" Effective Alternative Approach to Treating Acne "

Home | Acne Page | Psychology | Western Treatments | Alternative Approach | Acne Images | EMail | Link Exchange | Guestbook

Chinese Herbal Medicine

My Chinese Experience

It was when I repeatedly found conventional Western treatments of acne ineffective that I turned to Chinese herbal medicine. By then I already knew that acne was a disease that could not be cured. I might be able to outgrow it, but then I might not, and even if I could, it might be another six months, or six years, or who knew how many more years before it happened. It's very depressing to wait for something to happen with an indefinite time-frame. An uncertain hope in a constantly aggravating reality is an easy fuse to despair.

When I turned to Chinese herbal medicine, I didn't expect much. I only hoped that it could reduce my rather serious acne condition to a relatively mild problem. To my surprise, the first Chinese physician I went to in Toronto (by then, I was working as a commodity broker at Merrill Lynch Canada) told me he could get rid of my acne in a month's time. I should have gone to see him earlier, he said, to save myself thousands of dollars, not to mention the years of agony. I went home that day full of joy.

I still keep the formula from that Toronto physician (in fact, I save all the formulas from all the physicians I've seen), and it includes the following:

      10 grams of lily, 10 grams of peach kernel, 10 grams of
      dandelion, 10 grams of honeysuckle, 15 grams of wild
      capillary artemisia, 15 grams of cordate houttuynia,  5  
      grams of cork tree, 5 grams of unripe citron, 5 grams of
      wild Indian bread, 20 grams of gypsum, 20 grams of wild

Did it work? No.

I spent a couple of hundred dollars and a month's time with that Chinese physician before I decided I would never go back to see him for treatment again. As a stubborn person who doesn't take no easily for an answer, this failed experience jump started me to embark on another long journey of experiments and study of Chinese herbal treatments of acne.

What is Traditional Chinese Medicine?

The term "Chinese medicine" makes reference to a number of practices, especially acupuncture and prescription of herbal formulas. Their theoretical basis has been developed in China for about 2,500 years. A view of nature--and of health and disease--was set forth in the concepts of two essential forces--Yin (female) and Yang (male). They were further developed into other numbered concepts: three fundamental substances, five elements, six environmental forces, seven emotional factors, eight principal symptoms, twelve internal organs, fourteen meridians, and other notions.

While bacteria and viruses are considered the primary causes of diseases in Western medicine; in traditional Chinese medicine, diseases are assumed to be caused by the six external environmental forces, namely: wind, cold, heat and summer heat, dampness, dryness, and fire. When an environmental force causes a disease, it becomes the underlying imbalance responsible for that disease. One of the major assumptions inherent in traditional Chinese medicine is that disease is looked upon as a loss of balance of Yin and Yang. Thus, in Chinese medicine, a physician will treat the underlying imbalance, not the disease. Herbal medicines are the prevalent tools used by Chinese physicians to reestablish the balance of Yin and Yang, returning the body to a healthy state.

What does Chinese Herbal Medicine do?

In Chinese herbal therapy, combinations of herbs are chosen for effects that can be divided into four general categories:

      1.  supplementing or strengthening;
      2.  consolidating or redistributing qi (energy) and vital
      3.  dispersing or circulating qi and fluids, to relieve
           stagnation or accumulations of heat, cold, or dampness;
      4.  purging, to relieve conditions related to blockage or
           excess and sometimes to eliminate toxins from the

In the case of acne, Chinese physicians look at it generally as a result of the environmental force of heat. When a person has a weakening digestive system, coupled with a higher dietary cholesterol intake, the body will produce excessive toxic substances that flow into the bloodstream and body fluids. In Chinese medical terms, this condition manifests itself as an imbalance due to the overflow of Yang, causing excessive heat.

To restore imbalance, herbs that have the effects of relieving stagnation or accumulation of heat, and of purging toxins from the body, are generally chosen for therapy.

Chinese Herbal Treatment of Acne

In prescribing herbal formulas, Chinese physicians generally do not take a "one dose fits all" approach. Chinese herbal formulas are customized. Each person is presumed to present a unique pattern of harmony and disharmony. Combinations and proportions of herbs are chosen and adjusted to fit not the ailment but the individual who suffers from the ailment. Two patients of acne are likely to be prescribed with different formulas if, for example, one was a nervous fellow with a dry tongue, while the other was easily tired and sleepy.

Though I have my own theory and have found the method to control acne, of which is detailed in the alternative approach page, I do want to present a few generic herbal formulas here for the purposes of a) a balanced discussion of different treatment options, and b) a service to my readers who may like to try Chinese herbal treatment. In preparing for this site, I've asked several Chinese physicians in Hong Kong for generic acne formulas. No one complied, all citing the difficulty of such a prescription.

The fact of the matter is, there is no lack of generic formulas. They can easily be found in collections of Chinese medicine, from archaic to modern. For your convenience, I have listed below acne treating formulas from two recent English books. I have also included the generic formula that was prescribed to me by the Beijing physician. You may recall that I was finally treated successfully by this physician.

