If you have impaired circulation, it will frequently show up on your face. In fact, many ancient Chinese texts refer to the appearance of the face in relation to various health conditions. Stagnation or the accumulation of blood, or water can cause dark circles under your eyes, a dusky or dull complexion, or under eye bags.
In addition, the circulation of energy and blood brings all the nutrients you need for beautiful skin to your face, including collagen and elastin. If your circulation is not good, whether from smoking, lack of exercise, or even strong emotions, your face will not look its best.
Diet and Digestion. Good diet and digestion are critical components of any skin care program. It is important to know that what you eat and how it’s prepared have a huge impact on the appearance of your skin.
In Chinese theory, improper diet is a common cause of illness and imbalance. Improper diet can have a few different meanings. First, eating too much food can make us fat, but in Chinese theory overeating can also damage your organ systems associated with the process of digestion. In contrast, not eating enough food can be equally as damaging. Without adequate intake, your body doesn’t have the building blocks to make energy, blood, and nutrients. Eating too much of any particular food can throw your body out of balance and damage various organ systems, too.
In Chinese theory, eating unclean food can also be a cause of disease. In ancient times, unclean food meant food that had spoiled or food that contained parasites. However, in modern times, unclean food might be considered food that is overly preserved or has lots of added chemicals. In addition, foods that have a high bacteria count would also be considered unclean.
The Balance between Work and Rest. The idea of overwork is an interesting concept in Chinese medicine. For me, the idea of overwork conjures up the picture of someone working long hours doing manual labor. However, overwork can also mean too much studying, too many hours at your desk, or excessive exercise. While a certain amount of exercise is appropriate, too much can be an underlying cause of imbalance and ultimately, illness.
Sleep is also part of the work/rest equation. Our bodies rejuvenate when we rest. If you are having difficulty getting enough sleep due to your schedule or because you suffer from insomnia, it is important to address your sleep issues. Lack of sleep will show up directly on your face.
Emotions. Emotions can be the cause of almost any disease, according to Chinese theory. In our day and age, stress is probably the emotion most damaging to our health. Stress, over time, binds up our energy, causing stagnation and illness. Worry, anxiety, anger, sadness, and other strong emotions knot up our energy and damage your digestion. In order to have optimal health and glowing skin, emotions that are overpowering your life, especially stress, will need to be dealt with.
Some Tips. Now you know what causes wrinkling and aging of your skin, but what can you do to improve the appearance of your skin according to Chinese theory?
-Eat foods that are Yin-replenishing. This includes darkly colored fruits and vegetables; healthy, plant based fats like nuts, nut oils, avocado, olives, etc.; and lean proteins.
-Pay attention to your digestion. Foods should be cooked, not too spicy, rich, or greasy. Avoid foods that cause you indigestion.
-Increase your circulation through exercise, movement, and massage.
-Quit smoking, as it impedes your circulation.
-Get adequate sleep—ideally seven to eight hours a night.
-Manage the strong emotions and stress that cause you to squint and frown.
-Find an acupuncturist who can correct the imbalances in your body, increase your circulation, and even perform acupuncture to erase some of your wrinkles.
*Names and identifying details have been changed.