Chinese medical practitioners absolutely believe the state of your health is literally written all over your face. If you have ever sought the help of a Chinese herbal practitioner, the first thing he or she will do is look at your skin and ask you to stick your tongue out. According to Chinese medicine, each area of your face reveals the health of a major internal organ. Our internal organs are believed to be linked by meridians or energy channels. Reflexology is similar in its belief and identifies internal organs with certain areas of the soles of the feet. Alternative medicine therapies suggest that the face reflects the body's energy balance. Disharmony may show up as spots, discolorations, puffiness, dryness or lines, indicating blocked energy pathways.
Western medicine doctrine questions this theory; however science continues to establish many correlations between the health of our skin and our overall state of well-being. Many more western doctors now embrace the concept of nutrition in helping to prevent and slow down the progression of many signs of aging. Psychological well-being is playing a bigger role in diagnosis and management of skin concerns such as psoriasis and eczema.
Certain diseases have confirmed skin associated tell-tale signs. Lupus, an auto-immune disease, may first present on the skin with a butterfly-like rash that goes over the nose and cheeks. A rash that appears around the nipples may indicate early breast cancer. It is generally accepted that poor nutrition shows up in the nails and hair of individuals who lack protein and certain vitamins and minerals.
While most skin concerns are probably just what they appear, below are examples of possible skin concerns that just might indicate a medical concern:
Symptom: Puffiness around the eyes
It Could Mean: Possible kidney imbalance
The kidneys filter waste from the blood and regulate fluid balance. Salt and caffeine put a strain on these organs, so intake should be reduced. Fresh fruit and vegetables help the body to detoxify. Sleep quotient should be increased and the feet and ankles should be raised slightly. There are pressure points on the soles of the feet that relate to the kidneys and it is said that preventing the feet from becoming cold has a strengthening effect on the kidneys.
Symptom: Velvety, brownish gray patches on the skin
It Could Mean: Diabetes
Called acanthuses nigricans, this kind of discoloration appears in folds and creases around the groin, underarms and neck. It can be an early warning sign of type 2 diabetes; a disease that involves elevated levels of the hormone insulin (for more on diabetes, turn to page 109). Excess insulin circulating in the blood may trigger abnormal growth in skin cells. A dermatologist who suspected this will send you to an internist to check your glucose levels. Diet changes can be very helpful in controlling this disease.
Symptom: Very deep and numerous wrinkles
It Could Mean: Menopause
There appears to be a correlation in postmenopausal women with deep wrinkles and a tendency to have lower bone density in their hips and spine. The collagen in your skin is the same as that in your skeleton, which is why this correlation might exist. Bone density tests should be standard for all women past 50. If you have osteoporosis, exercise, calcium and vitamin D can all be helpful. There are also several prescription medications on the market to slow down the loss of bone.
Symptom: Beau's lines/indentations that run across the nail width
It Could Mean: Illness
They can appear when growth under the nail cuticle is interrupted by severe illness, such as uncontrolled diabetes, high fevers or peripheral vascular disease. Beau's lines typically grow out when the underlying cause is treated.
Symptom: Dull, dry skin and cracked lips
If Could Mean: Deficiency in essential fatty acids (EFAs)
Omega-3 essential fatty acids are known to reduce inflammation in the body, which helps strengthen your skin's immunity to environmental damage. They also support brain and heart health, in addition to easing symptoms of arthritis. Omega-3 helps reduce eczema as well as helping the skin to retain moisture. The best way to get omega-3 is through eating fatty fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel two to three times a week. Flaxseed, walnuts and soybeans are also rich in essential fatty acids.
Symptom: Intense itchy skin
It Could Mean: Hodgkin's lymphoma
Severe, intense itching might be an early warning sign of Hodgkin's lymphoma. This would not be a normal itch and would not ease with the use of cortisone creams. When caught early, this disease can be successfully treated.
Symptom: Dark red spot that is raised
It Could Mean: Skin cancer
We tend to think of skin cancer only as a dark brown spot that changes in color or size. However, much rarer skin cancer can be a red or white spot that is raised and does not go away or change in size.
Your skin is your body's largest organ. Almost every health concern gets reflected in the skin from the mildest to more serious concerns. As an aesthetician, you can be a source of great insight to your clients. Point out anything unusual or any skin concern that seems to persist and not respond to skin care treatment. Establish yourself as part of the health care team that takes care of your clients. Both you and your clients will be rewarded!
Elaine Linker has 20 plus years of industry experience and is currently the director of corporate communications and education for Christina Skincare USA. As co-founder of DDF, Doctor's Dermatologic Formula, Linker revolutionized education in both the spa and consumer world by de-mystifying the science around skin care by explaining each skin concern in an easy to remember and apply theory. With research and development experience in product and ingredients as well as marketing, sales and training, Linker is a sought after speaker as well as a published writer.