Acupuncture for Acne

Acne is a very common skin complaint which usually appears in early puberty.

In most people it disappears in the early twenties, but in some cases can last a lot longer, and can be triggered by environmental factors such as pollution or climatic factors. In women it can also be set off by hormonal changes in pregnancy or at certain stages of the menstrual cycle.

Acne usually appears first as small and tender red spots that then turn into pimples. These disappear within a few days or weeks, but in severe cases may leave scarring. Facial acne especially can be detrimental to social confidence and thus may be very distressing.  Conventional treatment usually relies on topical pharmaceutical applications, but in severe cases oral medication may be prescribed, some of which may have rather unwelcome side effects.

Acne and TCM

The Chinese have been using herbal medicine and acupuncture to treat acne for thousands of years. Treatment begins with a careful examination of the affected parts of the body and a detailed consultation in which we discuss not only your acne, but other aspects of your health as well. This is because our treatment is holistic and what is happening on the surface of the body in some way often reflects various imbalances deeper within.

From this point of view, acne usually arises because of an excess of heat somewhere in the system.  In Chinese Medicine, and in traditional Chinese thought in general,  harmony is achieved through a dynamic balance of  Yin and Yang, which represent the basic duality inherent in all life.

In nature Yang is fire and Yin water, Yang is daytime and Yin night, Yang is the sky and Yin is the earth. Yang is active, light, warm and rising, Yin is receptive, dark, cool and sinking. When the body is growing rapidly and maturing during adolescence there is a natural upsurge of Yang which manifests as  heat (Yang is also predominant during certain phases of the menstrual cycle). This heat may be located in one of the organ systems of the body, for instance in the digestive system where it may  also lead to excessive hunger and bad breath, among other symptoms.

Another factor may be ‘Phlegm-Damp’, or body fluids which are not metabolised properly and which can lead to pimples which feel soft under pressure and may exude pus.  A weak digestive system and/or poor dietary choices (not unknown in adolescence) may be behind Phlegm-Damp here.  Treatment therefore in most cases aims to moderate the effect of the Yang heat and if necessary resolve Phlegm-Damp, using acupuncture and dietary therapy.

Does it Work?

The World Health Organization 1 lists acne as a condition for which the therapeutic effect of acupuncture has been shown.  For example, a 1997 Chinese trial of acupuncture treatment for 68 cases of common acne 2 achieved  total cure in 28% of cases and a markedly effective improvement in a further 32%; a further 30% showed significant improvement. A more recent study 3 using acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine to treat female delayed and persistent acne found similarly encouraging results, especially when acupuncture and herbal medicine are used in tandem.


1 WHO (2002): Review and Analysis of Reports of Controlled Clinical Trials Ni ZY (1997)

2 Acupuncture Treatment for 68 Cases of Common Acne International Journal of Acupuncture. 1997 2(1): 36-8
3 Lan D. et al (2004) Clinical and experimental studies on combination of acupuncture with medicine for treatment
of female delayed and persistent acne of different TCM  syndrome-types  Chinese Acupuncture 06


The Sean Barkes Clinic does not claim to cure any conventional medical disease states. Traditional Chinese Medicine seeks to re-establish and maintain the harmonious function of the human body-mind using tried and tested principles that have been discovered and matured over millennia. A Western medical diagnosis provides very little by way of insight in informing a Chinese Medical diagnosis. Patients usually recognise their own condition in terms of the medical disease category that they have been given by their GP or other conventional medical practitioner. The research presented here is merely an indication of the potential to draw parallels between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Modern Western Medicine.

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