We’re all too familiar with hearing the exotic and sometimes eyebrow-raising beauty secrets of celebrities. So when A-listers like Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna began using Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to transform their skin from the inside out, the alternative therapy could have been heralded as just another celebrity fad. While beauty therapies for the average woman have little place in Tinseltown, TCM is fast catching on as an inexpensive and holistic approach to improving physical appearance.
TCM BEAUTY THERAPY
Using TCM to preserve youth and enhance outer beauty is a relatively new trend in Western culture, but the ancient therapy has been used in Asian countries for hundreds of years to rejuvenate and tighten the skin.
In the TCM point of view, a balance between the two sides of the body’s composition – the yin and yang – maintains inner health and outer beauty. As a result, “skin problems can be signs of imbalances in internal health,” says Melbourne Chinese medicine practitioner Dr Juanita Jolly of Balance Complementary Medicine.
“A person’s face is affected selectively by the health of their internal organs,” she says. “That’s why we look at the skin from an internal perspective, identifying underlying health issues, while Western medicine traditionally looks at the skin from an external perspective.”
In the pursuit of beauty, TCM draws on a variety of techniques – herbal remedies, cosmetic acupuncture and jade rollers – to stimulate the body’s natural energies or qi (pronounced ‘chee’), rejuvenating the face as well as promoting inner health and wellness.
WHAT IS IT?
Becoming one of the most talked about non-invasive procedures, cosmetic acupuncture (also known as acupuncture facial renewal or acupuncture facial) has been hailed the new ‘face lift’ and a natural alternative to toxic injectables such as Botox or dermal fillers.
Originally used by ancient Chinese royalty more than 800 years ago, it involves placing fine pins at certain acupuncture points, which are specific locations on the body used to stimulate qi. The acupuncture points used on the face activate specific muscles, which results in the face lifting itself through the muscles’ tightening and toning action.
Targeting muscle tension, which may be causing unsightly lines, under-eye bags and puffiness, the non-invasive cosmetic treatment is also thought to stimulate collagen production. But unlike Botox, where wrinkle-smoothing effects wear off within three months, cosmetic acupuncture aims to produce lasting results by tackling underlying health issues standing between you and radiant skin. “It’s a gradual, organic process.
“Patients usually have 12 to 15 acupuncture sessions to achieve the desired outcome and treatment is also combined with herbal remedies and encouraging lifestyle changes,” Dr Jolly says.
DOES IT HURT?
While the thought of having multiple needles inserted into the skin is bound to deter some, Dr Jolly says there is little pain involved with the procedure. “It’s no more painful than getting your eyebrows plucked. “And it’s a lot less invasive than conventional cosmetic procedures,” she says.
Dr Jolly says the insertion of fine pins at acupuncture points results in ‘positive injury’, stimulating blood circulation, which improves facial color and radiance. The age-old therapy can also act as a natural muscle relaxant, visibly reducing the appearance of frowns and wrinkles caused by muscle tension.
“After an acupuncture facial, patients look like they’ve gone on a holiday – there is noticeable improvement, with increased radiance in the skin,” she says.
Herbs for Healing
WHAT IS IT?
‘Real change comes from within’ – while it may be an over-used mantra, in the TCM viewpoint this philosophy couldn’t be more important. Whether it be acupuncture pins or creams, you can’t maximize their benefits by “putting things on the surface of the skin alone,” RMIT Chinese medicine researcher Dr Brian May says.
He believes treatments on the surface of the skin can penetrate deeply, but more noticeable results will occur with the help of Chinese herbal medicines to improve overall health, or to target a specific health disorder.
By performing tongue and pulse diagnosis, a skin examination, and a general assessment on health and lifestyle, a Chinese herbalist will produce a custom-made herbal remedy for the patient to balance disharmony in the body.
“In TCM, herbal medicine is used to promote inner wellness by targeting health problems relating to stress, inflammation, digestive disturbances or blood flow, which commonly affect the skin,” Dr May says.
TCM promotes inner health as the eternal fountain of youth and as a result, anti-ageing remedies are prescribed by looking at the areas of the face affected by ageing and what organs they represent. “While conventional cosmetics you find at the supermarket sell things for the surface alone, in the TCM point of view, it’s important to treat the internal condition as well, especially when it comes to chronic skin problems,” he says.
