The holidays can be a happy time to celebrate with friends and family, but acne spoils fun. An acne attack may strike at any age. Stress, hormone imbalance, unwise eating and drinking provoke temporary outbreaks because they increase inflammation. Traditional Chinese medicine offers a practical treatment strategy and simple teas to improve complexion as they detoxify acid impurities.

Acne is provoked by chronic inflammation affecting the digestive tract and result in impurities in our blood. Emotions play a part in hormone balance, irregular sleep patterns and addictions which increase inflammation. Often when we use cleansing herbs for the complexion, other wellness issues improve. We may feel calmer, sleep better and digest with ease after using herbs that help to regulate the lungs, liver, and detoxify the colon.

Do your acne outbreaks accompany any of these?

  • PMS
  • hyper energy or insomnia
  • constipation
  • strong body odor
  • vaginal discharge

These are signs of internal imbalance that may be corrected with diet and herbal treatment.

Do your acne outbreaks accompany any of these, non-dietary causes?

  • Anger, Frustration
  • Lack of sleep
  • Hunger
  • Seasonal allergies
  • Infection or contagious virus (herpes, STD)
  • Hot weather
  • Pollution
  • Not changing clothing or bed sheets often enough

TCM views issues such as anger, frustration, allergies as liver congestion issues. Those conditions aggravate liver/gallbladder inflammation that may be addressed with bitter, cleansing herbs such as dandelion. Dandelion greens are sold in the produce section of most Korean supermarkets. Dandelion root tea is widely available. advises: Unexplained acne: “Dirty pillowcase are often to blame. The embedded dirt, dead skin, and bacteria can clog your pores. If you have bad breakouts, change your pillowcases every 2-3 days and the rest of your bedding once a week.”

Types of Blemishes:

Not all blemishes are acne. This blog is concerned with chronic or acute acne that can be improved with foods and herbs.

Traditional Acne:

Red Hot:

In general, red irritated, itchy or painful rash indicates inflammation.

What makes it worse?

         Stress, smoking, alcohol, inflammatory foods, bacteria, poor hygiene

What improves common acne?

A cooling, cleansing diet, herbs that detoxify and heal lungs, large intestine, blood and improve digestion. (see below)

Wet, Oozing, Slow-healing blemishes or sores

Oozing, slow healing wounds or blemishes can indicate general weakness, poor circulation and an underlying condition that is increased by edema (water retention) caused by weak spleen which is called Dampness in Traditional Chinese Medicine. In other words, when digestion is slow, difficult and the body cannot easily eliminate wastes.

What makes it worse?

         Low immunity, antibiotics or medicines that harm digestion, rich, congesting foods, sweets, obesity, diabetes or underlying illness

What improves oozing sores?

Foods and herbs that support digestion and balance gut bacteria (see below)

Fungal Acne:

Fungal acne (AKA Pityrosporum folliculitis or Malassezia folliculitis) looks a lot like hormonal acne or bacterial acne but is actually not even really acne at all. Fungal acne is caused by an overgrowth of fungus that “feeds” on oil on our skin either from our own skin’s oil (sebum) or any other oils or oil-rich creams applied to the skin.

Appearance of Fungal Acne:

For some people, this fungal infection results in a skin disorder called Tinea versicolor that look like white patches on the skin. In others, it causes an infection of the hair follicles that resembles traditional acne—red bumps with occasional whiteheads. In contrast to real acne, with which you may see many types of different acne lesions together (some blackheads, some papules, some cysts), in fungal acne, there is a uniform appearance to the bumps…and they are frequently itchy. They appear most often in oily areas such as forehead, sides of the nose, chin and the upper back, chest, and shoulders.

What makes Fungal Acne Worse?

Fungal acne thrives in a hot, humid climate, with the use of oily or rancid skin care products, a diet high in sugar and foods that contribute to a yeast infection.

What improves fungal acne?

Avoid soaps and clothes that irritate the skin, allow the skin to breathe, anti-fungal treatment with organic tea tree oil, avoiding sensitive areas, a diet that supports digestion and avoids sugar, alcohol and yeasty foods.

Acne is not Herpes

Herpes, a viral infection that is sexually transmitted. It appears either at the mouth (cold sores or fever blisters) or the genital area. It is not acne.

What makes a herpes outbreak worse?

