Why is my skin very dry and how can Chinese medicine help?

During my acupuncture treatments I have realised a lot of people have very dry skin. To reduce the dryness most people apply a moisturising cream every day and sometimes a few times a day. I believe the creams on their own will not solve the source of the dryness. That is why I am writing this article. I wish to share my knowledge with you and help you improve your dry skin using Traditional Chinese Medicine theory. This can help your skin feel more moisturised with increased elasticity, shine and be generally healthier.


Almost three months ago I had a male client, around his mid 30s, with very dry skin.  In the first consultation he told me he had dry skin all over his body since he was young.  The dryness often caused cracks, scaliness and was very itchy. Especially on hot days or after eating certain foods, the skin would be prone to infection and eczema.  All of these issues disturbed his quality of life as well as his work and even his sleep.  He had used all sorts of creams, including cortisone cream, and none of them stopped the dryness.

I checked him by Traditional Chinese diagnostic methods, including the tongue, pulse, signs and symptoms.  I told him that the cause of his skin dryness is due to Kidney Liver and Lung disorder (Kidney Yin weakness, Liver & Lung with too much Heat).  I helped him set up the principle of the treatment, including acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine.  According to his cause, I also suggested a suitable lifestyle and diet for him.  After one month, his skin began to improve.  After three months (as I write this article), all of his symptoms I mentioned above is 97% resolved.  He tells me he is getting married soon and is very happy with the condition of his skin for this happy occasion.  I believe his good skin and health will be a great asset to his future.

1. What is the relationship between the Skin and certain Internal Organs?

The skin is the largest organ of the human body.  Chinese Medicine believes that the skin is not separate to our body  The skin has a physical and pathological function that is strongly associated with certain internal organs.  I will now list the organs that are strongly associated with the skin and its condition.

i) Skin and Lung
Chinese medicine considers the Lung to dominate the skin and help the pores to open and close. If the Lung function becomes disordered it will affect the skin health and will cause the following conditions:

a. When the body is attacked by the external Wind and Heat (virus) it will affect Lung function.  The body will then develop sneezing or sore throat and the skin can be itchy or have a rash or shingles.

b. If you smoke for a long time, you not only have a cough and phlegm or disorder of the Lung but also dry skin.

ii) Skin, Heart and Liver
The Heart and Liver dominate the body’s circulation and emotions.  Any circulation and emotions can affect the skin.  This means that if the body has a Heart and Liver function disorder it will cause heat and toxins in the blood, flaring up on the skin causing certain skin problems or making them worse, such as pimples, eczema or rashes.

iii) Skin and Kidneys
The Kidneys dominate the body’s original Yin and Yang which is in charge of all stages of the body and skin.  If the Kidney has a Yin and Yang disorder it will cause the following skin problems: dry skin, hot flushes (especially around the neck and face) and perspiration.

iv) Skin and the Large Intestine
The skin and the Large Intestine are strongly related.  If the body over eats (including hot and spicy foods) and drinks it may cause a lot of toxins to build up in the intestines, which will show on the skin.  The following skin problems are common: boils, pimples, rash, itchiness.  The body may also have the following symptoms: constipation, pungent flatulence, bloating.


2. Symptoms of Dry Skin

Dry skin can occur in a short amount of time (sudden onset) or it can happen over long periods of time, becoming dryer and dryer over months or years.  The dry skin can be scaly, cracked, itchy, irritated or painful and can even occur around the mouth, lips, nails, elbows and heels of the feet.  Due to the long-term dryness of the skin, it can be left susceptible to infection, rash, itchiness or eczema, on top of the simple dryness.  These symptoms can come and go, be mild or serious, and all depends on the individual’s certain condition.

3. Causes of Dry Skin

What type of Dry Skin do you have?

It is worth mentioning that everybody’s constitution and history of disease and lifestyle is different.  Even though you’re suffering dry skin, the cause may be different.  Most importantly, you should find out your individual cause of dry skin so that it can be treated suitably for you.

i) Yin and Blood Deficiency (Liver Yin & Blood Deficiency)
In my clinical experience, most skin dryness is associated with this issue.  This type of dryness happens more to women after labour and women beyond 40 years of age and after menopause. (This cause can also occur in other ages and in males as well.)

