Gorgeous skin is a quality that’s been envied for the ages; blemish free, invisible pores and a smooth complexion free of wrinkles, it’s something many people strive for and something a multi billion dollar industry was built from. I always remind my patients that beauty starts on the inside, and this is true of our spirit and heart as well as the health of our body. The first step to True beauty lies in loving and cherishing our bodies just as they are, and part of this self love can be the act of taking care of our bodies and our skin with nutrition, herbs, mindfulness and skincare routines that nourish us from the inside out. Getting Botox, fillers and cosmetic surgery can be drastic and dramatic treatments that might be great for some people, but not for everyone, especially someone who’s wanting to do things a bit more naturally.
In my acupuncture clinic in San Rafael, CA I see a number of women and men for Cosmetic Acupuncture treatments - it’s an amazing way to address the signs of aging naturally and safely. A cosmetic acupuncture treatment alone may help many patients see the results they desire, and truly works from the inside out, but some may need an extra boost or are more committed to making lasting changes and an herbal prescription and supplement protocol can be implemented. For others, cosmetic facial acupuncture may not be a possibility or even an interest, in which case being able to implement dietary, lifestyle and herbal changes are great steps in a holistic beauty regimen. These 7 herbs and supplements are some of my go-to products for great looking skin from the inside out, they help improve the integrity of the skin and it’s appearance through a variety of factors, perhaps one or two might be right for you!
The Big Picture: Treating the Whole Patient
It’s very tempting to write a prescription for a patient, or self prescribe herbs based on one or two key concerns and qualities that the herb has. Example: I have a concern for wrinkles in my skin and instead of looking at my overall health and multiple organ systems I just go straight for a bottle of Gotu Kola. While Gotu Kola is a fantastic herb, if I’m only sleeping 4 hours a night and am working myself to the bone a job that I hate and stresses me out, my money might be totally wasted on Gotu Kola, and better spent on an adrenal tonic instead. By treating my underlying issues of stress, poor sleep and more stress, I will notice changes in my skin which will be more profound and last longer, than simply ‘spot treating’ the wrinkles.
A good base formula and diet will make the most significant and lasting changes for any ailment, including concerns of aging skin. Once we have the base down, then adding on specifics to address particular concerns will be beneficial. If the digestive system is weak, the patient is sleeping 3 hours a night, not drinking water at all, or incredibly stressed out they will tend to respond minimally, if at all, to specific treatments or herbs that only serve the function of helping the skin. We always have to look at the WHOLE picture. I always recommend finding an Acupuncturist near you to help with this process, this article can get you started, but because we tend to miss things when trying to prescribe herbs for ourselves, a trained herbalist will have extensive knowledge as to how to properly diagnose, prescribe and combine herbs and formulas for the best effect.
Building Blocks of Beauty
If we think of the skin in terms of its basic building blocks - cells, we can see how to address it with vitamins and herbs in a more useful way. Buzz worthy formulations and pretty gummy vitamins aren’t always your best bet, and quality can become a big issue, we have to get down to the root of the issues and address what’s really going on for each individual with quality supplements. On a cellular level, we’re looking at prolonging cell life and integrity, i.e. what is going to keep cells healthy, hydrated and functioning at their peak performance? Substances that improve wound healing will also help improve skin appearance through accessing the fibroblast cells in the tissue, these cells are responsible for creating hyaluronic acid, collagen and elastin: all prevalent in healthy, youthful looking skin. We want strong, healthy cells and tissue, so how can we address this through vitamins, herbs and supplements?
Antioxidants play an important role in skin health, from a chemistry point of view, oxidation is the breakdown of a cell or material when electrons are lost. In the cell, fatty acids are broken down in the mitochondria, on metals this produces rust, in the body it accelerates cellular death by damaging cells, proteins and DNA. Telomeres are another important facet of aging, telomeres are components of DNA that are essentially ‘end caps’ to the DNA strands, when they shorten and eventually dissolve or break down, the DNA unravels, just like the end cap on a shoelace. Preserving telomeres means lengthening the life of cells, and things that break down telomeres is aging, stress, smoking and poor diets, so taking care of our bodies in the best way possible is a very important component to aging, anti-aging and helping our skin look its very best. Another approach to anti-aging is to stimulate fibroblasts in the tissue which results in increased collagen and elastin production although this is usually done via topical treatment. We can also address aging with traditional ‘wound healing’ herbs and supplements, because the same properties and processes that occur to heal a wound will also improve the quality of skin in healthy tissue.
