Did you know that depending on a person’s height and body mass, the human skin can weigh up to 10 kilograms? Being the heaviest—and largest—organ, it plays an important role in our body and metabolism. At the same time, it’s also susceptible to countless skin conditions.
Like the term suggests, skin conditions are diseases or disorders that affect the human skin. They range from common, like acne, to highly serious, like skin cancer. The causes are as many as they are varied. A certain condition may be a sign that there’s something wrong with the skin itself, but it can be a symptom of another, more severe disease. Similarly, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) also believes that skin conditions may signify changes in the body, both physically and mentally. For instance, pale skin may tell you that a person lacks red blood cells, and yellowish skin may indicate hepatitis.
Below are the five skin conditions that commonly affect humans, including the causes, prevention techniques and treatments according to Western medicine and TCM. While the former heals the symptoms, TCM focuses on a more holistic approach and treats each patient’s underlying cause.
Despite its name, ringworm is not caused by worms. It is an infection caused by a fungus, Microsporum or epidermophyton, and is commonly found in the tropics.
Symptom: Rash that may either be scaly, dry, swollen or itchy. It can appear in any part of the body.
You might get ringworm if you:
- Have poor hygiene
- Exposed to an infected person or animal
- In close contact with infected bedsheets, combs or towels
- Perspire a lot
- Have diabetes
- Have low immunity
- Wear tight or restrictive clothing
Overall, a diabetic person tends to have a dysfunctional immune system, making them more prone to fungal infections like ringworm. They are also more likely to be overweight and therefore sweat more profusely due to the thick layers of subcutaneous fat, making them more at risk of contracting ringworm.
What you can do to prevent this condition:
- Maintain good personal hygiene
- Wash your towels and bedsheets regularly
- Try not to share towels, combs or bedsheets with another person
- Look out for any signs of ringworm on your pet (on animals, it looks like a bald patch) and take them to the vet if you find one
- An infected person should not scratch the rash to stop it from spreading
It’s necessary to treat ringworm as soon as possible to prevent it from getting worse. Pharmacists or health practitioners would usually prescribe an antifungal medicine in a cream, gel or spray.
Alternatively, TCM recommends rhubarb and dried alum as a treatment. Crush 120 grams of rhubarbs and 30 grams of dried alum into powder. Or, turn the powder into a paste by adding vegetable oil. Apply directly to the affected areas.
Melasma is defined as an acquired, chronic pigmentary disorder. It occurs when the female sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone stimulate melanocytes (colour-producing cells) to produce more melanin pigments when the skin is exposed to the sun.
Symptom: Skin discolouration in the form of brown or grey-brown patches on the cheeks, nose, nose bridge, forehead and above the upper lip.
You might get melasma if you:
- Genetic: the condition is predominantly found in women, light brown-skinned people and individuals who have family members with a history of melasma.
- Sunlight exposure: UV radiation can induce free radicals that stimulate melanocytes to produce excess melanin.
- Hormones: a person might develop melasma if they are: Pregnant. When the condition appears on pregnant women, it’s referred to as the mask of pregnancy. Increased oestrogen, progesterone and melanocyte-stimulating hormones during the third trimester may trigger it. Taking oral contraceptive pills and hormones. A postmenopausal woman who takes progesterone.
- Thyroid disease: melasma is a symptom of an underlying thyroid disorder in certain cases.
- Cosmetics or skincare products that irritate the skin.
- Drugs that cause a phototoxic reaction (sun sensitivity) on the skin.
- Antiseizure medications.
- TCM believes that melasma affects a person who has a bad temperament and worries a lot.
- TCM also sees a correlation between melasma and liver issues.
What you can do to prevent this condition:
- Wear sunscreens or other kinds of protection from the sunlight, like hats or long-sleeved shirts.
- Use cosmetics or skincare products that are healthy for the skin.
There is a myriad of treatments available to manage melasma. Research has been conducted to test their effectiveness, and it concluded that the triple combination cream (hydroquinone, tretinoin and corticosteroid) is the best one. So is hydroquinone alone. What’s more, the researchers discovered that chemical peels and laser or light treatments have mixed results, while oral and injection of tranexamic acid showed promise but needed more studies.
TCM believes that turmeric drinks can treat liver and skin problems. Turmeric gains this ability from its main constituent, curcumin, which works as a powerful antioxidant. Moreover, TCM also suggests keeping the emotions in check and having a positive mind.
Patients must remember that no matter if it’s Western medicine or TCM you swear by, melasma may happen recurringly.
Almost everyone gets acne at least once in their lives. According to National Health Service (NHS), acne surfaces when certain hormones cause the grease-producing glands next to hair follicles to generate more oil. The abnormality turns skin bacterium P. acnes from harmless to aggressive, causing inflammation and pus. The hormones also block the pores by thickening the inner lining of the hair follicle.
In TCM, acne is related to heat and damp heat in the organs and meridians.
Symptom: Nodules that are sometimes painful and oily skin. Acne can be found on the face, back and chest.
You might get acne if you:
- Puberty. In some cases, though, acne can continue to appear on an adult human’s skin.
- Having parents who had acne. The condition is known to run in families.
- Pregnancy or menstrual cycle. Hormonal changes that take place during these times can trigger acne in women.
What you can do to prevent this condition:
- Avoid too much make-up or cosmetics.
- Remove make-up before bed.
- Use water-based products for your face that will be less likely to block the pores.
There are various over-the-counter creams, lotions and gels that can effectively treat acne. Products containing benzoyl peroxide are usually effective, but more severe breakouts or the ones on the back and chest may only fade with something stronger or antibiotics.
It is advisable to wash the acne-affected skin with lukewarm water. If the water is too hot or too cold, it can worsen. Avoid squeezing the spots to prevent blemishes.
TCM-based acne treatments revolve around dispelling the heat. To do that, consume less spicy and sweet foods. Regular bowel movements also help.
NHS describes eczema as a skin condition that makes skin itchy, dry and cracked. The most common form is atopic eczema. The condition is usually recurring and long-term.
Symptom: Persistent itching on dry skin. It manifests as small patches in some people, but it can develop all over the body for some people.
You might get eczema if you:
- Having allergies.
- Having family members who experience the same condition.
- Suffering from asthma and hay fever.
- Having sensitivity to certain objects or foods.
Moisturisers and topical corticosteroids are frequently used to treat eczema. Meanwhile, the TCM-based treatment begins by identifying the source of the allergy before a physician can prescribe the appropriate treatment.
The patient must also stop scratching and avoid allergens or objects that can set off the itching.
Pruritus is a skin disorder that seems to have no apparent cause. A 2017 study reports that lesions don’t always display on the patient’s skin, making the condition impossible to diagnose and manage. The itching mainly transpires from xerosis (dry skin) or eczema.
You might get pruritus if you:
- Suffering from xerosis or eczema.
- From TCM’s point of view, pruritus happens to emotionally unbalanced people.
- Pruritus also affects the elderly with dry skin.
- Living in dry environments.
Improvements are usually seen after regular moisturising. Furthermore, TCM thinks that keeping the affected areas clean and avoiding alcohol, coffee, and milk tea can help. Most importantly, contact a doctor or trusted physician when it becomes more uncomfortable than ever. Pruritus tends to be ignored and reduce a patient’s quality of life when it happens all the time.
Not only pruritus, but all of the skin conditions above can negatively influence your everyday life when they go unnoticed for too long. Therefore, no matter how common the condition is, it’s necessary to treat them urgently. Better yet, prevent them from happening altogether.
This is an adaptation of an article, “Skin Woes”, which first appeared on Eu Yan Sang website.
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