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Does acupuncture help acne?

Updated: Apr 30


Skincare is healthcare: facial acupuncture

I have just finished my cosmetic facial acupuncture course. It is a course that is designed to specifically run alongside my existing skills with needles, BUT I learnt so much more about skin than I ever thought possible.


And it has ignited a new interest. The skin is fascinating. It is the largest organ in the human body. And I realise that, someone who previously only washed their face with water and a bit of moisturiser had ZERO ideas about all the information (and misinformation) there is.


There are serums, creams, machines and procedures that people use on their faces. A whole world of brands and products.


So, today's blog is looking at:

I hope you find this useful and if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch. I always love to hear from you.


Love from Andrea

 

The skin and its functions

As with everything, I always start at the very beginning. Because if we know about the skin we can start to understand why problems can occur and their effect.


The skin is the largest organ on the body and it is our daily defence against the legion of assaults we see in our day:

  • pollution

  • sleep (lack of and how we sleep)

  • food/drink

  • emotions

  • weather

  • trauma

  • medication/toxins

As I wrote above skincare is healthcare. If we can take care of our skin we can help not only our physical health but also our mental health


The skin is comprised of three layers. The epidermis (the outermost layer that we can see); the dermis (the layer which largely comprises a lot of the structures which can create skin conditions) and the subcutaneous tissue (the deepest layer). These layers can be at different depths, depending on where they are on the body.


For example, the dermis on the eyelids is 0.6mm, whereas on the soles of the feet, hands and back it can be 3mm. As we see, later on, this is important as we can understand why the needles used in facial acupuncture can reach those areas we need to help with.


The layers of the skin and the structures which cause acne

The epidermis consists of cells known as keratinocytes which are critical in wound repair. The epidermis is a continually regenerating layer.


The dermis makes up the bulk of the skin and is largely made up of collagen and provides its pliability, elasticity, and tensile strength. It is essential for healthy joints and, in terms of facial acupuncture, keeping the skin elastic to prevent wrinkles.


With acne, pustules and comedones (black heads and white heads), are created when there is an excess of sebaceous oil from the sebaceous glands. This coincides with a narrowing of the pores and thickened and dead cells are not shed properly. These two factors block the pores producing white heads and black heads (black heads are black after exposure to air).


Cutibacterium acnes (the acne bacteria) live on everyone’s skin, usually causing no problems. However, if you have a build up of oil this provides an ideal environment for the bacteria to multiply. This is accompanied by inflammation which leads to the formation of red, swollen or pus-filled spots.


To read more about the biomedicine and acne, click here to go to the British Skin Foundation. It is interesting to note that the remedies considered by biomedicine are all expected to take two to four months to produce their maximum effect.

 

How the skin is considered in acupuncture

The skin, in acupuncture, is governed by a number of organs. It is important to understand their role so that we can treat the skin accordingly and support those organs if they are out of balance.


The acupuncture organs involved in the skin

  • The Heart: controls sweating but also blooms into the face (complexion)

  • The Lungs: control skin and body hair. It ensures the skin is strong enough to repel external pathogens e.g. wind, cold or toxins

  • The Spleen: controls healthy flesh and muscles. If muscles become flaccid we may see the skin sagging or the eyelids drooping

  • Yin Yang and San Jiao: the temperature of the skin is controlled by Yin & Yang and Ming Men and San Jiao

  • The Kidneys: As the source of all Yin and Yang in the body, the Kidneys will always be involved. The role of Vitamin D for strengthening bones is also part of the Kidney function

 

The causes of disease in the skin, according to acupuncture

In acupuncture and Chinese medicine, there are six overarching causes of skin conditions. I am always keen to explore the causes of disease, as it can both help me understand your condition and can also give you tools to help yourself.


Causes of skin disease: a Chinese medicine perspective

The six causes of skin complaints are:

  • Age e.g. puberty will see the fire of Ming Men flaring upwards

  • Alcohol can create damp heat

  • A virus or infection such as an external pathogen

  • Frustrated emotions can lead to liver qi stagnation or liver fire. Ultimately all emotions affect the heart and which can affect the complexion.

  • Your food can introduce dampness, phlegm and heat to the body

  • Smoking can create heat in the lungs


If you are experiencing a skin condition with a degree of redness, I will be thinking of heat. If there are signs of pus, I will consider it damp. The more painful it is, I will be considering stagnation or stasis.

