Common skin complaints, from acne to pigmentation, could reveal the secrets of your internal health. All you need to do is look in the mirror.
Modern health experts are turning to face mapping, an ancient Chinese technique for diagnosing internal disturbances that enables practitioners to treat specific conditions according to where signs display on particular areas of the face. Combining dermatology and Chinese medicine philosophy, face mapping gives vital clues for those who are seeking more specific answers to their skincare woes.
“From seeing the face colour and condition of the face muscle, I can tell the blood circulation quality and how the digestive organs function — and how much nutrition the patient is able to absorb from their diet,” says Chinese medicine practitioner Peter Chen, based in Sydney, Australia, who commonly treats clients for skin conditions such as acne and eczema at his Logical Medicine clinic.
“If people have low kidney function, it will show as swelling around the eyes; if people suffer from liver or gallbladder issues, it may show as light yellow in the face and eyes; if the skin is very dry and without shine, it means the patient suffers very poor digestion and is unable to absorb enough nutrition; if the pupils of the eyes are enlarged, it means pressure in the skull and they will suffer headache or migraine — this is caused by poor blood circulation and poor cardiovascular function.”
Fellow health practitioner Nalisha Patel knows well the discomfort of recurring acne. She says her own journey inspired her to help others through her LookForever30 program, which uses Chinese face-reading techniques to diagnose body imbalances and reduce fine lines and acne using nutrition, exercise and lifestyle changes.
“I personally suffered from bad acne, even though I was a wellness professional!” she says. “I had to dig deeper into my habits to figure out why I was still breaking out, even though I was doing all the ‘right’ things. Now my face is clear and glows.”
Signs & symptoms
- Dark circles under eyes. Lack of sleep and a poorly functioning endocrine system are said to be the leading causes of under-eye darkness. However, some health practitioners say intolerances of foods such as wheat and dairy can also contribute to this common condition. Sufferers may also experience back pain and neck, shoulder and spinal core tension.
- Horizontal lines on the forehead. Chinese medicine relates premature wrinkles on the forehead to digestive issues.
- Cracks at mouth corners. A vitamin B deficiency, in particular B2, has been identified as a contributing factor to the skin splitting at the sides of the mouth.
- Dry skin or inflammation on the chin. Digestive issues can result in excessively dry skin and redness in this area.
- Pigmentation. Dark spots on the skin can be signs of detoxification as the body pushes out toxins through the skin, resulting in pigmentation.
- Dry lips. Slathering with lip balm won’t combat the condition that is said to be caused by lack of internal hydration or iron or vitamin B deficiency.
The purpose of pimples
Dr Chen says those who suffer from acne usually have weak immune systems as well as poor liver and gallbladder function.
“[The body] is unable to break down the oil well, so there is more oil in the skin that can block the sweat glands,” he explains. “The low immune system is then unable to kill the bacteria, so the bacteria will be able to stay in the little sweat glands and cause the acne.”
Some possible causes of acne on particular areas of the face could relate to the following:
- Forehead. Liver and stomach congestion are often considered to be culprits and can also be triggered by stress. Energy healers may also attribute pimples on the face to unresolved anger.
- Above the eyebrows. A breakout here can signify it’s time to boost the immune system and can often appear at the onset of cold or flu.
- Between the eyebrows. Diets fuelled by dairy, sugar and alcohol are said to be causes, as are food allergies.
- Cheeks. Smokers are more likely to suffer from breakouts here, as are those who live in cities with chronic pollution.
- Chin. Hormones are often to blame for breakouts at the chin sides and can be particularly troublesome during ovulation.
- Jaw line. A diet primarily of processed foods, including dairy, sugar, fried foods and soft drinks can result in adult acne, particularly along the jaw line.
The gut-face connection
Greek physician Hippocrates once said, “All disease begins in the gut”, and, as such, it’s also true that bad skin begins in the gut. Meals of fast food that boast empty calories and unhealthy fats can cause the colon to clog and become home to a putrefying concoction of processed foods and meats. With nowhere else to go, toxins are pushed out through the weakened colon wall into the bloodstream, and out through the body’s largest organ and hard-working elimination system, the skin.
“General skin health relates back to the functioning of the lungs, colon, kidneys and liver,” explains holistic skin and beauty therapist Lydia Thomas, who treats clients from her Port Melbourne clinic Apple Blossom Health and Beauty. “If all are in optimal health through a nutritious diet, regular exercise and emotional equilibrium, the skin will glow from the inside out.”
“Gut always plays a role,” she adds. “Stress-induced alterations to microbial flora such as anxiety, worry and depression could increase the likelihood of intestinal permeability, which in turn sets the stage for systemic and local skin inflammation — so when treating the skin, you need to balance the gut flora by introducing probiotic strains such as bacillus acidophilus.”
- On rising each morning, drink a glass of freshly squeezed lemon juice in warm water. Lemons work as a natural detergent, while also being anti-bacterial, anti-viral and immune-boosting.
- Fast on pure spring or distilled water one day a week. According to leading American health practitioner, Dr Joseph Mercola, distilled water should only be taken over short periods and only for the purpose of detoxification.
- Add cold-pressed vegetable juices into your every day and undertake a three-day juice fast. Be sure to undertake any fasts under practitioner supervision if you have health issues.
