What Acne Tells About Your Body

8 min read

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By Physician Leow Xin Ru Kelly of Oriental Remedies Group

Key Takeaways

  • Acne and dry spots on different parts of the face are signs of accumulation of heat in specific parts of the body.
  • Heat is actually caused by dampness. Dampness in the body obstructs the flow of Qi and Blood, which creates friction and toxic heat in the organs.
  • Acne is a result of excessive heat in the body. It is crucial to clear this heat to help reduce and prevent acne.

Chinese face mapping, otherwise known as 面相 mian xiang, originated 3000 years ago and it views the face as a map, with each section connecting to a different organ. In TCM, it is believed that when there are imbalances in the body, the skin will reflect pimples, redness or dryness on areas of the face where the organ is connected to. Find out how to identify the signs with these tips from Physician Kelly.

What are the causes of acne? 

In TCM, the formation of acne is largely related to the accumulation of heat in the body. Causes of acne fall into two categories: external factors and internal organ imbalances.

External factors like lifestyle choices such as drinking alcohol and smoking, as well as a diet of excessively spicy, greasy, oily and sweet foods can lead to an accumulation of dampness in the body. This dampness impedes the flow of Qi and blood. Heat is created from the slowdown of the flow, which potentially leads to an accumulation of toxic heat internally.

Internal organ imbalances are often a result of factors such as emotional imbalances, and most people experience more than one syndrome. Identify the causes of acne using the table below.

Cause

Symptoms

Lung heat

Papular whiteheads and blackheads on the forehead, around the nose and areas of the body such as the upper back and chest.

Other symptoms include dry cough, sore throat and thirst for cold drinks. 

Stomach heat

Whiteheads and blackheads around the mouth as well as on the upper back and chest.

Other symptoms include excessive hunger and thirst, indigestion, heartburn, mouth ulcers or bleeding gums when brushing teeth, feeling hot and sweating profusely.

Blood heat

Red papules typically around the nose, mouth and eyebrows. Hormonal acne, which worsens around menstruation falls under this category.

Other symptoms include mental restlessness, poor sleep and nose bleeds.  

Toxic heat

Painful pustules and inflamed cysts often on the face, upper back and chest, which can be summarised as localised swelling, redness and pain.

Other symptoms include dandruff, dry stools, scanty yellow urine and strong smelling sweat.

Dampness heat with toxic heat and blood stasis

Deep, painful and red pus-filled cysts and nodules. Pitting and scarring, appearing as purplish looking lesions, often leaving dark scabs. Oily skin, with acne often within the detox zone, such as around the mouth, chin and neck.

Other symptoms include headaches and a general heat sensation in the body.

Lung and spleen Qi deficiency

Papules that are slow to heal are signs of an underlying condition, which typically leads to or is accompanied with dampness accumulation.

Other symptoms include lower immunity, weak cough, fatigue, blocked nose, nasal-sounding voice, constipation and frequent urination.

What does acne on different parts of the face mean?

Forehead and eyebrow area

In TCM, the small intestine is closely related to the heart channel as they share a paired relationship. The forehead corresponds to the small intestine and bladder channels, while the eyebrow area corresponds to the heart and liver channels.

Acne on the forehead is mostly due to stress, irritation, lack of sleep or poor quality of sleep, that ignite the fire in the heart and liver channels. To reduce acne breakouts, practise activities that help you wind down before bedtime. Listening to relaxing music and engaging in meditation, rather than scrolling through your phone or binge-watching a show, can help improve sleep.

Nose

Although the nose area does not correspond to any organs based on the face map, it is believed to be closely related to the stomach and the digestive system. Excessive stomach-heat in the body can also dry up the large intestine, causing constipation. Poor bowel movement leads to poor detoxification, which further aggravates the acne on the face.

Avoid indulging in “heaty” foods, particularly spicy, deep fried, oily and sweet foods. In addition, it is important to ensure regular bowel movements by ensuring sufficient intake of high-fibre vegetables and drinking plenty of water.

