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Many people come to acupuncture for acne after trying everything else under the sun. Traditional Chinese Medicine has been practiced for thousands of years helping people with skin conditions through acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. We use that same wisdom every day in the acupuncture clinic.  

Acupuncture works by correcting the root cause of acne. Most acne is caused by heat, toxicity, dampness, or stagnation in the flow of qi.

What is the root cause of your acne?

Not all people develop acne from the same root causes.  As an acupuncturist, I will consider your overall health to find the specific imbalance causing the acne. The Chinese medicine examination includes observing your skin, checking your pulse, observing your tongue, and getting an in depth medical history.

When looking at the skin, your acupuncturist will consider the location of the acne, the presence of white heads and black heads, inflamed pimples, cysts, and overall look of your skin. Digestion is also central to understanding the cause of your acne. Of course, hormones are also a big influence. Each person is unique. These factors are integrated to identify the root cause of your acne and the therapy is tailored to specifically for you.  

Lung heat is a very common form of acne.  This manifests as white or black heads on the face around the cheeks, nose, and forehead, as well as the chest, and upper back. The greater the amount of inflammation, redness, papules, and pustules reflects the greater the amount of heat and toxicity

Stomach heat and dampness will cause inflamed and cystic acne around the mouth. Back acne is also reflective of stomach heat and toxicity.  Oily skin and cysts are reflective of dampness.

Digestion provides a method for the body to eliminate toxins and stay healthy.  Constipation, diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain, or acid reflux can all point to imbalances in the stomach.  Research shows the gut-skin connection may be from imbalances in the intestinal bacterial that affecting the skin bacteria levels leading to acne development.   

Some women can predict exactly when they have a break out based on their cycle. Acne that worsens around the menstrual cycle or in the middle of the cycle is a sign of qi and blood stagnation. The most common cause of this is from stagnation in the circulation of qi and blood.  Stress and frustration also cause qi stagnation which is why periods of stress can cause a break out.  

How to correct the root imbalance?

Herbal formulas and acupuncture treatments are customized to correct the root imbalance causing your acne. Herbs are prescribed in formulas consisting of many herbs that each has a specific action addressing the root cause of the acne. Acupuncture therapy is also customized by formulating an acupuncture point prescription specifically for each person.
For acne from lung and stomach heat, the formula may include herbs pi pa ye (loquat leaf) and sang bai pi (mulberry root bark) which will clear heat from the lungs. I also like to use niu bang zi (burdock seed) for clearing lung heat as it also has an antibacterial effect on the bacteria Propionibacterium acnes that causes acne.  

When the heat in the stomach is more pronounced, the formula may include huang lian (copitis) and pu gong ying (dandelion) to clear the heat, toxicity, and dampness from the stomach. These herbs are well known for their anti-inflammatory and antibacterial capabilities.  Huang lian has also been shown to reduce the production of sebum that leads to the clogged pores.

Heat toxicity is often a factor because this is a caused by inflammation.  Herbs such as jin yin hua (honeysuckle) and ye ju hua (wild chrysanthemum) are great for reducing inflammation and removing heat toxicity.  For acne that worsens with your periods, herbs to move qi and blood stagnation such as yi mu cao (Chinese motherwort), dang gui (Chinese angelica root) and dan shen (saliva miltiorrhiza) are great for moving blood and balancing hormones.

Acupuncture therapy incorporates points close to the acne break out as well as along the acupuncture meridians to stimulate the movement of qi, reduce inflammation, balance hormones, and help you relax.

When targeting lung and stomach heat, the acupuncture will often include Lung 5 and Large Intestine 4, as well as Stomach 36 below the knee. Constipation may be a sign of stomach heat and would be address with acupuncture points such as Stomach 25 and Stomach 37.  

Moving qi stagnation helps to regulate hormones.  Acupuncture points such as Liver 3 on the foot and Spleen 6 above are good for moving qi.  Ren 4 and Ren 6 and zi gong xue on the abdomen will help regulate hormones along with spleen 6.

Acupuncture is very helpful at healing both the skin and digestion. I think this is because acupuncture has been shown to stimulate gut motility which helps to balance the gut microbiome.   

Find an Acupuncturist near you to learn how acupuncture and Oriental medicine can help you!

About the Acupuncturist: 

Joseph Alban is a Licensed Acupuncturist and Board Certified Herbalist known for his unique fusion of Chinese Medicine and Western Physiology.  He specializes in the treatment of chronic pain, pelvic pain, and skin conditions.  Joseph has a thriving practice at Alban Acupuncture and Herbs in New York City for ten years.  He is passionate about making acupuncture accessible and helping people by treating their challenges at the root of the problem in a holistic and sustainable way. For more information, please call 212-319-5757 or go to

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