Eczema, Psoriasis, Dermatitis: Treating Skin Conditions with Acupuncture
Skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis can be very annoying. We can hide conditions occurring inside the body. But the skin puts it all out into the open. The skin is an organ through which we interface with the world. It is our crust. Our barrier, as well as the way we show ourselves to the world.
Beyond the aesthetic annoyance of skin conditions, they are also frequently complicated by itch, pain, burning or other types of discomfort. Pain and itch can be very dispiriting and distracting. It is difficult to think of anything else when the skin is on fire, in pain or “burning up.”
It is common in mainstream medicine to look only skin-deep when diagnosing and treating conditions afflicting the skin. However the root of such problems is often coming from deeper places – inside the body. For centuries, Chinese Medicine has understood that conditions manifesting on the skin are often due to problems in the digestive and blood systems.
The skin is an organ of elimination, much like the bowels and bladder. Toxins lodged in the GI tract are often translocated to the skin to be flushed out. Treating only the skin can bring temporary relief. Medicines such as steroids relieve itch and pain because they stop the body from bringing toxic overload to the skin- they block the body’s physiological response. However, these medications don’t clear toxins from the body; they simply stop them from showing up on the skin. The toxins remain within the body, potentially giving rise to symptoms elsewhere, such as the muscles, joints and internal organs.
In Chinese Medicine, the skin is understood to have a strong relationship with the lungs. The lungs control our body’s relationship to the external world. They govern the part of the immune system that keeps agents such as virus, bacteria and fungus from penetrating into our bodies to make us sick. As much as we’d like to think we live in a sterile clean environment, it’s a reality that germs are everywhere: we come in contact with them many times a day. Whether we get sick from them or not isn’t always a matter of how clean our environment is, it is reliant on the strength of our lungs.
The lungs use fluid provided by the stomach to “sweat out” germs, or to expel them through the orifices of the body via mucus expectoration. If there is a problem with our stomachs, such as inflammation, weakness, or overgrowth of flora in the form of candida, there will also be problems with our lungs.
The lungs are the organ that provide energy that all other organs rely on for elimination and detoxification. They bring sweat to the surface of the skin to repel environmental toxins, they receive the fluid from the stomach to vent inflammation through the skin, nose or the bowels via urination and defecation. It’s lung energy that allow the large intestine to defecate and the bladder to urinate. It has a strong “up and out” or “down and out” energetic movement.
Problems with the skin, nose and bowels can often be rooted in lung or stomach dysfunction.
The lungs can simply be the elimination organ other organs are passing their problems to. Macular skin eruptions can be from longstanding unresolved viral conditions, being translocated from the kidneys and bladder to the lungs and skin. Fluid filled eruptions often indicate a fungal terrain coming from the digestive system. Red, painful eruptions are associated with inflammation, either locally or being vented from the internal organs.
Other problems with the skin, such as varicosity and discoloration can relate to the organs of blood regulation: the liver, spleen and heart. The blood is a fascinating concept in Chinese Medicine. It includes all of what’s presented in western medicine, with the addition of a strong mental-emotional component. In Chinese medicine, the blood is seen as the mediumship for the emotions and the circulation of the mind. Skin conditions involving the blood can result from emotional disturbances, either acute or chronic.
The blood is also holds onto unresolved problems, keeping them latent or lingering. Things the body hasn’t been unable to resolve – either physical, mental or emotional – can be kept in a relatively “quite” state by the blood. Mild symptoms will result instead of those that are strong and urgent. This physiological process is similar to using steroids in the treatment of skin conditions. The problem doesn’t get revolved, instead it is keep under control in a non-symptomatic, or mildly symptomatic state.
Skin problems can also be the result of autoimmune conditions, as in the case of scleroderma, where the immune system attacks the tissues of the body – in this case the skin. Autoimmunity is seen as mysterious; it is not very well understood by western medicine. There is often little or nothing that can be found to explain overreaction of the immune system or why it attacks the body. Chinese medicine explains this phenomenon as the body’s reaction to latency. Western tests cannot see an offending agent because the agent is hidden in a dormant state. All that is seen is the inflammatory response from the immune system. Treatment often involves clearing the inflammation which is causing the tissue damage. This will control the condition and reduce the damage. However, it does nothing to eliminate that which the immune system is responding to. Full resolution requires bringing the offending agent out of hiding, which may temporarily make symptoms worse. This is the process by which pathogens residing deep in the body come to the surface where they can be flushed out.
A similar strategy is often used to treat skin conditions through acupuncture: encouraging the full eruption of the condition to fully flush toxins from the system. This is done alongside dietary and lifestyle modifications, so as to prevent the creation of further toxins which will complicate and slow healing. Dietary temperance is vital in the treatment of all skin conditions.
Acupuncture is a therapy that strengthens the body. It promotes detox of harmful toxins. It regulates and invigorates organ function. It is completely natural and holistic. Nothing foreign is given to the body. Points on the skin are stimulated, sending messages to the internal organs, empowering better function. Overall health is strengthened as specific concerns are resolved. It works on the body and mind simultaneously, treating the root as well as the symptom. The ultimate goal is always full resolution of the problem. When the root of a weed is pulled out, it doesn’t grow back. If only the leaves are cut off, it will reemerge.