#1 - Liu Jun Zi Tang: Bounce Back from Overwork
Also known as the Six Gentleman Formula, this traditional Chinese herbal formula is a cornerstone of any Chinese herbal pharmacy as it’s meant to treat something prevalent in today’s society - fatigue and overwork. It’s a formula to tonify the qi - our vitaly life force and energy, specifically this formula works on the Spleen and Stomach Qi so it can also help with digestive issues like colitis or chronic loose stool, it’s also an adaptogenic formula - another way of saying it boosts the Qi. In my practice this formula is a go to for anyone who’s overworked and overstressed, and as we know - these two things can play a serious number on the appearance of our skin! Liu Jun Zi Tang is made of Ginseng, Pinellia, Poria, Atractylodes, Red Date, Codonopsis, Licorice Root Honey Fried and Citrus Peel. If you’re suffering from fatigue, overwork, are a student or new parent, this is a great formula to help gain back some energy and vitality, improve digestion and as a very pleasant side effect - bring some natural glow back to the face and eyes!
#2 - Gotu Kola: The Ultimate Anti-Aging Herb
One of my personal favorites in my clinic pharmacy for my Cosmetic Acupuncture patients is Gotu Kola, coming from the parsley family this herb has a variety of uses but, of course one of my personal favorites is its effect on wound and tissue healing. As I mentioned above - if it heals a wound and we don’t have a wound - the effect will be more of an anti-aging effect instead! Gotu Kola helps promote healing after surgery or trauma, healing of body tissues like the skin, connective tissue and ligaments, has healing properties for the vascular system like varicose ulcers, heal burns (topically and internally) and other issues with the skin. Gotu Kola is a first line offense for skin health and anti-aging, if you can find a great product to use topically I highly suggest that in conjunction with an internal dose.
#3 - Vitamin E: Protect and Heal
Vitamin E is commonly found in many skincare products, but we can take it internally as well to help nourish our tissues from the inside out. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant which may reduce UV damage and protect skin from the damage done by free radicals. Remember - an anti-oxidant is usually going to be more protective than anything else. My favorite form of Vitamin E is actually in Wheat Germ Oil, it’s one of the more unadulterated versions of the antioxidant and taken internally can also help with degenerative muscular disorders, fertility, is a sex hormone precursor and helps with dry skin and scalp especially. Vitamin E is also great to apply to scars, you can start applying to scar tissue as soon as the wound has thoroughly closed, it may help reduce the appearance of that scar overtime, internally Vitamin E will help soften internal scars, something we don’t often think about but certainly exists!
#4 - Vitamin K: Hope for Rosacea and Dark Under Eye Circles
If broken blood vessels and rosacea are a problem for you then Vitamin K may be the answer. Vitamin K plays an important role in how our blood clots, as such it can be especially useful for people who experience broken capillaries like with Rosacea or spider veins and even stretch marks. Vitamin K helps to heal wounds, so if the skin isn't wounded, it's going to play a little bit of an anti-aging role because it's helping to prolong cellular life and integrity. Vitamin K isn’t a common or popular supplement, but getting it through our diet is actually pretty simple - up the intake of dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, mustard greens, collard greens and brussels sprouts, these have well over the daily value in a single serving.
*Vitamin K is not a good option for patients on blood thinning medications like Coumadin or Warfarin.
