What Your Breakouts Are Telling You About Your Health—And How to Fix It

Beauty is only skin deep, right? It turns out that might be only a modern notion. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine practices, what we can see on our skin can reveal deeper truths about our holistic health—and give us a cheat-sheet for how to maintain it.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, health is interconnected. When there’s a weakness in an organ or meridian—the networks that connect our bodily systems—it can become visible on our face in the form of dreaded breakouts, congested pores, or cystic acne. The Su Wen, a Traditional Chinese Medicine text that’s been in use for over two millennia, instructs on a face mapping technique that uses what’s going on on the outside (i.e. breakouts, bumps and general skin bummers) to tell us what’s going on on the inside.

The good news is that while no one likes a surprise zit, bump or blackhead, we can use these indicators to help treat underlying stressors—and clear up our skin along the way. Clean and clear inside and out: here’s how.

Take Stock

Before you can start your sleuthing, you need to get an accurate lay of the land. Is that zit that just popped up on your chin part of a regularly appearing archipelago, or simply a one-time affair? To make sure those dark spots and blemishes aren't a factor of a few late nights or weekend indulgence, we recommend to follow your basic skincare regimen for seven days. Once you take note on any consistent problem areas, you can consider face mapping.

Look for the Signs

Now that you’ve had a full week to observe, it’s time to take a look at what might be causing some of your skin woes. Use the key below to find your target problem area—and learn how to fix them.

1. Forehead/T-Zone

What it means: The forehead is connected to the nervous system and digestion. If you are experiencing congestion and breakouts in that area it can be an indication of stress. Too many late nights, tight deadlines or lack of sleep could be the culprit for your forehead foes. Skin issues or wrinkling in the t-zone area may indicate unexpressed anger or stored emotions in your spleen.

How to fix it: While fixing stressors might be at the top of all of our life goals, here are a few tricks that can help—even if a less stressful job or easier commute isn’t right around the corner. Try avoiding, sugary, fatty, and processed foods and instead up your vegetable, fruit, and water intake. These are what will keep your digestive system moving. De-stress by meditating and practicing yoga. Explore techniques to release old stagnant emotional energy like reiki, journaling and breath work. To detoxify your liver, start your mornings with dandelion tea or warm fresh lemon water.

2. Cheeks

What it means: The cheeks, in turns out, are a window into our liver and lungs. Patchiness or discoloration on the cheeks can indicate poor metabolism and low absorption of nutrients like folic acid and iron. Additionally your cheeks are connected to your lungs (think about how red they get when you exercise) so flare ups in these areas could indicate a lack of oxygen or low lung capacity.

How to fix it: Help give your lungs and liver meridians the support they need by cutting back on smoking of any kind and hitting the gym where vigorous activity will stimulate blood flow to the lungs.

Also pay attention to which side of your face is affected. Breakouts on the left side of the face can be treated by eating cooling foods like melon or cucumber. Bumps and breakouts on the right side indicate lung concerns and also sugar imbalance. Try cutting out junkfood and sugar to see if you notice a differece.

3. Nose

What it means: Pesky blackheads and comedones can be an indicator of an imbalance of the small intestine meridian.

How to fix it: Keep your digestive track flowing freely by avoiding cold beverages and only drinking warm or ambient temp drinks. Cut back on spicy foods, meats, and foods high in salt that can clog the works (both inside and out).

4. Jawline

What it means: Here, both Western and Eastern medical approaches seem to agree: jawline acne is strongly correlated to hormones. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, jawline acne indicates an imbalance in the kidney, which regulate reproduction. In Chinese Medicine, irregular periods, PCOS, ovarian function are all regulated by the kidneys so localized breakouts could indicate hormonal health—or be an indication that your period is on the way.

How to fix it: Keep the kidneys clean and free of toxins by eating clean and boosting your intake of fruits and vegetables. If cystic acne persists, it may be worth a trip to the doctor for a hormone level check-up.

5. Chin

What it means: Chin congestion can indicate an imbalance in the state of your spleen and digestive system.

How to fix it: Much can be solved by cleaning up your diet. Keep your digestion in tip-top shape by eating foods that are high in fiber: fruits, veggies, and whole grains. Avoid overly processed, spicy, or hard to digest foods.

Keep It Clean

Now that you’ve unlocked the secrets to your internal health, make sure not to neglect your external health, too. Treat your largest organ (your skin!) with the same care with a bespoke skincare routine. After all, as we’ve learned from Chinese Medicine, health is holistic—it’s what’s inside, and on the outside, that counts.

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