To celebrate Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (AOM) day, we asked traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) expert Joseph Alban, M.S. L.Ac to do a Skinterview with us. Joseph Alban is a New York State Licensed Acupuncturist and Diplomate in Oriental Medicine. He holds a masters in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine from Touro College and has trained with leading Traditional Chinese Medicine dermatologists in China, Europe, and the United States. He is one of the few acupuncturists to be awarded a training grant in alternative medicine research from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which he completed in the Pediatric Immunology Department of Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Joseph has a thriving acupuncture and Chinese medicine practice in New York City, focused on treating skin conditions and improving health holistically. He is passionate about making acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine accessible to his patients and the public.
Dermveda: In observance of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine day, can you talk a bit about why TCM is so valuable and useful in skin care?
Joseph: Acupuncture and oriental medicine day is a moment we take to explore how the long history and wealth of knowledge Oriental Medicine can benefit folks in the modern world. Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine roots go back over 3000 years and TCM texts have been written specifically for skin conditions going back over 1500 years. In other words, there is a wealth of knowledge and clinical experience that has been accumulated over many generations in this discipline.
Further, acupuncture and oriental medicine are powerful therapies because they tap into the natural healing potential of the body. In TCM, we call this treating the root of the disease, which we believe leads to long-lasting results. We see this in acupuncture quite often. An acupuncture needle is a solid, very thin needle with nothing on it (i.e. no herbs, medication, etc.). These needles are only used to stimulate the acupuncture point, the muscles, nerves, connective tissues, and skin of that point, to influence the body’s natural healing process. But with correct treatment, over time we can see long-lasting improvement, even long after the treatment is complete. Additionally, herbs serve many functions from antibiotic capabilities to reducing inflammation. There are also immune-regulating properties and synergies between herbs, which may lead to some of the longer-term results of oriental medicine.
Dermveda: What inspired you to become a TCM practitioner?
Joseph: I was a TCM patient as a young person. After having success with my back pain, and doing a little reading and research on my own, I found that the ideas and theories of Oriental medicine truly appealed to me. TCM is a long-lasting scholarly medical tradition. I find that approaching each patient holistically and the utilizing the body’s natural ability to heal itself is a powerful tool to improve wellness.
Dermveda: What is your Favorite herb?
Joseph: Chinese medicine has over 500 herbs in the commonly used pharmacy and I regularly use about 250. But if I have to choose, my favorite would be hemp seeds ("huo ma ren" in Chinese). They are traditionally used for moistening the skin and also aiding in digestion. They're a great source of healthy oils like omega 3 and GLA, as well as plant-based protein. They're also really tasty, which is not something you can say about many Chinese herbs!
Dermveda: How do you use acupuncture and/or herbal formulas to treat skin care?
Joseph: Chinese medicine therapy for skin health is based upon personalized treatment plans that include acupuncture and herbal formulas. My goal is to understand the underlying disharmony causing the skin problem, and how I can best use acupuncture and Chinese herbs to correct it. This is done by observing skin symptoms and overall health, which helps to paint a picture of the particular disharmony affecting a given patient. This includes considering the appearance of the skin, onset of the condition, digestion, temperature, body pain, and well-being, among other things.
Dermveda: Which ailments do you use TCM to treat?
Joseph: My practice focuses on skin diseases and people experiencing significant pain. People are often amazed to see a skin condition they’ve been living with for years, like psoriasis, eczema, or acne, clear with the help of Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture.
Dermveda: How often do you get treated? Can you put acupuncture needles on yourself?
Joseph: I have acupuncture once a week. Luckily it’s very convenient for me, I can get it right in the office! And yes, I, in fact, can treat myself with acupuncture, but reserve that only for emergencies or injuries.
Dermveda: What do you wish more people knew about TCM?
Joseph: TCM provides a holistic and pragmatic perspective on health, healing, and disease prevention. Additionally, therapies in acupuncture and oriental medicine are customized to each patient and there is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach to healing. Why is this? It’s because your skin condition is not like your neighbor’s and may need a different combination of herbs and acupuncture therapies to treat it. The ultimate goal of TCM is to look for long-term improvement and find simple ways for my patients to live healthy lives.
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