 

What are the acupuncture patterns of skin conditions?

Below is a very brief overview of acupuncture patterns for skin conditions. I will expand on acupuncture for acne in the next section.



 

Acupuncture for acne

In acupuncture, your acne is individual to you. Where do you have your acne? What colour is it? Is it painful? What colour is the pus? By knowing about your acne, I can create a better diagnosis for you.



Where do you have your acne?

Face:

  • lesions on forehead/nose (heat in the lung)

  • lesions around the mouth, on the chest & the upper back (heat in the stomach)

  • lesions affecting nose, mouth & between eyebrows (heat at blood aspect)

  • deep, painful inflamed nodules on face, chest & back (damp toxin with blood stasis)

Body

  • lesions around the mouth, on the chest & the upper back (heat in the stomach)

  • painful lesions with erythema on upper back and chest (heat toxin)

  • deep, painful inflamed nodules on face, chest & back (damp toxin with blood stasis)

Describe your acne

  • younger people (heat in lung with heat toxin);

  • late-onset in women (heat at blood level with stasis)

  • duration of condition - longer-term with cysts & scarring (blood stasis/phlegm)

  • degree of redness (denotes the degree of heat)

  • itching (wind)

  • white pus (damp)

  • yellow pus (damp heat)

Below are four of the common acupuncture patterns seen with acne. For the acupuncturists who follow me, you can see the acupuncture points which are suggested for each.


 

Causes of acne, according to acupuncture

  • Food: Habitual consumption of greasy, hot & spicy foods may cause disruption of the function of the middle jiao. Failure to properly transform & transport food substances results in the accumulation of dampness and heat in the hand & foot Yang Ming (Stomach and Large Intestine channels). The resulting damp-heat surfaces on the Yang Ming channels of the face cause pustular acne with very greasy skin and hair.

  • Yin and Yang: Constitutional yang excess during adolescence may cause heat at the nutritive and blood levels. Blood heat surfaces & rises to the channels in the upper body as well as injuring the Lung, causing Lung heat which is transmitted to the skin. Heat in the Lung causes the first superficial eruption of papules.

  • Emotions: Emotional factors can also generate heat and fire. Heart fire can burn upwards and attack the face along the Heart channel, causing papular acne.

  • Pathogens: Both phlegm & blood stasis are pathogens that block the local channels of the face. Phlegm manifests as large cysts that have remained for a long time (even years) and that may be either hard or soft. Blood stasis manifests as painful lesions or purple discolouration.



 

Acne treatments

By knowing the causes of acne, we can start to make changes, but these are some other suggestions for treatments for acne.


Acne treatments
  • Acupuncture: in a 2009 systematic review they found that acupuncture plus moxibustion is safe and effective for the treatment of acne vulgaris. To find out how I will use facial acupuncture for acne, please keep reading

  • Going to the toilet: optimise bowel movement to release toxins and heat from the body

  • Cupping therapy: "cupping may play a promising role in managing patients with dermatological conditions"

  • Practice relaxation: to help the Shen (mind)

  • Water: drink water to help clear the toxins

  • Food: eat vegetables (see below for good suggestions) and avoid sugar, spices, garlic, alcohol and dairy

  • Chinese medicine herbs: if I believe this is the correct route for you, then I will refer you to a Chinese medicine herbalist who can help

However remember food is medicine. So if you want to start taking action yourself, below you will find the Chinese medicine food energetics for acne.

 

Chinese medicine food energetics for acne

  • Foods rich in omega 3 / GLA fatty acids: sesame seeds, sesame oil

  • Beta carotene/provitamin A: carrots, winter squash, pumpkin, dandelion greens, beet greens, spinach, kale, chard, watercress

  • Rich in chlorophyll: seaweed, dandelion greens, beet greens, spinach, kale, chard, watercress

  • Foods to add freely: mung beans, aduki beans, unpeeled cucumber slices, alfalfa sprouts, soy sprouts, goat milk products

  • Foods to avoid: spicy, fatty, greasy foods, sweets, citrus foods, oysters, herring, shrimp

  • Herbs that cool heat toxins and dry damp: dandelion root, goldenseal root, chaparral leaves, pansy flowers, echinacea root, yellow dock root, burdock root, red clover blossoms, horehound leaves, poke root


 

How I use facial acupuncture

If you come to me for facial acupuncture for acne I will use a range of modalities as described here. Below I have given an example of a treatment that I might use.