#5 - Turmeric: Combatting Inflammation & Irritation
What doesn’t Turmeric do? It’s popularity as a supplement has skyrocketed due to its incredible anti-inflammatory properties and ability to reduce pain due to inflammatory conditions. So what’s in it for your skin? A lot actually. Those anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant qualities of Turmeric give you that healthy glow, but it’s also a go-to herb for anyone with irritated skin and acne. It can take down redness from blemishes and improve skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. The overall boost in the immune system function will of course, help with those systemic skin conditions but it also helps improve immunity giving you more vitality, energy and spending less time being sick - and let’s face it, being sick does not do wonders for the skin.
#6 - GABA: Anti-Aging for the Body & Brain
GABA, short for gamma amino-butyric acid is a neurotransmitter that blocks nerve impulses in the brain. Low levels of GABA in the system are linked to anxiety, depression, chronic pain and epilepsy, and supplementing with GABA can have a very calming and relaxing effect, and boost the mood. GABA is a personal favorite for low level anxiety, since I don’t find it produces a groggy effect and is incredibly powerful but mild. Other uses for GABA include help with sleep and insomnia, PMS tension relief, muscle pain relief, burning fat, increasing exercise tolerance and as more research comes out we’re even finding that it actually stimulates the anti-aging protein Klotho. Klotho? Sounds like something from an alien spaceship, right? Well, it’s a protein enzyme, mostly related to the Kidneys and linked with a role in Diabetes but as it’s saturation levels decline in the body we’re seeing that it’s related to aging of the body and the brain, other studies have shown it’s helped improve the visual cortexes of older monkeys, helping them to act more like younger monkeys while performing tasks. While it’s not directly related to the skin and the appearance of aging, anxiety, pain and depression are all conditions that play a role in our appearance, coupled with full body anti-aging qualities by stimulating Klotho, it’s a staple in my cabinet.
#7 - Adaptogenic Herbs - Extra Help in a Stressed Out World
I’ve mentioned some herbs and formulas that fall into the adaptogen category, but it’s worth it to mention again since there are many varieties and because they are so great at doing what they do: build qi! Ginseng, Rehmania, Ashwagandha, Reishi, Gotu Kola, Schissandra, Holy Basil, Licorice, Rhodiola, Astragalus (and many more) are some common adaptogenic herbs. These herbs help build Qi - our energy and vital life force, when it's depleted we are fatigued, don't have much bandwidth, experience digestive issues and are more easily affected by stress or have trouble sleeping. A classic ‘qi deficient’ person is a graduate student, tech startup workers, or a new parent - they have a lot going on and are using up their energy to make things work, but are becoming depleted in the process, it’s incredibly important to help buffer this decline in vital qi and herbs are a good choice when big lifestyle changes aren’t exactly on the table. As for the skin, if we’re Qi deficient our skin lacks vitality and vibrance, we get dark circles or puffiness and overall just look tired, so treating the inside to treat the outside is an essential component to herbal anti-aging. Taking adaptogenic herbs or a specific formula for your underlying health issues and constitution can be the best skin health and beauty formula you might find. Because when we treat the inside, we treat the outside.
Holistic Anti Aging with Acupuncture
My acupuncture practice here in San Rafael, CA Marin County focuses on holistic treatments to help align the whole body. I believe that beauty, self confidence and self esteem are not just frivolous desires, but essential components to our holistic healing. When we feel better we look better, and when we look better we feel better, feeling good about ourselves mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually are all essential qualities of integrative health. Of course, one of my specialties in my practice is Cosmetic Facial Acupuncture - a treatment directed at addressing the physical signs of aging on the face and neck, but this treatment would fall incredibly short if that were the only facet of the treatment. Cosmetic Facial Acupuncture is a truly holistic and complete natural anti aging treatment - including full body acupuncture to address underlying conditions and constitution, facial acupuncture, phototherapy, micro current, facial cupping, facial gua sha and lifestyle, diet and herbal prescriptions to help my patients truly step in to their most radiant sate of being.
Dr. Kim Peirano, DACM, LAc is the Owner and Acupuncturist at Lion's Heart Wellness, the San Francisco Bay Area and Marin's #1 Cosmetic Acupuncturist and #1 Holistic Healer.