This cause is due to the Yin and the Blood being weaker and the skin is unable to get enough nutrition and moisture from the deficient Yin and Blood.  These types of people not only have dry skin but also other symptoms, such as hair loss or reduced quality of their hair, cracks around the nails or unhealthy looking nails, dry stools, feeling of heat in the body, increased thirst, hot flushes (more in the evening or while sleeping), anxiety, emotional, insomnia or dream disturbed sleep.

ii) Heat in the Liver & Lung
There are many causes to increased Heat in the Liver and Lung, including attack of the flu, cold, virus, pneumonia, or long-term over-drinking of alcohol or eating hot and spicy food, certain medications, or Heat transferred from other organs.  When the Liver or Lung becomes overheated it can cause the skin to become unhealthy and dry.  In this type of dryness, the body also often has the following symptoms: dry cough, dry throat, red eyes, dry eyes, very emotional, difficulty falling asleep, insomnia or constipation.  These people may also experience the following diseases: asthma, eczema or hay fever.

iii) Other Causes
In addition to the causes listed above, there are many other causes of dry skin.  These include: lack of circulation, chronic injury or illness, certain medications or certain foods, etc.


4. What to do if you have dry skin

i) Medical attention
If you find that your skin has become dry over a period of time, you may have a health issue. I suggest talking to your GP and having a general health check.

ii) Help from other Chinese Medicine & other therapies
If you are unsuccessful in treating your dry skin, find another way of treating it.  It is important to find the cause of the dry skin as mentioned above.  Traditional Chinese Medicine is one of the natural therapies you can choose to help resolve this condition.

iii) Lifestyle & Diet
a. Relax – arrange your lifestyle and work so that it is not a very stressful environment; avoid becoming emotional – these will affect the Liver and cause Liver Heat.

b. Avoid drinking alcohol and eating hot, spicy or deep-fried food; avoid onion, ginger, garlic, chives, shellfish and lamb – these can create Heat in the Liver, Lung or digestive system and flare up the skin.

c. Be sure to eat a certain amount of greens and cooling foods, such as celery, cucumber, green leafy vegetables, carrots, spinach, green tea, peppermint tea, mung beans, eggplant, lemon and pear.  For more details, please check my diet therapy articles.

d. Exercise in nice and comfortable conditions, avoiding strong sunshine – exercise that is too fast or strong can flare up Heat.  I suggest yoga, gentle walking, slow bike riding or swimming.

e. Sleep – make sure you have enough sleep; avoid going to sleep to late (best time is before 11pm)

Dry skin can be resolved, it all depends how you look after your skin and how you find the cause of your skin health issue. I hope this article helps you and your skin feel better!

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2 Responses to Why is my skin very dry and how can Chinese medicine help?

  1. Adams 26 May, 2015 at 2:15 pm #

    Hello sir, for about 8 months now(mainly winter months),I have been having this chronic irritating itch that feels like pins pricking all over my body and it mostly happens when I’m nervous or when I enter a hot place or even when I get embarrassed or excited or workout .i am a Ghanaian who studies in China .i have been here for three years but this only started happening last year and it’s very depressing.i recently went to do a blood test at the hospital and everything was okay except that the enzymes in my liver were high around 161 so I want to know whether this is the cause because the doctors dint seem to understand it.please help!!

    • Ping Ming Health 30 June, 2015 at 1:53 pm #

      Thanks for your question Adams. Itching skin could be a symptom of liver disease or bile obstruction and we would recommend further investigation since your liver enzymes are high. If the doctor you saw cannot help you, we strongly suggest finding another doctor who can! In the meantime, we could recommend that you stop consuming alcohol, avoid chilli, spicy, greasy and fatty foods. You can drink peppermint tea and try to eat more green leafy vegetables.

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