Volcanic eruptions – nutritional treatment of acne caused by internal damp heat

Acne is mostly an adolescence problem, and is very common among teenagers.It can also be seen in adults around their 30s but not as commonly. Ironically, just when the external appearance is most significant and their “looks” are their calling card and status symbol, teens have to deal with purulent acne on their face, chest and back, which impact their self confidence. Few are lucky to only have a few pimples, but when acne spreads, it can cause deep emotional distress that can transform into mental problems of low self-esteem, shame, social anxiety, and at an older age, employment problems.

What is acne?

Acne is a long-term infection of the sebaceous glands and hair follicles, which appears in a myriad of rashes and pimples on the skin.

The causes of acne

Acne is very common in adolescence and is mainly a result of high levels of testosterone. However, stress in general (from exams, work, relationships) directly impacts the level of hormones in the blood. Acne often includes a hereditary component, but this inclination can become more aggravated from using cosmetics or makeup or from intense sweating, all of which block the skin pores.Other factors that contribute to the eruption of acne are antidepressant drugs or steroids taken regularly, smoking, a deficiency in the vitamin B group and minerals like zinc, a disorder in sugar and lipid metabolism, as well as from a diet rich in fat, sugar and protein from animal sources which exacerbate the skin infection.

Medical treatment and possible side effects

In light acne conditions, treatment is external and local with antibiotic preparations. In more serious conditions, oral antibiotics or medications that chemically resemble vitamin A, such as Roaccutane, which affects proper growth of skin cells and prevents blockage of the sebaceous gland ducts.

However, antibiotics are not efficient in the long run and can affect the gut flora, cause weakness and impact digestion. Side effects of Roaccutane include dryness, peeling of the skin and liver function impairment. This is why doctors tend to prescribe it only in severe acne conditions.

The Chinese perspective – Damp Heat eruption

Acne, which is manifested by red, swollen and painful, itchy, inflamed, purulent and often discharging pimples, is translated in Chinese medicine to a state of excessive Damp Heat. Excessive fat accumulates in the skin’s sebaceous glands, as a result of excessive fat, protein and sugar from a superfluous diet, ends up locking dampness inside the glands and hair follicles. Prolonged blockage causes local infection and swelling of the gland.

From the Chinese medicine perspective, the liver is responsible, among other things, for regulating hormones, metabolizing lipids, and for the optimal function of sebaceous glands and hair follicles.

When the liver is “clogged” with large amounts of fat coming from dietary preferences while other cleansing systems in the body (the kidneys, the digestive system, the lungs) cannothandle the burden of excess dampness and fat, the surplus is drained through the skin. Common foods that promote acne are milk, cheese, ice cream, beef, sugar, nuts and peanut butter.

The excessive dampness that accumulates in the body and sebaceous glands causes an effect which is similar to the fermentation process of compost in nature. During this process, piled up and compressed organic waste starts to ferment and heat up. The pimples themselves are expressed along the meridians of the stomach, gall bladder and large intestine, which attempt to evacuate the excessive dampness from the liver through the skin, passing through the face in the chin area, around the mouth, cheeks, temples and forehead, where the evacuation of excessive dampness is expressed by purulent acne.

Treating acne nutritionally

The nutritional strategy for handling Damp Heat around the face area is based on cooling, drying foods that help open dampness related blockage. The recommended foods will be aromatic, green and bitter, spicy, astringent and bland. A simple diet based on whole grains, legumes, cooked vegetables and lean meat, without dairy products, without sugar, without poor quality refined oils or nut butters (including tahini) and no alcohol – often achieves significant improvement in a short time.  It is particularly worthwhile to exclude sweet foods which are rich in sugar, such as fruit juices, fruits and sweetened beverages that promote skin inflammation.

Special tips for treating acne of Damp Heat quality

  • A brew made of nettle leaves, dandelion leaves and Bancha tea – the nettle leaves cleanse the hot dampness from the kidneys, the dandelion cleanses hot dampness from the liver and the Bancha tea balances excessive acidity in the blood from foods that are rich in protein and animal source fat. The combination between these plants removes Damp Heat through urination.
  • Drinking a teaspoon of turmeric in a glass of water – turmeric moves the blood and dries dampness in the liver.
  • Adding Agar-Agar (seaweed gelatin) to vegetable dishes and sauces – Agar-Agar has a soothing texture and a cooling effect. These qualities alleviate infection and help heal the skin.
  • Adding Wakame and Nori seaweed to the daily diet – the Wakame seaweed cleanses Damp Heat from the liver and the Nori seaweed removes excessive heat and inflammation from the skin.
  • Cooked mung beans and mung sprouts – for cooling the liver and diuresis of Damp Heat.
  • Vegetables like coriander, asparagus, broccoli, radish, celery stalks, cabbage, Shiitake mushrooms – for cleansing the liver and drying dampness.
  • Millet and grits – for drying, moving and diuresis of dampness.

Success rates

Using simple natural foods along with knowledge of Chinese medicine facilitates relief from acne safely and without dangerous side effects. The nutritional treatment allows the patient to take responsibility over his/her own health, while building his/her self-esteem and ceasing the dependency on drugs. As opposed to drug treatment, nutrition as a tool for holistic treatment may positively affect other life aspects, which increases its value.


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