The natural mechanism of the skin in trauma is to create an immune response. This response sends white blood cells (leucocytes) and collagen to the area to aid repair. To read further about how acupuncture works you can read my blog post here.


Facial acupuncture creates a process of change. It doesn't provide immediate results and will take a number of treatments. So, this is not a treatment for someone who wants an immediate result (but even biomedical treatments can take between two to four months). But it is a treatment for someone who wants to make the changes for their long term health (and not just of their skin) and work alongside me using:

  • facial acupuncture

  • Chinese medicine herbs (for which I would refer to another practitioner if I thought was necessary

  • lifestyle changes

 

What to expect from a facial acupuncture treatment for acne

Below is a guideline of what will happen during a facial acupuncture treatment with me.

Acupuncture consultation

During the consultation (which is approximately 20-30 minutes) we will discuss your acne. We will also discuss your overall health, to enable me to diagnose correctly. For a blog post I wrote about the questions I ask you, you can click here. We will always discuss your current lifestyle and any correlations that might be contributing to your acne.

 

Acupuncture needles

As you can see from my beautiful patient below I have had to highlight the intradermal needles, which are so small you can hardly see them. These smaller needles are placed into specific acupuncture points, which will aid the improvement of the skin.

Facial acupuncture

I will also use those same needles to "surround" each pustule. By surrounding them, we are sending a direct message that we require a change around that area. The body needs to start creating a balance from the excess of sebum.


Facial acupuncture for acne: surrounding the pustule

The larger needles you can see are used to stimulate the lymphatic system, which aids the drainage of waste from cells. They are also part of the immune response.


In facial acupuncture I also support your diagnosis with the appropriate body acupuncture points.


This was the first treatment for my patient, where we are evaluating your skin's response to the needles and also starting to rehydrate the skin.


In later treatments, we will start to work on your acne and more needles and modalities will start to be used.

 

Cupping therapy

I use silicone facial cups to support my facial acupuncture treatments. The cups create microtrauma (without puncturing the skin like needles) and improve elasticity, blood circulation and help the lymphatic system.


Facial acupuncture tools including intradermals, jade rollers and cups

 

Celluma LED light

Celluma is the only FDA approved LED light system and is used to help with pain, wrinkles and acne.


By using Celluma in my facial acupuncture treatments for acne with the blue light I am eliminating Cutibacterium acnes and reducing inflammation


Celluma recommend that the ideal frequency of treatments is three times a week.


In a 2021 systematic review they found


Studies have shown significant improvements in the overall picture of acne
 

Products I use

  • Puriskin pink: I use this cream as part of my treatment, which is brilliant for calming inflammation

  • Clinicare: I will use an anti-inflammatory mask over the intradermal needles, and before using the Celluma

  • Dermatology M: I am a huge fan of Dermatology M, who create products using Chinese medicine formulas


 

Useful resources for skincare

I am just at the start of my journey to developing my knowledge around the skin. As with everything I do, I want to be certain of my knowledge. To have the best and correct education so I can be the best practitioner for you.


These are Instagram accounts I have been following to help build my knowledge. Because there is so much information and misinformation.

  • @brownskinmatters: this is a brilliant account for understanding how skin conditions look on people of colour

  • @labmuffinbeautyscience: Michelle is a scientist who debunks lots of falsehoods about skincare. Really interesting if you want to be nerdy about your skincare

  • @thatsinglemum: Cathy is a brilliant resource for tried and tested skincare. I have learnt a lot from her

  • @scamander14: Julian is a self-described sunscreen nerd and clinical researcher. I have really enjoyed his commentary about sunscreens which he evaluates.

  • I use Dermatology M, on my own skin, which is a brand that uses Traditional Chinese Medicine formulas in their skincare.

One of the most interesting points that came out from a talk with Bobbi Brown is that they are using Traditional Chinese Medicine in their formulas.


I've added a link below as to more you can read about this but considering my background this is very, very interesting. The other really interesting thing is about the use of mushrooms and fungus in skincare



Now, you may or may not know this, but I actually come from a family of mushroom farmers!! 🍄

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