By Dr. Anna Gold

In my new Skin Series blog posts, I go deep into internal factors that contribute to healthy skin, including the role of the microbiome, a Chinese medicine perspective, and diet and lifestyle habits that help its complexion.

In Part 1 of my Skin Series Blog Posts, The Importance of Supporting Skin Health from Within, I detailed the anatomy of the Skin. Here in Part 2, I explain the concept of skin from a Chinese medicine perspective. 

The TCM Concept of Skin

Evidence of Chinese medical practitioners treating dermatological diseases go as far back as 1700 BC where during the Shang dynasty inscriptions on bones alluded to specific skin diseases. From then, with the advent of paper, treatises on dermatology were written by royal physicians detailing origins and healing methods for skin diseases.  

Like in Western medicine, the skin in Chinese medicine is divided into layers. 

  1. Fū (Skin) corresponds to the epidermis 
  2. Gé (Hide) - the dermis” and 
  3. Fēn Ròu (Flesh) the fatty subcutaneous layer

TCM dermatology also identifies other layers of “skin” that have correspondences to structures in biomedicine such as: 

  1. Jī Ròu (Muscle layer)
  2. Còu Lî (Interstitial Tissue)
  3. Xuán Fú (Mysterious Mansion or Qi gate) This term refers to the opening and closing of the pores
  4. Máo Fà (Head and Body Hair)
  5. Zhâo Jiâ (Nails)

In TCM, Skin is ruled by the Lungs 

The function of the Lungs, according to Chinese medicine, is to spread Qi throughout the body and nourish vitality in the blood vessels. It takes the air that is exchanged through breathing and mixes it with the Qi derived from food (Gu Qi) and the Qi from the Kidneys (the preheaven constitutional Yuan Qi) to make it into usable energy in the body. The Lungs are also in charge of internal moisture, regulating the skin and sweat glands by opening and closing the pores. 

Even though the Lungs control the Skin, for true health, one must look to the rest of the body. Chinese Medicine regulates diseases by restoring harmony throughout. Since all systems are interconnected, whatever happens internally may manifest in the skin. This is evident in that one of the ways to diagnose a patient is by observing the appearance of their skin. For example, if the hue of the complexion is pale, there may be Blood deficiency. If it’s bright red, then excess heat is present. If it is a pale red, then one assumes deficiency heat. If there is a green tinge, then Liver may be involved. 

The vital substances - Qi, Blood, Fluids, Spirit, and Essence must all be balanced for maintaining health. There must be an equilibrium of these vital substances in order to keep the pathogens - heat, cold, dryness, wind, damp, fire - in check, otherwise diseases will appear. 

You now can see how important skin health is for overall well being. It is often a reflection of health beneath the body’s surface. Healthy skin is informed by a combination of internal factors, including gut microbiome, inflammation, organ health and circulation. 

In the next post, The Importance of Supporting Skin Health from Within Part 3, read about the relationship of gut health to skin. 

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