A herpes outbreak may appear as a painful part of PMS and is made worse from stress, caffeine, alcohol, and Arginine found in the Chinese herb rehmannia, supplements or foods, or provoked by hormone issues. Certain foods or herbs that cause sweating tend to bring out a rash. Inflammatory foods, for example, sweet fruits, dairy especially soft cheeses, fish or most poultry, which is inflammatory, except for turkey.

What improves a herpes outbreak?

         Prunella vulgaris (xia ku cao) and neem which are antibacterial, antiviral herbs that can be used in capsules or Prunella tea.

Where Does Acne Appear?

Acne usually appears on the face, chest, back or buttocks. Rashes resulting from food allergies, congesting cosmetics, irritating detergents or heat rash may often be eliminated with a simple change in diet or beauty product.

Location of the Internal Energetic Problems indicated by Facial Acne:

The location of red, irritated facial acne blemishes can indicate which parts of the body are affected and the nature of the imbalance.

Forehead Acne: Possible causes are inflammation in the intestines, constipation, and rich congesting oily or waxy hair products.

Nose Acne, rosacea or enlarged inflamed nose: Possible causes include inflammation affecting lungs or entire body, alcohol abuse, hormone imbalance

Cheeks and Mouth area Acne: Possible cause is inflammation affecting stomach or entire digestive tract, overly spicy hot diet

Chin Acne: Possible cause is inflammation in sexual organs, irregular menstruation, hormone imbalance, stress and congestion in lower body. Chin and jaw-line acne is often caused by fluctuations in hormones , which means a disruption with your endocrine system. It’s typically a result of excess androgens, which over-stimulate the oil glands and clog pores.

Traditional Chinese Medicine Food Cures for Acne

Chinese medicine classifies food according to its energetic effects rather than according to its chemical makeup. Certain foods are viewed as warming and/or nourishing while others are seen as cooling and/or cleansing or eliminating. Western medicine and dietetics assumes that a banana, for example, is always a banana and its nutrition reacts the same way for anyone who eats one. Therefore a breakfast banana and yogurt should always have the same nutritional value, the same results for everyone no matter who is eating it. However, in traditional Chinese medicine, that breakfast may beneficial for people who require moisture to ease a dry cough, thirst etc. They have a so called yin deficiency. But such a moistening sweet creamy breakfast may be detrimental for people who often suffer from cold or damp weather or who overindulge in cold, raw, creamy foods that provoke edema, sinus infections, asthma or other conditions associated with dampness.

In other words, foods have energetic value that interacts with our constitution (inherited body, energy, immunity) and our condition (symptoms we are currently feeling.) In this context, foods can either help or hinder us to maintain wellness or to recover from illness. Put another way, not all “nourishing healthy” foods suit our individual needs.

TCM: Lungs, Large Intestine and Skin Energy System

Chinese energetic medicine (TCM) links the outer body–the skin, eyes, hair, and muscles–with associated internal organs and blood. Circulation and organs are linked by meridians and the flow of energy through them is called Qi. The skin is part of a larger system including the organs and meridians of the lungs and large intestine. Here is an example of how TCM acne treatments work: If you were washing your car with a garden hose, you would first spray the roof, windows, doors and finally the tires—from top to bottom–because you want the water to flow downward to the ground. We cleanse from inside by bringing inflammation and toxins affecting the skin, blood, liver and lungs, to the large intestine in order to be eliminated. In the body, downward and inward is a natural pattern for cleansing.

Bitter herbs that are cooling and detoxifying

reduce impurities and those that increase bile are laxative.


Foods that Cool and Cleanse the Lungs and Large Intestine

         Cooling and detoxifying foods improve inflammatory conditions such as acne, arthritis, allergies, etc. In Chinese Medicine, we recommend specific Lung-strengthening foods that are naturally fresh like sprouts and bitter greens. Also some high fiber foods that are “white” like cauliflower, blanched almonds, steamed daikon radish, potatoes, turnip, parsnip, rutabaga, apple, pear, rice, oats, and sesame seeds. We are advised to avoid inflammatory, congesting foods: meats, fowl except for white meat of turkey, onion, garlic, pepper, horse radish, chili or other hot spice.