This is not to say Western skin products are not useful. “These days, cosmetic industries are increasingly using plant extracts for their antioxidant effects,” he says. “Patients will benefit from taking herbal medicines in conjunction with using topical treatments.”
For chronic skin problems such as persistent dryness or chronic acne, the healing process is gradual, Dr May says. However, for patients with acute skin conditions, treatment effects can be rapid.
Dr Jolly combines the use of Chinese herbal medicine in acupuncture facials and says each person will notice different results depending on what they are being treated for. “Patients suffering from hyperpigmentation, eczema, dry skin and rosacea will see visible improvement. “Treatment is very specific and individual to each person.
“But each patient will notice there will be increased radiance in the skin – if there is no noticeable change, you’ll know there hasn’t been the right diagnosis or it’s a sign the patient’s diet and lifestyle still need to change,” she says.
WHAT IS IT?
Made of jade – the stone of youth and longevity – jade rollers have been used for hundreds of years as a beauty tool used to promote youthful skin. The Chinese anti-wrinkle dermal roller is used to massage the face, stimulating the surface of the skin and increasing blood flow.
Different roller movements are applied to varying acupuncture points on the face and neck, relieving muscle tension.
Dr Brian May says if half the face is massaged, you can see for yourself the immediate before-and-after results. “Under the surface of the skin where people have wrinkles and puffiness, muscles can be tight and sore,” he says. “By massaging those spots, you’ll look better and feel better by making that area warmer and relaxed.”
Just like any facial massage, jade rollers can diminish the appearance of puffiness, wrinkles, skin discoloration and has a lifting effect on sagging skin. Its cooling properties can tighten enlarged pores and soothe the skin.
Dr Jolly says massaging the face with jade rollers is ideal for people with dry skin as it brings forth yin – moisture – to the skin. Patients can also maximize the benefits of a jade roller facial by having a herbal mask massaged into the skin at the same time.
An obvious benefit is its general meditative effect – there’s no denying that anyone can do with a facial massage fit for ancient Chinese royalty!
Luminous skin captures inner and outer beauty. Here are five herbs that will help your skin glow:
- Chrysanthemum: known for its cooling properties, extracts of the flower can reduce signs of redness and inflamed skin. It is useful for treating acne and inflamed cysts, which will help prevent scarring and other damage to your skin.
- Peony: the root of the flower is used to stimulate blood circulation and by nourishing the blood, it promotes circulation to the skin. It can bring color to the face and also assists in the treatment of dry skin and other skin conditions, including eczema and psoriasis.
- Rehmannia: extracts of the herb are used to nourish the blood and the hormonal system. By maintaining hormone levels, it is particularly useful in treating problems associated with ageing, such as hair loss. Its anti-inflammatory properties are useful in reducing skin inflammation and swelling.
- Ginseng: by reducing stress and boosting energy levels, ginseng can help target stress-related health issues that may be causing skin problems. By keeping stress at bay, it gives the body the chance to strengthen its own immunity, allowing skin infections to heal quickly.
- Ginger: a common ingredient in Chinese cuisine, this herb is ideal for dry skin. It can help relieve muscle tension in the face by warming the body and relaxing tight muscles.
DIY Chinese Beauty
Here are five DIY Chinese beauty tips that will have you blossoming in beauty this spring:
- Eat fruits and vegies in season – in Chinese medicine, spring is a good time to rejuvenate the body. To make the most of the spring bliss, eat fresh, in-season produce to help the body start anew.
- Drink water at room temperature – while cold water is refreshing in its taste, it’s bad for the digestive system. Cold drinks injure our stomach and the spleen’s ability to digest. Digestion is the key to good health and remember: good health means glowing skin!
- Combat dry skin – if winter sapped your skin of its moisture, now’s a good time to start getting moisture levels up again. Soak cotton buds in warm ginger tea and dab it on the face. This will help bring forth moisture to the skin’s surface.
- Pinch the jawline – this will stimulate the skin and lift the jowls.
- Massage the crow’s feet – gently massage the outer canthus of the eye and make stroking actions towards the ear. This will help reduce the appearance of crow’s feet and increases circulation in the area