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What those spots are saying
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Acne is a problem that seems to come with the arrival of summer. In summer, many people find red pimples popping up on their face. TCM recommends adjusting imbalanced energy inside instead of squeezing. The pimples, sometimes, may suggest organ problems that need treatment.

Though acne is called qingchun dou (teenage spots) in Chinese, it can also affect older people.

Acne pimples are caused by an excess of oil rising through pores to the skin's surface, especially in the T-zone - the forehead, nose and chin.

Increasing levels of androgen, the male sex hormone, cause the sebaceous glands to enlarge and make more sebum (fat, keratin and cellular material).

If the excess sebum can't be excreted through the pores, it blocks them together with dead skin cells and results in acne pimples.

Long-term psychological stress causes endocrine disorder and increases androgen levels, thus leading to excess sebum. Sunshine, hot and wet weather will also make the sebaceous glands produce more sebum.

"Skin conditions are not as superficial as they may seem. All are caused by toxins and imbalanced energy inside your body," says Dr Li Bin, chief physician of the Dermatology Department of the Shanghai Yueyang Hospital of Integrated Traditional Chinese and Western Medicine.

"Take acne for example. When imbalanced energies can't pass through the body freely as they used to, they collect and become toxins inside, resulting in acne on the face," Dr Li adds.

TCM usually attributes acne to pathogenic heat gathered inside. There are two kinds of pathogenic heat in the body according to TCM - excess heat and a deficiency of heat.

Both are caused by imbalanced yin and yang energy inside. Excess heat is caused by excessive yang energy while deficiency heat is caused by deficient yin energy.

Hormonal changes in teenagers can be a trigger for increasing yang energy while fatigue and psychological stress usually result in deficient yin energy. Most teenage sufferers are bothered with excess heat syndrome while grown-up patients usually have deficiency heat problems.

Therefore, apart from eating foods that help dispelling pathogenic heat such as mung beans and chrysanthemum, having enough sleep and keeping a good mood are also important for adults with acne problems. Regular bowel movements can also help relieve the acne problem by dispelling the toxins, according to Dr Li.

As for the external treatment, Dr Li suggests that washing the face gently twice or three times a day with warm water is enough. Washing too frequently, especially scrubbing, will aggravate the problem, and squeezing pimples could worsen the inflammation and infection, resulting in scars and enlarged pores.

Generally, Dr Li recommends "cold" and "cool" foods such as cucumber and mung beans to help dispel the pathogenic heat inside; fried, fatty, spicy foods and "hot" foods should be eliminated from the diet.

Sometimes the location of acne suggests imbalanced energy in certain organs. Adjusting the condition of the organs by shifting to a healthy lifestyle and certain treatment can also help relieve facial pimples.

Acne location and related possible problems Location: Forehead

Possible problem: Heart and small intestine

Suggestion: Eat heat-dispelling foods such as lotus seeds soup to get rid of heat in the heart; have enough sleep, control your temper and maintain a good mood.

Location: Between the eyebrows

Possible problem: Heart

Suggestion: Avoid intense physical exercise and over-fatigue; maintain a good mood.

Location: Tail of brows

Possible problem: Gallbladder

Suggestion: Eat less greasy foods and have more heat-dispelling foods such as bitter cucumber.

Location: Nose

Possible problem: Stomach and digestive system

Suggestion: Eat less "hot" foods and more plain foods that can help dispel pathogenic heat such as green beans.

Location: Bridge of nose

Possible problem: Spinal column

Suggestion: Don't sit for too long; stretch your body often.

Location: Side of the nose wings and between the nose and mouth

Possible problem: Reproductive system

Suggestion: Check and treat the problem such as regulating menstrual period.

Location: Right cheek

Possible problem: Lungs and large intestine

Suggestion: Eat more foods that help nourish the lungs such as pear and white fungus; eat less seafood, tropical fruits and drink less alcohol.

Location: Left cheek

Possible problem: Liver and gallbladder

Suggestion: Eat less greasy foods and have more vegetables and fruit and have enough sleep.

Location: Corner of mouth

Possible problem: Intestines

Suggestion: Eat less "hot" foods and move bowels regularly.

Location: Chin

Possible problem: Kidney and internal secretion

Suggestion: Eat more plain foods than stimulating foods like spicy, fried or greasy ones. Take enough rest.

(Shanghai Daily August 4, 2009)

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