Western and Eastern Medicines’ Views on Acne Causes (Part II)

Acne cause - taking a patient's pulse

Photo from Parents to Parents

Welcome back to the acne cause series. Last week, I shared with you 10 factors I found that have demonstrated links to increased acne breakouts, from Western Medicines’ perspectives. Today, let’s dive into the Eastern Medicine’s perspectives and explore what the root causes are for developing acne. At last, after reviewing acne causes from both Western Medicines and Eastern Medicines’ angles, you’ll discover why I personally prefer integrating both practices instead of isolating either one of them.  Enjoy!

TCM Explaining Acne Causes

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Traditional Chinese Medicine sees no isolation in the body; instead, it views human body’s organs, tissues and other body parts as a highly interconnected system.  With that said, it is not hard to understand that TCM treats acne as a symptom of dysfunction of the innate organs. To better describe these dysfunction, or pathogens in the body, TCM introduces metaphors for them. For example, acne is mostly seen as “heat” in the lung and stomach meridians. Instead of viewing acne problems only skin deep, TCM believes that the root cause may involve the imbalance between Yin, Yang, Qi and Blood, or pathogenic factors such as wind, dryness, dampness, cold or heat; and that acne is probably caused by the dysfunction of liver, the lungs, stomach, large intestines and kidneys.

Five Common Heat Patterns of Disharmony

Before a TCM practitioner gives any treatments, a careful differentiation of different types of “heat” is crucial to come up with a plan that best suits the acne patients’ needs. According to Health Communities, a health information technology company dedicated to providing trusted health and wellness information that has empowered more than 100 million patients and caregivers to better manage their medical conditions and lifestyles, there are five common Heat Patterns of Disharmony.

1. Lung Heat: In this situation, acne tends to appear on the forehead and near the nose. It may be slightly itching as well. When experiencing new breakouts, the patient may complain of chills or sensitivity to wind. The patient may have an aversion to heat and feel thirsty. The tongue is generally red with a thin yellow coat, and the pulse may be rapid and floating.

2. Stomach Heat: In this case, acne tends to concentrate around the mouth and on the chest, shoulders, and back. The patient may have an aversion to heat; have a bad breath, a large appetite and thirst; and prefer greasy, spicy foods. There may be a tendency to pass dry stools as well. The tongue is usually red with a thick yellow coating, and the pulse is rapid and forceful.

3. Toxic Heat: Symptoms include severe acne, strongly inflamed with pus-filled nodules and much reddening of the skin around the lesions. The patient may have an aversion to heat as well and may complain of malaise. The tongue is generally red with a dry yellow coating, and the pulse is rapid.

4. Damp Heat: Symptoms include acne composed of deep, pus-filled, inflamed nodules. The skin usually is oily, and the patient may have an aversion to heat. He or she may be thirsty but have no desire to take fluids. The tongue generally is red or crimson, with a greasy or sticky coating. The pulse is rapid and may have slippery or wiry qualities as well.

5. Blood Heat: Symptoms include acne that is accompanied by a flushed face and strong aversion to heat. The patient may complain of thirst, dark urine, and dry stools. The tongue usually is red (with a redder tip) and has a yellow coating, or may be crimson in color. The pulse usually is rapid and thin.

These five patterns are not mutually exclusive. Instead, according to Karen Kurtak, Licensed Acupuncturist, each one can combine with any of the others to create an elaborate web of imbalances that are complicated by hormone fluctuations, stress, improper diets, and poor lifestyle choices.

So, there you have it – looking at acne causes from both the East and West. While, from dermatologists’ stand point, we are able to understand acne causes by looking into the nervous system and analyzing external environments our skin and body are exposed to, Traditional Chinese Medicine opens the door to help us see the relationship between the skin and innate organs. The combination of both views enables us to see acne causes from a more holistic and deeper level. To me, the hidden message is very profound here as well: the process of restoring clear skin is more than just getting rid of acne breakouts on the skin; but it is a process of achieving optimal health and well-being, physically, emotionally and mentally!

I hope you enjoy reading the two posts I have put together for you. What is your biggest ah-ha moment? Please let me know in the comment section below ; )


What the Heck is Acne? Here is how It Forms.

Western and Eastern Medicines’ Views on Acne Causes (Part I)


  1. Your Health – Asia One
  2. Academy of Classical Oriental Sciences (ACOS)
  3. Karen Kurtak, Licensed Acupuncturist
  4. Pacific College
  5. Health Communities
  6. Eu Yang Sang



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