Seasonal Foods and Body Heat

In autumn’s dry and windy weather and in winter, when radiator heat dries the air we breathe, or if we smoke, we need to eat foods that generate fluid and moisten the lungs and skin. They include:

  • Pears, apples, figs, persimmons, pumpkins,
  • Snow ear fungus (tremella), soaked and cooked in soups
  • Soaked nuts, seeds and whole grains such as oatmeal, millet, rice, quinoa
  • Chinese delicacies such as abalone and bird’s nest soup are recommended for their high content of collagen.
  • American ginseng is white, cooling, moistening and rejuvenating for the entire body and complexion.

Snow Mushroom, Tremella

One of our favorite easy to make Fall soups combines pears, tremella (aka snow ear fungus, cloud fungus.) The fluffy white Tremella fuciformis is a very mild tasting fungus that grows in the tropics on the dead branches of broadleaf trees. It is a popular food in Asian cultures and easily found in Chinese supermarkets, herbs shops and online. It possesses spectacular nutrition for skin health and beauty. They include high amounts of polysaccharides, which are antioxidants that can help keep skin hydrated, promote nerve growth and support the brain. Tremella may improve the levels of hyaluronic acid in the body, which can help to moisturize and improve the texture of the skin.

Tremella Pear Soup        


1 piece of dried tremella, 1 pear, a handful of jujube red dates, a handful of goji berries

Soak the tremella overnight. Discard the water the following day. With a knife or scissor cut away the tough yellow part on the back of the tremella.

Simmer the tremella in water for 45 minutes. It will be very soft and gelatinous. Cut it into pieces. Add sliced pear, jujube dates and goji berries and simmer for 15 more minutes. Sweeten with raw honey when it is cool.

Chinese Herbs for Acne

Following the principle of detoxification by bringing energy downward and inward, we combine bitter tasting, cooling, cleansing herbs with laxative herbs in order to rid the body of excess acid wastes that provoke and maintain acne. Here is a simple example.

Honeysuckle Flower, Dandelion Tea


1 handful each of honeysuckle flower (jin yin hua) and dandelion herb.Blanch the herbs, then simmer for 2 minutes. Allow it to cool.

A bitter, cleansing tea of Japanese honeysuckle flowers (lonicera Japanica, which is antibiotic) and dandelion herb which is blood cleansing, diuretic and laxative can help to clear acne and eczema.

Add a little lemon juice if needed for flavor. Do not sweeten the tea because sugar increases acidity and honey spreads acid from the blood to the skin. Bitter makes bile flow which is laxative. See a more comprehensive herbal formula based on this principle, a Chinese patent remedy, Lien Chiao Pai Tu Pien explained in Karma Herbs.

Strengthen Digestion, Balance Emotions to Support Beauty and Wellness

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) Shen, usually translated as Spirit, refers to our consciousness, thoughts and emotions. A spirit or shen occupies and influences each of our deep organs. These spirits may be damaged by our actions, thoughts and emotions. This illustrates the TCM mind/body connection, an important part of understanding who we are and our ability to comprehend and act out our destiny. Our shen make us human and keeps us well. This soup, named in honor of shen, supports healthy digestion and kidney/adrenal energy with foods that detoxify the body and support vitality and mental clarity with enhanced digestion. Why is good digestion and mental clarity important? They help to keep our emotions in balance.

Four Spirits Soup (Si Shen Herbal Soup)


Fortifies energy, digestion, weight loss, mental clarity, improved breathing.

This bland-tasting soup may be used for fasting, as part of a weight loss program, for deep cleansing from undigested food (and thoughts and relationships.) It can improve low energy that is due to poor digestion and phlegmy congestion that weakens breathing. The ingredients (high in B vitamins and minerals) are astringent (absorb digestive fluids) and diuretic (increase urination.) They rid the body of fat and phlegmy congestion that slow digestion. A traditional Chinese doctor would say that those ingredients “tonify spleen.”


Euryale Seed/fox nuts, Radix dioscorea/white yam root, Lotus seed, Tuckahoe (fu ling, with pine, fuling)

The traditional method of cooking it to make a strong broth: Add the herbs to five bowls of water. Boil five bowls of water into two bowls, then filter and take the soup. The cooked yam, fox nuts and lotus seed can be eaten with a little powdered monk fruit.

If you have an underlying health condition, please consult your health provider before using this product.

For additional information and an expertly guided, comprehensive certificate program online to support overall wellness and longevity, see