The skin is considered the largest organ in the body. It doesn’t seem like an organ in the conventional sense, but it functions like one. It is comprised of a few layers that contain hair, skin cells, sweat and sebaceous glands, collagen, blood vessels, nerves and fat. It protects our insides, cools, warms and insulates, and provides important sensory information to the rest of the body. The sweat excreted from the skin helps rid the body of waste as well.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the skin and body hair are also thought to have this same function of protection. They are considered to be under the governance of the lungs, which “rule the exterior of the body.” The lungs distribute water to the pores and work with the skin’s surface to block external pathogens from invading. If a person sweats excessively, or not adequately enough, it might be a reflection of the status of their lung qi. If lung qi is strong, a person will have healthy, clear, moist skin. (The skin can reveal many other things about a person’s health, including liver disease.) The head hair, on the other hand, is a manifestation of kidney essence and relies on blood for nourishment. If the hair is dull and brittle, it might be a sign of a blood deficiency, or low kidney energy.
In TCM, if the skin and hair (along with other symptoms) indicate an imbalance of the lungs or kidneys, or perhaps the blood, acupuncture points and herbal formulas can be used to rectify the disharmony. Over time, as symptoms change and as the appearance of skin and hair transform, the practitioner can assess whether the imbalance has corrected or if it needs further intervention. The skin may reveal how hydrated the body is and whether the body is efficiently getting rid of waste or harboring inflammation, which may be the result of poor diet or insufficient water intake.
Especially during summertime, both the skin and hair take a lot of abuse. The skin is exposed to more intense sunlight, especially since a larger area of skin is exposed due to less clothing coverage. Sunscreen, while it does prevent the absorption/conversion to vitamin D, is imperative for protecting the skin from damage. Insect bites, athlete’s foot (and other fungal infections) and eczema can also proliferate due to sweat and dampness inside shoes and under clothing. It’s important to keep skin clean, protected from UV rays, and adequately moisturized because preventing sunburn, eczema and fungus is much easier and less painful than curing it. Hair may become dry and brittle if affected by elements like chlorine from swimming pools, or even salt water. The skin absorbs a lot of what it comes in contact with- so be sure to check what products and ingredients you use on your body. Coconut oil can be helpful for both damaged skin and hair to retain moisture and sheen. Burt’s Bees and Desert Essence both make good roll-on products for insect bites containing essential oils, no chemicals.