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. Some of the other things TCM practitioners look at when treating skin issues are heat in the blood and blood stasis. Both of these can also manifest with dryness. There are many Chinese herbal medicine formulas that can help to address the blood and therefore treat the skin. From a dietary perspective eating blood nourishing foods such as dark leafy greens, red beets, goji berries and organ meats can help to improve dry skin and increase the luster of the skin.
Here are some simple, at home remedies to help keep your skin healthy and full of moisture this winter:
1. Dry brush before bathing and moisturize after bathing. Dry brushing helps to slough off dead skin cells to improve cell turnover and stimulate lymphatic flow to help with detoxification. Moisture after a shower or bath while pores are open to help increase moisture retention. I strongly recommend using an oil based moisturizer instead of conventional lotions and creams to avoid unwanted chemicals being absorbed through the skin and because oils are so easily assimilated into the pores. My personal favorites are almond, avocado and apricot oils. If you really prefer cream lotions, try switching to shea butter or cocoa butter.
2. Eat a diet rich in skin and blood nourishing foods. Examples are listed above, but can also include cucumber, coconut, fermented foods, squash and sweet potatoes and avoiding hot, drying foods such as fried foods, alcohol, overconsumption of meat, caffeine and dairy.
3. Get some acupuncture and take chinese herbs or supplements to help support skin moisture. If you need local recommendations, reach out...if you're in Denver or Lakewood, come see me at Balanced Stone Acupuncture and Wellness
4. Make a moisturizing bath and enjoy a long soak. Add the following to a hot (but not too hot) bath and soak for 20-40 minutes. You can use essential oils instead of the flowers listed, but soaking in flowers is oh so dreamy and I highly recommend it.
1/2 cup rolled oats
2 tbsp coconut or almond oil
1 tbsp chamomile flowers
1 tbsp lavender flowers
1 tbsp rosehips
**All information and resources found on balancedstonewellness.com are based on the opinions, experience and research of the author unless otherwise noted. All information is intended to motivate readers to make their own nutrition and health decisions after consulting with their health care provider...even if that provider may be the author ;)