As a holistic practitioner specializing in dermatology, I see a lot of patients with moderate to severe acne. Many of them come to me for the first time saying, "I've tried everything and my skin is still horrible." Some of them bring in huge shopping bags filled with creams, cleansers, masks and other topical products.
Many realize that true healing of the skin comes from "within," and we discuss the countless detox cleanses, diets and eating programs they've tried. So often they're at their wit's end because nothing has worked for them so far.
The good news, though, is that Chinese herbal treatment is a completely different approach to healing acne. Here are four reasons to give it a try:
1. Herbs are used both internally and topically.
What comes to mind when you think about the root cause of acne? Hormones? Diet? These affect the entire body, and that's where the primary focus of treatment should be. Herbs taken internally get to the root of the problem.
Herbal creams, serums or toners applied topically are a wonderful add-on and provide more immediate healing. Combining internal and topical treatment together is the most effective way to achieve complete, long-term results.
2. Treatment is individualized.
In Western medicine, there aren't a lot of options for the internal treatment of acne. Generally, people are either prescribed birth control pills, antibiotics or isotretinoin, the latter of which has dangerous side effects.
Herbalists look at the whole health picture. What does the acne look like? Is there background redness, or is the skin more greasy or shiny? Are there pimples, pustules, cysts or all three? Where is it located? How are other symptoms like digestion? How old is the patient? Are there other factors involved, like drinking, smoking, diet or stress?
The whole health picture helps determine what Chinese medicine calls "patterns of imbalance." Treatment specifically targets each of these patterns and, as they change and evolve, herbal treatment evolves, too.
3. Chinese herbs are safe.
The side effects of pharmaceutical medications can be serious (some of them downright scary), as can be seen in this FDA warning about isotretinoin. Many of my patients have complained of mild to severe side effects they've had from past acne treatment with prescription drugs.
Chinese herbal treatments, on the other hand, have little to no side effects. There may be digestive discomfort or loose stools, but even these mild symptoms don't usually last too long.
That said, "herbal" and "natural" doesn't always make a treatment safe. Anything strong enough to heal you can also harm you if taken incorrectly. Make sure your herbalist has experience treating skin conditions, and that they're committed to using Chinese herbs from a reputable pharmacy. Ask about whether the herbs have been tested not only for quality, but also for pesticide or fungicide residues. Herb quality is a big concern in the Chinese medicine community, and is something to which you should pay close attention.
4. A specialist sees your areas of imbalance.
The look of your skin reveals a lot of information about what's going on internally. For example, lesions that look bright red require different herbs than those that are pale or purplish. Oily skin requires different herbs than combination skin. Lesions on the back, chest or arms require different herbs than those on the face. Cysts on the chin require different herbs than pimples on the cheeks.
An herbal dermatology specialist will be able to pinpoint your precise areas of imbalance based on the appearance of your skin.
Keep in mind that many herbalists (as well as naturopaths, homeopaths, and even Western doctors) are not experienced in treating skin conditions. Most holistic practitioners have never even taken a dermatology course! So, however you choose to treat your acne, make sure you see a specialist. She will see the unique distinctions on your skin and know what to do about them.
Chinese herbs are not a "cure all" and can't help everyone. But with diligent treatment, the vast majority of my acne patients report dramatic improvement. For many, the skin completely clears with no further relapse. I'll admit I'm biased — I've been an herbalist and acupuncturist for more than 14 years. But in my opinion, Chinese herbs are the number one choice for the treatment of acne.
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