Philtrum

From the two corners of the mouth to the tip of the nose bridge is the area called the “Dangerous Triangle of the Face”. It is connected to areas of the skull via blood vessels. If the skin within this area is broken from a cut or popped pimple, bacteria can enter the body and cause an infection. Due to the close proximity to critical areas of the brain via the connecting blood vessels, it is important to always avoid squeezing pimples in this area to avoid bacterial infection.

Cheeks

The upper cheeks are connected to the stomach, while the lower cheeks are connected to the lungs. Some TCM face maps link the left lower cheek to the liver and the right lower cheek to the lungs. Breakouts on the left cheek are associated with stress, while breakouts on the right cheek are likely related to sinus or allergy issues.

To reduce acne breakouts on the cheeks, practise activities that help you relax, such as meditation. Also engage in exercises such as jogging and swimming to build up your lung capacity.

Acne on the cheeks may also be caused by external factors, like long hours of mask-wearing or contact with contaminated surfaces. To prevent mask acne, reduce wearing make-up as it can lead to clogged pores and wash your face regularly with a gentle cleanser. In addition, take extra care to disinfect items that might come into contact with the cheeks such as mobile phones, headphones and pillow sheets, to prevent build-up and transfer of bacteria. 

Jawline and Chin

The jawline and chin are related to the reproductive system, which is governed by the kidney. Common causes for acne in this area include stress, the menstrual cycle, post consumption of birth control pills, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and menopause. In addition, avoid resting your chin on your hands as this can transfer oils and bacteria from your fingers to your chin and lead to pimples.

What TCM remedies can I do to treat and prevent acne? 

Acne is a result of excessive heat in the body, it is crucial to clear this heat to help reduce and prevent acne. Green bean soup is known for its cooling properties that can clear stomach-heat as well as promote bowel movement. However, it is not advisable for people with chronic diarrhoea or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to take green beans for a long time. 

Green Bean Soup

Serves 2

  • Wash 200 grams green beans, then soak for 2 hours.
  • Transfer the green beans to a large pot.
  • Add 1.5 litres water, brown sugar and knotted pandan leaves (optional).
  • Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until green beans split open.
  • Serve warm.

To treat and soothe the skin directly, try an infusion of honeysuckle flower (金银花), known for its cooling properties. Simply add honeysuckle flowers in boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes. After the mixture has cooled, dip a cotton pad in the mixture and apply gently on the affected area in small circular motions.

Photo Credits: Shutterstock

Any TCM tips for flawless, radiant skin?

A clean diet and regular exercise is important to lay the foundation for a balanced body, which in turn treats the causes of facial and body acne.

Another TCM method to reduce facial acne is to use a face roller. It works by promoting blood circulation in the face, removing the bad Qi from the body, and making the skin brighter and more elastic.

Using a jade or quartz roller is cooling on the skin and can help calm red, irritated skin. You may use a face roller after your usual cleansing and moisturising routine, moving upwards and outwards from the centre of the face, rolling across the cheeks and forehead. For extra cooling, you may choose to store your roller in the fridge or freezer.

However, if you have very active pimples, avoid using the face roller aggressively as the pimples may rupture and cause inflammation to spread on the face. It is also crucial to clean the roller thoroughly after each use to get rid of bacteria and prevent bacteria build-up. 


Learning the root causes behind acne on different parts of the face and body can help you understand the inner workings of body systems, and find the best treatments to manage breakouts. Consult a certified physician to find out how you can treat acne naturally.

The information above serves as a general guide only. Please consult a certified TCM practitioner for a more accurate diagnosis and treatment.

About the author

Physician Leow Xin Ru Kelly

Physician Kelly graduated from the double degree programme of Biomedical Sciences and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) at NTU. After graduation, she started working at Oriental Remedies to gain experiences and other vocational skills as she shadowed other senior physicians.

As a beneficiary of TCM from a young age, Physician Kelly has experienced first-hand the benefits of TCM and sought to uncover the science and secrets. During her two-year internship at Beijing’s Dongfang Hospital, Physician Kelly honed her skills and gained experiences under the guidance of various mentors. She has since developed a strong interest in female health issues, metabolic conditions, and pain management.

With her background in Biomedical Sciences, Physician Kelly is a firm believer that TCM treatments can be complemented with technology-enhanced therapies to produce faster and greater results for patients.

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