Acne formulas

1.  Two formulas from <Chinese Herbs with Common Foods>,
      by Dr. Henry C. Lu (Kodansha International Ltd., 1997),  
      p. 144:

       a)   10 grams of lily (bai he*), 100 grams of mung bean,
             5 grams of rock sugar.

       b)   9 grams of peach kernel (tao ren),
             30 grams of Job's tears (yi yi ren),
             9 grams of seagrass,
             9 grams of kelp, salt as seasoning.

2.  The formula from <Traditional Chinese Medicine>,
      by Dr. Carol Hart and Magnolia Goh (Dell Publishing,
      1998),  pp. 145-46:

             8 grams of Japanese catnip (jing jie),
             8 grams of sileris root (fang feng),
             8 grams of dahurian angelica (bai zhi),
             8 grams of bupleurum (chai hu),
             8 grams of gardenia (zhi zi),
             8 grams of peony (shao yao),
             8 grams of forsythia (lian qiao),
             8 grams of scutellaria (huang qin),
             8 grams of unripe aurantium (rind) (zhi shi),
             8 grams of ligusticum (chuan xiong),
             8 grams of platycodon (jie geng),
             8 grams of licorice (gan cao),
             8 grams of angelica root (dang gui).  

3.  The formula by the old physician from Beijing:

             25 grams of peony tree bark (mu dan pi),
             25 grams of Chinese Wolfberry root bark (di gu pi),
             50 grams of honeysuckle flower (jin yin hua),
             20 grams of forsythia (lian qiao),
             25 grams of dandelion (pu gong ying),
             15 grams of amur cork tree bark (huang bai),
             25 grams of belvedere fruit (di fu zi),
             20 grams of densefruit pittany root bark (bai xian pi),
             25 grams of portule herb (ma chi xian),
             15 grams of pine pollen (song hua fen),
             25 grams of figwort root (xuan sen),
             40 grams of Job's tear seed (yi yi ren).

* the bracketed words are Chinese transliterations of the herbs. This is for the convenience of some readers who might like to buy the herbs in Chinatown.

How to Prepare Herbal Medicine

There are detailed procedures outlined in the books above as the proper ways of preparing herbs. But for the general public, I think the following steps are good enough:

     1.  Place the herbs in a lidded earthenware pot;
     2.  Add just enough cold water to cover the herbs plus an
          additional cup so that the water level will be slightly
          higher than the herbs;
     3.  Bring the water to a boil, then reduce to low heat for
          another 20 minutes, before removing the pot from the
     4.  Strain the herbs to get a cup of herbal tea and drink it
          when it's warm;
     5.  Repeat the process each day for 60 days.   

Side effects

Chinese herbal medicine is well-known for its lack of side effects. Minor problems can arise: Chinese herbs can cause gastro-intestinal reactions (nausea, diarrhea, vomiting), or allergic reactions (skin rash). If you have these reactions, stop the medication.

My Experience

I have tried dozens of Chinese acne formulas. None of them had significant effect on me. In 1995, I met my savior the old physician at Beijing. My acne condition improved drastically with one month's treatment, though the physician's time-frame was for two months. After two months, my face looked much better than it had been in a long, long time. I regained the confidence to walk down the street and meet new people. Those of you who are lucky enough to be born with a clear face will never be able to understand the relief and joy I felt for seemingly such an irrevalent matter. But this is the fact.

Since I have substantial experience of being treated by both  Western dermatologists and Chinese herbal physicians, plus I have done my share of study of the acne problem and its various treatment options, I have come to the conclusion that for at least some stubborn acne conditions, such as mine, either Chinese herbal treatment or Western medical option alone is not complete enough a therapy to deal with controlling the acne problem.

To be able to do so, one has to combine herbal medicine's internal restoration effects with Western medication's precise, targeted power. To help take care of the root of the problem, intake of vitamins and adherence to a strict dietary program during the treatment period is also necessary.

After two to three months of such a treatment program, even the most stubborn acne conditions would likely be under control. Acne is such a skin disorder that it either goes away voluntarily, or the best you could hope for is to put it under control. You'll still need some kind of topical medication to pacify occasional breakouts that will happen from time to time.

Chinese Medicine and Diet

From the perspective of the Chinese medical theory, food cholesterol is considered one of the causes of imbalance in our body. If one is already not well, improper diet could aggravate the patient's condition. During the course of treatment, Chinese physicians, in contrast to their Western counterparts, generally recommend strict dietary program.

In the case of acne, one should avoid eating seafood, oily food, spicy food, chicken and beef. The food to take are pork, vegetables and fruits. Also, one should drink lots of water.

Please also visit my other website at:


Home | Acne Page | Psychology | Western Treatments | Alternative Approach | Acne Images | EMail | Link Exchange | Guestbook

Home | Home | Home | Home | Home