Winter’s weather and cold can often lead to dry, chapped and flaky skin.  Heating systems that force dry air may keep us warm and cozy, but will leech out precious moisture from our sinuses, Lungs, throat and skin. For those who already have skin conditions like eczema and dermatitis these conditions usually worsen during the winter.  Fortunately, Asian medicine has been tackling skin conditions for thousands of years.

A quick overview of the skin in Asian medicine

In Asian medicine the skin isn’t one simple organ to viewed and treated.  The practitioner must evaluate and assess each organ that plays a role in the skin’s health to see what needs focused treatment. Like any other disharmony skin patterns can be acute or chronic.  Acute patterns may just pop in the season while chronic patterns may improve or become worse with the season.  To successfully treat the patterns, we have to get a clear picture and that requires tongue and pulse assessment, questions and answers and some detective work – too much for today’s wee blog. My focus here is to touch on some the major organs and patterns that create skin conditions and to offer some simple remedies and help.

The Officials (Organs) that influence skin according to Asian medicine

The Lungs rule the skin and the exterior – The Lungs, generate the Wei Qi (part of the immune systems), and they rule over the sinuses, throat and the skin.  Their function of dispersing Yin (moisture & fluids) and Qi to the skin and spaces between the skin and flesh must be healthy and vital for the skin to be strong and supple. It is rarely a surprise if a client suffers from allergies, asthma or a weak immune system that they also have skin conditions.  Find out more about Lungs, Autumn and the Metal Element.

The Spleen must transform – The Spleen’s role of governing the Transformation and Transportation of food and drink into vital essences can never be overlooked in the any aspect of well being. The food and drink you take in are the building blocks for everything in your body, and it’s the proper function of the physical form that provides for the residence of the mind and your psyche. If the digestive system is compromised or weak the body and mind will suffer. One of the primary culprits is phlegm which can be manufactured by the Spleen due to overly rich and sweet foods. This phlegm bogs down the Lungs and other systems. Conditions like leaky gut and food allergies often present with skin patterns of eczema, dermatitis and yeast patterns.  A lot of skin conditions in younger children clear up with gentle treatments of Spleen and Lung combined. The Spleen corresponds to the Earth Element and transition of seasons.

Damp conditions and congestion – Weeping, oozing, damp and sticky skin conditions. These are often Spleen based.  Think yeast and eczema in moist areas of the bodies like the arm pits and back of knees. Congestion needs to be cleared up and digestion and the Earth element must be addressed here.

Liver – Oh, Liver…why must you get so stagnate?  Well, it’s often of our own making (anger, frustration, excessive greasy and congesting foods).  Liver skin patterns can include vitilago and pigmentation issues.  Liver blood deficiency (anemia) can lead to dry skin and nails which may later evolve to deeper patterns if not treated.

Wind patterns – The skin patterns come and go.  Our most famous example – hives and shingles. Wind cannot be addressed without treating the Liver, Gall Bladder and Triple Warmer’s functioning.

Toxins – Exposure to chemicals, latex, plants, perfumes, rancid oils are exterior pathogens and such may cause skin outbreaks as well.  This category includes toxin that may not be eliminated from the body due to constipation and a congested Colon.  The Colon is the Yang pair to the Lung’s Yin organs, often if one is compromised the other will be too.

Again, it’s important with any skin condition to find the root cause to effectively treat. For many, however, treating and reducing the effects of winter’s embrace on your skin can be pretty simple.

Tips to healthier skin

The skin needs Yin – Yep, water and fluids.  Yin and the Blood and fluids cannot manifest out of thin air you must drink fluids and ingest foods that nourish Yin. This can be a problem for people who try to live off of supplements and eat too many dried foods.  Start your morning off with a glass of warm water and make sure to take in sufficient fluids throughout the day.  Warm water is more readily absorbed into the system. Yin is also nourished by adequate rest & calming the mind.  Yin nourishing foods include: Alfalfa sprouts, apple, asparagus, avocado, bamboo shoots, berries, beets, broccoli,  Chinese cabbage, coconut, cucumbers, kelp, kidney bean, lemon, lettuce, lime, mango, melon, micro-algae, mint, mulberry, nettles, papaya, pea, pear, pineapple, pomegranate, seaweeds, sesame, spelt, spirulina, string bean, sweet potato, watermelon, wheatgrass juice & yam. The following foods are Yin nourishing but may be overly dampening – use with caution if you have phlegm, excess mucus or other damp conditions: Banana, cheese, egg, honey, milk, pork, rabbit, royal jelly, tofu, tomato & wheat. If you have dry air in your house be sure to use a humidifier, vaporizer or even the old trick of a pot of water on the stove to add moisture to the air. Your skin will thank you.

Treat your digestion – Improper diet is one of the biggest culprits in skin patterns from eczema to acne.  When nutrition and digestion improves, the skin will improve.  Asian medicine is fantastic with helping to identify and treat digestive disharmonies, so check with your practitioner to find out how you can improve your digestive vitality. 

Clear congestion – An indicator of dampness, any sinus or head congestion is mucking up the works and preventing clear Yin and Qi from reaching the skin.  Here’s some tips to clear congestion.

Increase your fiber – Fiber, fiber, fiber…what doesn’t it help with?  On the average, Americans eat less than 1/2 the amount of fiber that they should.  A few simple dietary shifts can do wonders in your body. To find out more about high fiber foods and their benefits check out Fabulous Fiber.

Eat fresh foods and vegetables – Loaded with beautiful vitamins and minerals that nourish the skin.  Consumption of lots of refined and processed–dead–foods lack vitamins and minerals that nourish the skin, and they simply lack moisture. Requiring the body to leach Yin from other areas of the body to digest them.  During the winter months, eat more of your food cook in soups and stew…that require less work from your body to heat up and digest–save the raw for the hotter months.   

Get green – Green foods clear, cool and cleanse.  Time to nosh on nettles, seaweeds (not from Japan!), algaes and green leaves. More on green.

Add in vegetables that specifically nourish the skin – Beets and carrots make for beautiful skin.  Include mushrooms like shiitake and reishi, carrots, squash, leafy greens, avocados and artichokes.  

Drink teas that promote skin health – chamomile, raspberry leaf, dandelion, green tea, rosemary, rose, nettles.

Oatmeal Bath – Sometimes grandma’s remedies are the best. Grab a handful of rolled oats and place cheese cloth bag or old nylon (unless you want to clean up a messy tub). Drop into your bath water and enjoy.

Add in essential fatty acids – Relief might be as simple as taking vitamin E or Omega 3, flax seed or evening primrose oil.  Clean fish oil is my first recommendation for children’s skin patterns. 

Use oil on your skin – I live in Idaho, where it can be dry, dry, dry.  The practice of spraying on a light oil after a bath is must in both summer and winter.  Vary your oils and make sure they aren’t rancid.  If you have nut allergies try using jojoba, coconut or olive oil – which is a little heavier, but does wonders on dry skin.  At Pulse we use jojoba oil in the room as many people have nut allergies and sensitivities. 

Avoid dermatitis triggers – Watch out for: eggs, peanuts, soy food, coffee, alcohol, sugar, processed and refined foods, saturated fats (heavy meats, palm kernel and coconut oils).  Opt for cold pressed olive oil in cooking.  Limit nuts and seeds to a small handful at time.  Cut out margarine and butter substitutes, avoid chemicals, including ‘sugar substitutes’, non dairy creamers and artificial foods. 

To your skin!