acupuncture for acne

Acne: Acupuncture to the Rescue!

Last fall I wrote about some of the key supplements for maintaining healthy hair, skin, and nails. Recently I’ve had lots of inquiries about resolving acne issues in both teenagers and adults. So I thought I would offer a quick explanation of how Chinese medicine views this condition and what you can do to resolve your skin condition as quickly as possible.

The major factors affecting skin health are diet, vitamin and mineral levels, and of course, hormones. It almost always takes a combination of factors to restore great-looking skin and I find a long-term pragmatic approach works best.

What Causes Acne?

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), one person’s acne is different from another’s and each person needs to be treated by attending to their unique set of symptoms. In my clinic I first need to determine the root cause of the issue- heat, damp, toxicity, stagnation, or a combination thereof—by examining the location of the outbreak, the degree of inflammation, the overall appearance of the skin, as well as the underlying health of the individual.

Additionally, the tongue and pulse reflect the nature of the imbalance causing the acne. For example, a red tongue body with thick yellow coating is reflective of heat, but a pale tongue with a thick white coat is damp.

Recent Research on Acupuncture for Acne

A systematic review of 43 trials in English and Chinese language studies found acupoint stimulation—a blanket term which includes acupuncture, moxibustion, cupping, acupoint injection, and acupoint catgut embedding treatment—to be an effective, side effect-free treatment for acne. Some of the individual therapies, like cupping, were even found to be significantly better than pharmaceutical medications at curing (yes, curing) patients of their breakouts, says the research published in Medical Acupuncture1

Common Herbs for Acne

In my clinic I rarely use single herbs, instead using to herbs in combination. This allows me to create a comprehensive formula that best serves my patient’s specific needs. Below are a few of the herbs I will often include in formulas for skin conditions-especially those with an inflammatory component.

Herbs for acneMahonia: Also known as Oregon grape root, belongs to the or barberry family. This evergreen shrub, native to the American northwest and adjacent areas of Canada, has been used in folk medicine to treat chronic eruptions and various rashes, especially those containing pustules or resulting from consumption of fatty foods (Dermatol. Ther. 2003;16:106–13).

Rumex: Also known as yellow dock. Yellow dock is largely used in the treatment of liver diseases, digestive problems, and skin disorders. It has been described as an alterative, astringent, hepatic, laxative, and nutritive. Its roots contain relatively small amounts of anthraquinone glycosides, which are powerful laxatives in larger doses. Since yellow dock contains only small amounts of these chemicals, however, it is used as a mild laxative. From the ancient times yellow dock has also been used to help support and restore liver function.

herbs for acneViola: Bitter and pungent in flavor, cold in nature, it acts on the heart and liver meridians from a Chinese medical perspective. This means it is great at detoxification and clearing heat from the blood. It can also be used to reduce swelling and dissolve lumps. It works similarly to dandelion.

Silybum: Also known as milk thistle or St. Mary’s Thistle. Milk thistle improves liver function to facilitate the removal of impurities from your blood. Milk thistle is said to have detoxifying, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and demulcent properties, which may help improve the condition of your skin. The anti-inflammatory cooling effect of milk thistle eases inflammation and redness associated with acne.


While acne may be unsightly and annoying, it needn’t be a chronic issue. Chinese and Western herbs are quite effective at restoring skin health and acupuncture can help the whole body- especially digestion- work better.

If you have questions about a specific skin condition affecting you or a family member, please contact us or call the office at 650-564-9002, Monday thru Friday, 9:00 AM-6:00PM.

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