Acupuncture and Acne

A holistic approach to reducing the inflammation and balance the hormones of acne

Credits: John Keith
Edited By:
Dermveda Content Team ,

For thousands of years, acupuncture has been used as a means of treating acne throughout Asia. Now it is gaining popularity around the world.[1] But how does it work?

How Does Acupuncture Treat Acne? 

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), one person’s acne is different from another’s, and therefore, each person needs to be treated by attending to their unique set of symptoms. To do this, acupuncturists must try to determine the acne’s root cause in order to bring balance to the body. 

The acupuncturist will determine the type of acne present - 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, and the health of the entire body. 

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

How Is Acupuncture for Acne Performed? 

Acupuncture therapy is customized to address each patient’s specific needs. It may use points close to the acne breakout, as well as those points on the arms and legs that lie on acupuncture meridians. This will help to stimulate the movement of qi, reduce inflammation, balance hormones, improve digestion, and assist with relaxation. 

How Are Different Types of Acne Treated? 

Whiteheads and Blackheads

Also called comedonal acne, whiteheads, and blackheads occur when the hair follicles on the face, chest, and back become clogged. In Chinese medicine, dampness and heat are the main causes of comedonal acne. Acupuncture points can be effective for treatment; LU5 (Chi Ze) and LI4 (He Gu) may be used.  

Inflammatory Acne

Inflammatory acne occurs when lesions become inflamed and produce red pimples and pustules (also known as whiteheads). In Chinese medicine, heat is a significant cause of inflammatory acne. Heat imbalances are reflected in red skin as well as red inflamed papules and pustules. Acupuncture points including LI 11 (Qu Chi) and LI 4 (He Gu) on the arms will often be combined with local acupuncture for inflammatory acne.[2] Acupuncture close to the acne, traditionally called “ouch points,” is used for inflammatory type acne.[2,3] Acupuncture, combined with Chinese herbal medicine, has been shown to reduce acne related inflammation.[4]   

Cystic Acne

Cystic acne is a severely inflamed type of acne. The cysts are large, lie deep in the skin, and can be related to toxins and stagnation. Acupuncture close to the acne is often used for cystic acne.[2,3] In addition, acupuncture points such as LI4 (He Gu) and LI11 (Qu Chi) can be used to clear heat, and ST 36 (Zu San Li) and SP 9 (Yin Ling Quan) can be used to remove dampness. Numerous reports also suggest that wet cupping may be effective for cystic acne.[5,6]    

Hormonal Acne

Many women find that their acne flares up in the premenstrual part of the menstrual cycle. The acne is often a combination of whiteheads and blackheads with some inflammation involved and tends to occur more commonly along the jawline. In Chinese medicine, hormonal acne is often related to stagnation, a lack of circulation in the body, and accumulation of dampness. Stress leads to stagnation of qi and blood, which is a common cause of hormonal acne. 

Electroacupuncture, a technique that uses a small amount of electric stimulation at specific acupuncture points, has been shown to regulate hormones and reduce acne in women with PCOS.[7] Electroacupuncture for hormonal regulation is often done on acupuncture points such as SP6 (San Yin Jiao), ST 36 (Zu San Li), Zi Gong Xue, Ren 4 (Guan Yuan), and 6 (Qi Hai) on the abdomen. 

Acupuncture’s Holistic Benefits

Acupuncture treats the whole person, not just the symptoms. Further benefits include supporting stress management and encouraging the body to relax.[8,9] Stress has been shown to be a factor in acne development.[10] Auricular acupuncture, acupuncture on the outer ear, is a beneficial treatment for stress reduction.[11] Also, acupuncture points such as Yin Tang on the forehead are highly successful in stress reduction.   

Poor digestion has long been suggested as a factor in acne development.[12] In Chinese medicine, poor diet and digestion lead to the accumulation of dampness, a significant cause of inflammatory acne. Acupuncture is well known for improving digestion, which is often a goal in acne treatment. Acupuncture points on the abdomen such as ST 25 (Tian Shu) and Ren 12 (Zhong Wan), as well as ST 36 (Zu San Li) are wonderful for improving digestion. 

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