By Kate Downes, LAc TCM Practitioner
Did you know your skin is a storyteller?
It’s true – your skin can reveal insights about your health, from how energized or hydrated you are to how your internal organ systems are functioning.
For instance, some of the most common skin issues we face are acne and breakouts. But since we know our skin is a storyteller, we can look at these symptoms as important messages from within.
The acne-constipation link is a great example; when we’re blocked up down below, it can cause eruptions on our skin. While you might be frustrated by both your breakouts and your sluggish bowels, understanding this connection is the first step to making healthy habit changes that heal and balance both.
Bowel Movements: What is Normal?
Your daily – or weekly – bowel movement is likely not dinner conversation. But, it does deserve some attention. Like the quality of our skin, our bowel movements give us clues to how well our bodies are functioning and can be the first sign of issues or imbalances.
So, what makes a bowel movement “normal?”
For most people, having a bowel movement anywhere from three times a day to three times a week is considered normal. How often you have a bowel movement can vary, but the more important thing is that whatever your frequency, it’s consistent for you.
The appearance of your stool sheds light on the state of your digestive health. Ideally, it should be well-formed, neither too hard nor too loose. The Bristol Stool Chart is a helpful tool to help you determine how “healthy” your stool is.
Variations in color are normal, as it will change with the types of food you eat. But, in general, stool should be medium to dark brown. Consistently pale, green, or clay-colored stools can signal digestive trouble.
A smooth, effortless bowel movement is a good sign. If you find yourself straining or experiencing discomfort, it may mean you are dealing with constipation or other digestive concerns.
If your stool checks all these boxes, your digestive system is likely in good order and your acne and breakouts may have a different root cause. But, if you have infrequent, hard, or difficult-to-pass stools, constipation could be the underlying culprit causing your skin woes.
The Acne-Constipation Link
From a biomedical perspective, acne and constipation stem from a disruption in the gut microbiome. Constipation causes waste products from our food to linger in our intestines longer than normal. This leads to a buildup of toxins being released into the body, which triggers an inflammatory response.
If the bowels aren’t moving, the body will find another way to balance itself: by releasing built-up heat and toxins through the skin. The result? Irritating acne, eczema, rosacea, or other skin conditions.
Traditional Chinese Medicine also sees this link but describes it in a slightly different way. In TCM, the main organ related to constipation is, understandably, the Large Intestine! But, what makes TCM unique is the interconnectedness of all the different organ systems. The Large Intestine’s main paired organs are the Lung and Stomach.
Lung: Relates to the skin, breathing, and elimination. A blockage in the Large Intestine can easily “block up” the Lung – and the skin.
- Stomach: Relates to digestion, inflammatory processes, and intake of food. Excess heat and inflammation easily attack this system and can lead to angry acne and irritable bowels.
What Type Are You? Constipation and Acne Patterns of Imbalance in TCM
In TCM, constipation can be due to a number of different factors. Inflammation (excess heat) and toxin build-up is one potential cause, but so is blood deficiency, qi (energy) deficiency, yin (fluid) deficiency, and qi (energy) stagnation. Other body clues – including the nature of your breakouts – can help you figure out what the true underlying cause of your acne and constipation is:
Excess Heat (Inflammation)
Constipation due to inflammation can be hard, dry, and sometimes painful. It often has a strong odor or burning sensation. On the skin, excess heat manifests with angry-looking red pustules and papules.
When we lack enough nourishing blood (such as with anemia or fatigue), our intestinal lining doesn’t get the nourishment it needs to transform food products into waste effectively. This slows down the elimination process and leads to very dry, pebble-like stools. If blood deficiency is your root pattern of imbalance, you may also have pale, dull skin. Your breakouts tend to be small and pink, with dry patches.
Yin represents the cooling, hydrating aspects of the body (including blood, as well as body fluids). Yin deficiency is a more severe form of blood deficiency and causes severe dryness in the intestines. This leads to dry, hard, difficult-to-pass stools. Your skin will also lack moisture, and you may suffer from itching, dry skin, flaking, and premature aging in addition to breakouts.
Qi is the vital force that keeps us alive. Where blood and yin fluids are nourishment, qi is activity. We need qi to perform all our daily body functions, including transforming food into energy and waste products. Without enough qi, functions like peristalsis slow to a halt and it takes much longer to produce a bowel movement. It can also be difficult or tiring to pass. Skin issues due to qi deficiency show up as dull, tired-looking skin and occasional inflammation.
In qi deficiency types of constipation, there isn’t enough qi to move the bowels. In qi stagnation constipation, there is enough qi, but it is blocked. This causes backed-up bowels and a feeling of frustration, friction, and irritation. Acne due to stagnation often looks red and inflamed and can be painful to the touch. This type of acne also tends to fluctuate with hormones or stress.
Read Your Face
Face mapping is another easy way to pinpoint where your acne is coming from. If constipation is a direct link to your skin issues, you will likely see breakouts around the Large Intestine region of the face, which is near the nostrils and around the mouth.
However, constipation can also be linked to dryness or inflammation of the Large Intestine’s paired organs: the Lung and Stomach.
Acne due to an imbalance in the Large Intestine and Lung can show up on sides of the face near the jaw. With a Stomach-Large Intestine imbalance, breakouts may appear on the cheeks.
Self-Care Tips for Healthy Elimination and Clearer Skin
Use a gua sha tool to stimulate body areas for constipation relief and skin health. The small rounded area is great for massaging specific points (such as Large Intestine 4, Stomach 36, and Stomach 25), while the broad edge is great for gently “dredging” channels, such as the Large Intestine, Lung, and Stomach Channels.
A simple daily self-care abdominal massage can help you stay regular, clear your skin, and improve your overall well-being.
Practice this daily (ideally in the mornings) to stimulate qi flow and “massage” your digestive organs. Even better, apply warmth (with a heating pad or warm compress) before and after, along with a few drops of a digestion-boosting essential oil, like our Midnight Melody Perfume Oil. This relaxing blend contains Sweet Orange, Ylang-Ylang, and Petitgrain – all of which help support relaxation and flow.
Balancing Skin Care
Eating well, exercising, and practicing stress-relieving self-care are all great ways to support healthy digestion and restore balance. But, you still need to take care of your skin directly, too, if you want to clear acne and irritations.
The best approach to skin care is a customized approach. Take our skin care quiz to determine your unique element and the Once in a Pink Moon element collection that will best support your skin.
Our bodies are highly complex, intelligent, interconnected beings. No single symptom or issue exists alone!
As you can see, there are significant links between issues like constipation and acne, bloating and breakouts, and other seemingly unrelated symptoms. When we pay attention to these signs and take a holistic approach, we can truly give our bodies what they need to thrive.