- Naturopath Erica Lawrence recommends a herbal tea infusion of burdock, dandelion, echinacea, cleavers and nettle. “Echinacea is great for the immune system and also a primary lymphatic, which helps to detoxify your blood,” she says.
The great healer
Beyond healthy foods, herbal teas and detox, there is a powerful skin and body regenerator that is greatly overlooked, thanks to the Western world’s work-hard-play-late attitude. Sleep, say many health coaches, wellbeing practitioners and holistic doctors, is a potent healer and remedy for many conditions that ail the skin.
Naturopath Tristian Kelly, who runs a sleep, wellbeing and anti-ageing clinic called Counting Seashells (countingseashells.com.au) at Sydney’s Bondi Beach, says the importance of sleep “cannot be underestimated”.
“The body needs sleep to repair cells and recover from the day — this can be easily seen from the benefits of sleep, which include healthier, younger skin, improved heart function, improved weight control, reduced chance of diabetes and improved mental clarity,” he says.
Dr Chen agrees. “Sleeping is the best medicine for your body … If you are unable to have good-quality sleep, your health condition will go down and your immune system will get worse. When you have a good sleep, your injured body or wound will heal four times faster than if you are unable to sleep properly.”
Good sleeping tips
- Don’t watch television or use a computer at least one hour before bed. Studies have shown it can slow the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin, which promotes sleep.
- Turn off all artificial light in your bedroom, including the alarm clock. According to The National Sleep Foundation in the US, exposure to light stimulates a nerve pathway from the eye to areas of the brain, which control hormones, body temperature and other essential sleep functions. One study also found that exposure to unnatural light cycles could lead to depression.
- Drink a small glass of sleep-inducing chamomile or valerian tea.
- Take a warm bath infused with lavender oil.
Beauty vitamins & minerals
Once the colon is cleansed, the body has greater ability to absorb skin-essential nutrients, including beautifying vitamins and minerals.
Compounding pharmacist and creator of skincare line DNA Elements, Danielle Glover, says a beautiful, glowing, youthful complexion happens when it’s fed the right combination of minerals, vitamins and antioxidants externally, but, more importantly, internally.
“When looking after their skin, most people turn solely to mainstream topical creams, lotions, scrubs and toners, but forget that the health of our skin really is guided by what we eat,” she says. “Using the right combination of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants is essential for optimal skin health.”
According to Glover, the following nutrients are crucial for fostering healthy skin:
- Vitamins C & E. Both have powerful antioxidant abilities that are highly effective at reducing free-radical damage and the effects of prolonged sun exposure. Each may reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles. Foods rich in vitamins C and E include kale, broccoli, sunflower seeds and safflower oil.
- Vitamin A. Known to maintain and promote the repair of skin tissue. The best way to top up this nutrient is via foods such as carrots, apricots and kale, as excess consumption can be harmful.
- Silica. Silica is known for strengthening the body’s connective tissues and is imperative for all-over skin health. Foods rich in silica include leeks, green beans and strawberries.
- Selenium. Research has shown that selenium is responsible for tissue elasticity and may help protect the skin from sun damage, resulting in fewer lines, wrinkles and age spots. Top up on Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, mushrooms and onions.
How stress affects the skin
A hard day at work can quickly show up on the face, with stress contributing to the body’s inability to absorb nutrients. It also makes reaching for that end-of-day wine more tempting, leading to dehydration and disturbed sleep patterns.
Learning how to respond calmly to stressful situations requires mindfulness and this can take time to harness, making daily practices of meditation, yoga and walking highly beneficial.
Yet there’s more going on in the body, and with the skin, when the stress response sets in, says holistic nutritionist Samantha Ward of Invora Health in Melbourne, Australia.
“Stress affects the skin in a number of ways: when we feel worried or stressed, our bodies release a range of hormones, two of which are adrenaline and cortisol,” she says. “These two hormones were absolutely essential to our survival when stress was caused by a tiger being two metres away from you … the adrenaline makes your heart beat faster, your lungs fill with more air, your muscles tense and you begin to sweat. You’re ready to run!”
She adds, “The issue arises when stress changed from a wild tiger to an inbox full of emails, a deadline, a disapproving boss or a visit from the in-laws. When stress remains constant, our bodies continue to produce these hormones and our levels of cortisol rise, causing a suppression of the immune system, reduced digestive function, blood-sugar disregulation, obesity and, of course, acne.”
Recipes for relaxation
Being conscious of our responses to stressful situations is an important first step in keeping calm, which can, in turn, contribute to healthy skin. However, there are regular beauty rituals that can keep you relaxed while also feeding the face with beautifying vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and good fats.
Eco beauty editor mineralising scrub
Mix two parts aluminium-free baking soda to one part wild kelp powder. Wet the face and apply the mixture gently in circular motions, working from the neck up to the forehead. Leave for two to three minutes before rinsing off. This also works wonders as an all-over body scrub.
Apple cider toner
Add one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to two cups of water. Apply to the face and neck using an organic cotton pad.
Bentonite clay mask
Combine enough clay and water to make a paste. Apply over the face and neck and leave to dry, before rinsing off with warm water and patting dry. Bentonite clay is a wonderful detoxifier that feeds the skin with minerals.
Natural moisture infusion
Organic rosehip oil is an effective and light skin moisturiser that’s packed with skin-loving, antioxidant vitamin C. It also does double duty as a toxin-free makeup remover.