Acne is a skin condition that’s characterized by red, bumpy spots that typically appear on the face, chest, shoulders and upper back. It’s estimated that roughly 85% of Australians will develop acne at some stage in their life, with teenagers and young adults being the most commonly affected. While there are plenty of treatments available, most of them don’t produce the desired results. This has led many individuals to explore their options and turn to acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine.
The question is, how effective are these treatment methods compared to using over-the-counter cleansers and creams and prescription medications? In this article, we’ll take a look at whether acupuncture and Chinese medicine can help with acne based on the available research and evidence.
Causes of acne
Hair follicles on your skin are connected to sebaceous glands that produce oil to keep skin lubricated. Acne develops when hair follicles become clogged with oil (sebum), dead skin cells and bacteria, leading to inflammation. Several factors contribute to acne and it may involve one or more of the following:
- Excessive oil production.
- Hormonal changes or imbalances.
- Increased stress levels.
- Lack of skin cleansing.
- Excessive use of creams or make up.
- Greasy working environment e.g. kitchen.
While acne is not a life-threatening condition, it can be persistent and debilitating when the breakouts are severe. It can also lead to permanent scarring, emotional distress and significantly affect one’s self-esteem. Like with most medical conditions, prevention and management is key, which makes it important to seek health advice early.
Symptoms of acne
If you have acne, you’ll notice skin bumps that are black or white in appearance. These are known as blackheads and whiteheads, both of which are classified as comedones. Blackheads appear black because the oil and dead skin cells turn dark as they are exposed to oxygen while whiteheads form under a closed pore. But these are not the only symptoms of acne as other inflammatory lesions can occur. These are:
- Papules – a raised bump that’s caused by infected hair follicles.
- Pustules – skin bumps that contain pus or fluid.
- Nodules – abnormal tissue growth that forms beneath the skin’s surface.
- Cysts – large, painful bumps that have a sac-like appearance with pus inside.
How acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine can help with acne
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is a natural medical system that originates from China with over 2,000 years history. It focuses on holistic healthcare treatments such as the use of Chinese herbs and acupuncture. The main idea behind TCM is that when a person is ill, it’s a sign that the ‘qi’ (energy) flow inside their body is imbalanced. The exact degree and pattern of this imbalance vary between person to person, thus making TCM a highly personalised treatment method.
Acupuncture is one such component of TCM that has gained widespread popularity over the years. It’s been increasingly adopted by many Western countries as a form of alternative treatment for pain management, stress reduction, and even acne symptoms. A licensed TCM practitioner inserts thin, sterile needles into different areas of the body which are called acupuncture points to stimulate the energy flow and remove any blockages that may be contributing to illness.
There have been increasing amount of evidence from Western scientific research demonstrating the effectiveness of acupuncture for treating a variety of conditions. From a biomedical standpoint, acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system. This influences how the body produces and releases hormones/neurotransmitters which activate our body’s healing mechanisms. The needles affect different areas of the brain that are responsible for pain tolerance and stress sensitivity.
There is very little good quality research on acupuncture specifically in the treatment of acne outside of China. Acupuncture may help manage acne symptoms by:
- Promoting the release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors that help lower inflammation.
- Improve natural killer cell activities and regulate the number and ratio of immune cell types.
- Enhance local microcirculation which helps with dispersing of swelling.
Evidence gathered in a systematic review suggests that acupuncture along with moxibustion is a safe and effective treatment of acne, and may be more effective than western medicine. One randomised controlled trial found that acupuncture reduced the inflammatory lesions in participants and improved quality of life. Another trial discovered better outcomes in treating acne when acupuncture is used in combination with laser auricular radiation. While more clinical trials and research are needed to establish clear evidence of the efficacy of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine in acne, many patients report improvement after treatment.
Acupuncture works synergistically in combination with Chinese herbal medicine, and can also be used in conjunction with conventional treatment methods as well.
How we can help?
At Baolin Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Centre, our goal is to provide patients with high-quality TCM care treatments that cater to their specific healthcare needs. Our experienced practitioners use herbal formulas and acupuncture treatments customized for each patient to target the specific imbalance causing your acne, and manage symptoms. Unique herbal formulas are prescribed consisting of different combination of herbs that suits each individual’s body condition while addressing their underlying issue. Acupuncture therapy is also personalised by formulating different acupuncture points used for each patient.
During the initial consultation, your practitioner will consider your overall health to find the specific imbalance causing acne. The Chinese medicine examination includes observing your skin and tongue, checking your pulse, and getting an in depth medical history. When looking at the skin, your acupuncturist will consider the location of the acne, the presence of white heads and black heads, inflamed pimples, cysts, and overall appearance and health of your skin. You will also be given recommendations on dietary and life style changes for self-care of your acne.
For more information on acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine for managing acne please contact us at our clinics (Perth: 9228 8828; Subiaco: 9380 4171). Alternatively, you can send us your queries through our online contact page.