Are you frustrated with eczema? You’re not alone. It’s estimated that eczema affects 35 million Americans: 1-3% of adults, and 10-20% of children. Most infants who develop the condition outgrow it by their tenth birthday, but some will continue to have symptoms on and off throughout life.
Eczema is an umbrella term used to a group skin conditions that cause red, inflamed and itchy skin. It is non contagious and usually relapse over the years. There are about 8 types of eczema and I’ll focus more on Atopic Dermatitis (AD), also known Shi Zhen (湿疹 = “damp rash”) in TCM.
❔ Main underlying cause
In western medicine, the cause is unknown, but it is believed that genetic factors, stress (eczema cause stress and stress causes eczema so I think it goes both ways), family history and allergic inflammatory conditions. Eczema is caused by overproduction of the IgE bad guys (Immunoglobulin E, a type of antibody that’s in all of us) which causes too much histamine to be produced and cause the body to go into a hypersensitive state.
Whereas in TCM, it is due to deficiency of the Lung and Kidney defense “Wei” Qi system. Notice how I put “Lung” instead of plural “Lungs”? That’s because TCM views organs as a system and not as a single organ.
- Lung control breathing and control the skin and pores.
- Kidney nourish and moisten the skin.
- Kidney-essence is closely related to the Corporeal Soul “Po” of the Lung which manifests on the skin and is responsible for the pain and itching sensation of the skin. If you are born with less Kidney-essence, the chances of having eczema or asthma will be higher.
- The 2 main extraordinary meridians – Chong and Ren nourish the skin all over the body. These 2 meridians arises from the Kidney and spread its essence to the skin.
📝 A little note of Chong and Ren Meridians
Chong- Also called the “Penetrating vessel” that works like a Sea of Blood and Sea of all Qi in the 12 regular meridians. Think of it as the irrigation and nourishing cord. The master point is Spleen 4 (Gong Sun), and is significant in gynecological disorders, digestive issues, prolapses, and issues with the heart (mental).
if the blood (of the penetrating vessel) is abundant, the skin is moist.
– The Spiritual Axis Chapter 65
Ren – Also called the “Conception vessel” that is responsible for the process of birth – of a child or source of creative juices or eureka moment. It transports Qi in all the Yin meridians. The master point is on the Lung 7 (Lie Que). Since its on the Lung meridian, it is associated with skin and respiratory syndromes as well.
🔢 TCM eczema types
There are 2 main types, Acute and Chronic (more than 6 months). Acute types are due to Wind Heat and Damp Heat ; Chronic type is due to Blood deficiency. As the Chinese name Shi Zhen (湿疹 = “damp rash”) suggests, remember there is always Dampness even in the dry (Wind Heat) type. Let’s see how each type is like.
- Red, itchy skin
- Itchiness spread all over the body or it moves from place to place.
- Wind is the cause of the itch but it’s confined to one place, then the culprit is not Wind.
- Usually will be accompanied by itchy throat or itchy nose.
- Moist, oozing fluid
- Red and itchy skin (itchiness can be more intense than the above type)
- Itchiness is confined to specific areas, often the forearm and lower leg.
Blood deficiency (chronic)
- Dry, flaky, desquamation skin (like fish scales, wrinkled tissue)
- May occur without any skin lesions ( abnormal lump, bump, ulcer, sore or colored area on the skin)
- Itchiness is generalised
👋 Don’t scratch!
I know how tempting it can be to scratch that itch! Although it will offer you a temporary “ahhh~~~ so shiok” feeling but scratching or rubbing it can make it worse. The compulsive nature of scratching is controlled by the brain area that controls decision making and reward. To break this Itch – Scratch – Itch cycle, you can learn and train your brain not to scratch. Stopping itchiness is THE No. 1 most important treatment of eczema. Although this illness causes itching, itching can cause more itchiness and the scratching can cause bacteria to enter and aggravate the skin infections.
But it’s itchy!! How?
Don’t scratch with your nails (or any other things). Tap the area gently with your palm and let the itch dissipate. This will prevent any breaking of the skin barrier.
Itchiness is like annoying itsy-bitsy spider that keeps coming out, especially when the sun is out. To fight it, you need to chill by making a cold compress. Wet a washcloth with ice water or grab an ice pack or a bag of frozen peas, or just pop an ice cube or two into a small plastic bag. Cold will constrict the blood vessels and reduce inflammation.
Magic Mirror Scratching
Ok, this is not magic but it’s like optical illusion. Similar to treating phantom pain using a mirror. This works if the itch is one sided. So, lets say your right arm itches, look at the mirror and focus on your reflection’s right arm, which is actually your left arm. Watch and scratch and this is send a message to your brain that the itch is being taken care of.
Applying herbs is very good for chronic eczema. Herbs are boiled like how you would in a normal oral decoction but with a lot more water and then strained. You can bathe in it in a shallow bath. These are the common herbs used to clear heat.
Da Huang, Huang Qin, Huang Bo, Ku Shen, Ju Hua, Zi Hua Di Ding.
If you want a refreshing feel, you may wish to try organic green tea plus a little drop of peppermint oil for the wash. A little cooling effect can calm the itch but too much can cause irritation.
Here are some of the commonly used oral medication for eczema. Please consult your physician before taking any herbs.
📍 Acupuncture points to stop itching
Bai Chong Wo
It is an extra point located 1 cun above SP10 (Xue Hai). The name means “100 insects nest”, suggesting that this acupoint can clear an itch that feels like 100 insects crawling under the skin.
Zhi Yang Xue
It is also an extra point located 2 cun above LU 11 (Qu Chi).
LU 11 (Qu Chi) as a standard antipruritic point. It does so by clearing heat which is a Yang pathogen. A study show that LI 11 reduced cutaneous hyperplasia and serum IgE levels and was able to reduce mRNA expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines and proteins.
Targeting HT 7 (Shen Men) and HT 8 (Shao Fu) help to ease the itch.
Acupoints used to clear Wind-Heat or Damp Heat
The Spleen hates damp and likes to stay dry. By stimulating the Spleen acupoints such as SP 6 & 9, it can help can to get rid of the root cause of itchiness. GB 31 on the Gall Bladder meridian is called “Feng Shi” which means “Wind Market” and it’s the universal point for getting rid of all sorts of wind in the body and is often used for skin diseases including herpes zoster and urticaria too.
During eczema treatment, sometimes the skin lesions may worsen before getting better. That’s because all the dampness and toxins are coming out and your skin shedding and renewing. Be diligent with all medication for at least 2 weeks and believe that your skin will heal. Hope this helped you to understand more about eczema from a TCM perspective.
I’ll be posting more practical lifestyle tips for eczema next, so stay tuned! Thanks for reading 💚