The treatment of skin disorders is a specialized system in Chinese medicine, much as it is a specialty in Western medicine, and there are many herbs and classical herb formulas that are specific to dermatology only. Chinese herbal medicine has well researched effects showing a significant decrease in chronic inflammation, the root of so many skin issues, and the restoration of skin health. Along with dietary advise, herbs can be very effective in addressing the deep root of chronic and acute skin conditions, and can often provide an alternative to antibiotic treatment, steroid creams and other conventional topical products that typically cause unwanted side effects, and sometimes actually exacerbate conditions.
Treating dermatology conditions with Chinese medicine begins with a detailed assessment of the skin, as well as assessment of the tongue, pulse, and constitutional signs and symptoms, in order to develop an energetic diagnostic picture of the individual pattern of imbalance. Herbs are tailored specifically to this individual pattern, along with herbs that are well know for decreasing inflammation in the skin, in order to effectively treat both acute and chronic problems.
Chinese Medicine Diagnosis
Patients are treated not just according to the Western diagnosis of their condition, such as eczema or dermatitis, but with attention to the unique individual pattern. For example, assessment of the skin takes into account the specific coloration, any swelling or raised lesions, degree of itching, pain, heat and cold sensitivity, and more. The history of the condition, as well as the current stage of the skin disorder, is important information in making a detailed diagnosis and therefore a carefully formulated herb treatment.
Many common skin disorders such as eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis, acne, and herpes simplex and zoster, begin with inflammation, but then have many ways of developing if not resolved. The inflammation often increases in severity and spreads. In Chinese medicine we may say that the heat reaches into deeper layers of the body system, such as the “blood layer” and the skin becomes bright red and may bleed when scratched.
When the inflammation is accompanied by exudate and/or swelling of the tissues, we call that damp heat. This can express in milder version with slight skin redness and mild swelling, or in severe cases may express with pus or yellow brown crusts, scales, plaques, pimples or nodules. Each of these symptoms indicates that something specific is happening in the skin, and is best treated according to the precise presentation.
It is not uncommon for heat in the blood and damp heat, and possibly heat toxin, to occur together. There may also be various degrees of wind, which is experienced as itching or rashes that come and go and move around or there may be symptoms of dryness due to blood or yin deficiency, often the result of long term heat or inflammation.
In Chinese herbal medicine, we diagnose each of these situations according to their severity and the specific symptoms that accompany the primary patterns. Generally, as the condition improves and changes, the herb formulations will change to reflect appropriate treatment for the new pattern.
Western Medicine and Dermatology
In Western dermatology medicine, common treatments for skin disorders are the application of external steroid creams and emollients, or oral antibiotics. Because steroid creams decrease symptoms by suppressing the immune system, they provide only temporary relief while the cream is used. They often result in increased skin symptoms when the steroids are discontinued, and a problematic side effect of long term use of topical steroids is to cause thinning of the skin. Antibiotic use as well has side effects, but perhaps more importantly, the treatment rarely resolves the condition long term. And so patients are left either needing to take antibiotics for years, or stop and once again deal with their skin condition which reemerges, often exacerbated.
Chinese Medicine and Skin Disorders
Chinese herbal medicine has been historically shown to be clinically effective in a wide range of skin disorders including:
Fungal and yeast infections
Herpes simplex, herpes zoster
Other allergic skin responses