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What Does Your Skin Colour Say About Your Health?

In TCM, being “in the pink of health” can have a literal meaning. Read on to find out how your skin colour relates to your wellbeing.

Young hip girl with a rosy complexion and pink makeup places her index finger on her cheek while smiling at the camera.

Your skin is an important part of your physical appearance. Not only does it make you feel confident, but it’s also an indication of your internal health. Clear, smooth skin and healthy skin colour are signs that you’re doing the right things to nourish it from within.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), your skin colour points to different health conditions that can’t be covered by makeup. “A faint mix of red and yellow or brown indicates good health,” TCM Physician Tjai Kang Jie shares. “A healthy complexion will also have a sense of brightness and moisture.” 

Do you want to know what other skin colours say about your well-being and how to get that healthy skin colour naturally? Read on!  

5 TCM Skin Colours that Indicate Something’s Wrong 

What are skin colours that show you’re not in the pink of health? Here are 5 illness-related skin colours and their corresponding TCM syndromes. Physician Tjai also shares potential herbal formulas to take that you can discuss with your TCM practitioner.

1. Red 

Young woman with a flushed complexion looks worryingly at the mirror.
Red, flushed cheeks indicate too much internal Heat.

Some people may consider red, flushed cheeks to be a sign of health, but TCM says otherwise. Redness signals that you have too much Heat or have a Yin (cool) Deficiency. You may notice that your face gets red when you have a fever or a cold. Too much Heat or not enough yin gives you a flushed appearance.

Herbal recommendation: 

  • Bai Hu Soup (白虎汤): Dispels excess Heat. 
  • Zhi Bai Di Huang Wan (知柏地黄丸): Replenishes Kidney yin if the Heat arises from a Kidney Yin Deficiency. 
  • Qing Liang Heat Clearing tea: Reduces excess body Heat and nourishes the Liver.

2. Yellow 

A yellowish hue to your skin indicates that something is off with your Spleen, causing Dampness to accumulate. In TCM, Spleen Deficiencies often lead to overall system sluggishness referred to as “Damp” or “Dampness”. For example, when bile builds up excessively in your digestive system, you may develop jaundice, which makes your skin yellow.

Herbal recommendation: 

  • Er Chen soup (二陈汤): Dries Dampness and phlegm. 
  • Shen Ling Bai Zu powder (参苓白术散): Strengthens Spleen qi (vital life force) to treat and/or prevent Dampness. 
  • Qu Shi tea: Removes excess water in the body and nourishes the Spleen.

3. Purple 

A sickly purple hue in the skin indicates Blood Stasis. Just like how bruises are purple, this is a sign of stagnated blood. If you notice you also have purple menstrual blood clots, it’s a sign that you may have Blood Stasis.

Herbal recommendation: 

  • Xue Fu Zhu Yu soup (血府逐瘀汤): Helps with blood flow and removes Stasis.
  • Bak Foong pills: Improve a weak body constitution, help with restoring body balance, reduce period pain.

4. Grey and black

Older woman with a dull grey complexion frowns while scratching her cheek with one hand.
Grey and black-hued skin usually indicate a problem with your Kidney organ system.

If your skin seems to have a veneer of grey heading towards black, your Kidneys may be in trouble. Your Kidneys are critical to your metabolism of water. A dark hue in your skin heading to black indicates possible excess Cold and water. This leads to fluid accumulation and Blood Stasis.

Herbal recommendation: 

  • Liu Wei Di Huang Wan (六味地黄丸): Nourishes Kidney yin. 
  • Li Zhong soup (理中汤): Warms the body and helps dispel Cold in cold syndromes. 

5. White or pale 

Having a pale white skin colour is generally a sign of Deficiency. These include Qi, Blood, and/or Yang Deficiencies. You might notice that someone who has lost a lot of blood will appear pale.

Herbal recommendation: 

  • Ba Zhen soup (八珍汤): Replenishes qi and blood. 
  • Li Zhong soup (理中汤): Suitable for Cold syndromes, as it warms the interior and dispels Cold. 
  • Si Ni soup (四逆汤): For syndromes with blood loss and diminishing qi, as it warms you from within and retains qi. 

Many of these herbal formulas have been studied for their efficacy. Research finds that the Ba Zhen Tang formula delays photo-ageing by fighting oxidative stress. Similarly, Li Zhong Tang is another antioxidant powerhouse that promotes gastrointestinal health.

Do keep in mind that this diagnostic tool is used in conjunction with other TCM diagnostic frameworks and never alone. Also, we’re not referring to skin colour in terms of natural melanin content, which is decided by your genetics. 

Focus on Health and Beauty Will Follow

Woman with a natural and healthy complexion stands in the natural outdoors next to a big taro leaf.
In TCM, inner health leads to outer beauty.

In addition to herbal therapy to correct your body’s disharmonies, Physician Tjai’s advice is to heed the usual suspects in terms of lifestyle habits: 

  • A nutritious diet 
  • Sufficient hydration 
  • Maintaining good mental health 
  • A skincare regimen that suits your skin type 

TCM also offers other treatments to keep your health in check, such as acupuncture, moxibustion, tuina massage, cupping, and Qigong

Your exterior beauty is just a reflection of internal health. One of the best ways to ensure you’re in good shape is to treat your body well, which will reflect in radiant, healthy skin colour.

What does your skin colour say about you? If you’ve tried any of the above tips, let us know in the comments below.

References

  1. Picodi.com. 2020. Malaysians’ cosmetics preferences. [online] [Accessed 25 January 2023]  
  2. TCMBasics.com. Inspection. [online] [Accessed 25 January 2023]  
  3. BioMed Research International. 2014. Qualitative and Quantitative Analysis for Facial Complexion in Traditional Chinese Medicine. [online] [Accessed 25 January 2023]  
  4. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2013. Bai-Hu-Tang, Ancient Chinese Medicine Formula, May Provide a New Complementary Treatment Option for Sepsis. [online] [Accessed 25 January 2023]  
  5. Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology. 2022. Mechanism of Ba Zhen Tang Delaying Skin Photoaging Based on Network Pharmacology and Molecular Docking. [online] [Accessed 25 January 2023]  
  6. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2020. Traditional Chinese Medicine Li-Zhong-Tang accelerates the healing of indomethacin-induced gastric ulcers in rats by affecting TLR-2/MyD88 signaling pathway. [online] [Accessed 25 January 2023]  

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