Let's talk dry skin. Winter is in full swing and you may have noticed that your skin is feeling dry. It may be flaky, itchy or just not its usual plump vibrant self. Some of this is seasonal...for those of us here in Colorado, it’s all year round! Let's take a look at how TCM views the skin, what may be causing the dryness and a few ways to address it.
The skin is our largest organ, it's protective in many ways and healthy intact skin often reflects our internal health as well. In Chinese medicine, we view issues with the skin as a reflection of your internal health, so if there are problems with the skin we look inside for what may be triggering the skin imbalances. Because the skin is connected to so many aspects of our health, I am going to breakdown the relationship of the skin to a few different organ systems and body fluids specifically related to dry skin. This topic is huge, so a discussion on more serious dermatologic imbalances could take all day! Here are a few basics.
The skin is associated with the lungs, it functions as our first line of defense and is related to what we call wei qi or protective qi, which is controlled by the lungs. If you are constantly getting sick, your wei qi, which resides near the surface of the skin, may be weak, meaning you may need some additional lung support. This deficiency can create increased moisture loss through the skin. Some simple, at home ways to strengthen lung function and the wei qi are to sleep with a humidifier, eat plenty of pears, do focused deep breathing exercises and avoid smoking and second hand smoke. Lung function can also be boosted with regular acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. One of my favorite herbs for strengthening lung function is Astragalus (Huang Qi). Interestingly enough, when paired with Angelica (Dang Gui), Astragalus helps to address difficult non-healing wounds. It is also really common to find Astragalus in skin care products because of its far reaching benefits in supporting healthy skin. Strengthening the lung system and the immune system decreases the skin's sensitivity to cold and improves skin moisture.
The skin is also associated with the blood. There is a concept from the Chinese medicine classic texts of "treatment from the blood aspect" that is to say in order to treat the skin, we must first treat the blood. But what does that mean exactly? The idea is that with healthy blood volume, blood flow, adequate oxygenation and appropriate nutrients in the blood the skin will be supple and healthy. Changes in the skin can be a sign of imbalances in the blood aspect of the body. The first thing we look at with dry skin is blood deficiency. With blood deficiency, dry skin arises. This is the result of inadequate blood nutrients and volume to properly supply the vessels under the skin, leading to dryness, this dryness can also give way to itching