Chinese Face Reading: An Ancient Guide to Your Skin
Face reading is an ancient Chinese technique that goes back thousands of years. Originally a Taoist practice that involved assessing a person’s Qi flow (life force), Jing (inherited constitution/DNA) and Shen (spirit), known as the Three Treasures. Along with palpation, pulse, tongue and smell ancient practitioners were able to ascertain the state of the 3 treasures in their patients. Face reading isn’t unique only to Chinese medicine, it’s also been documented by Greeks and in Ayurveda among others. It was often handed down through generations and I would say, held some superstition amongst families. In her book, Face Reading in Chinese Medicine, Lillian Bridges tells a story of bringing her husband home to meet her family and her grandfather picking that he had had a near death experience at the age of 24 by the lines in his forehead. According to the story her grandfather was correct!
In my practice I use face reading along with palpation, tongue and pulse to help determine a Chinese medicine diagnosis for my patients. I can’t tell you your future, or even your past but, something like acne only on the jawline, or redness of the cheeks will help me to narrow down the best way forwards in terms of treatment. Below are a few areas I observe in clinic daily. Keep in mind, face-maps vary. I’ve seen quite a lot of variation amongst TCM practitioners even, but this is a combination of what I’ve learned from my mentors over the years.
Fine lines and wrinkles
Like lines on a palm to a palm reader, some experienced practitioners can tell you about your life from the lines on your face. Deep furrows between the eyebrows may suggest long-term frustration or anger, lines across the forehead are said to indicate worry and marionette lines (the lines on either side of the nose/mouth) have been said to be a sign of intelligence. Some practitioners to this day find the landscape of a person’s skin to be like rings of a tree stump, each line capturing the essence of the time in that person’s life. It’s fascinating how deep you can go with it!
I find using face-reading for people with acne to be incredibly helpful in determining the root cause of it. For example, acne on the forehead may indicate issues with the gut. If a patient has only a congested forehead and nothing else, I’d be looking closely into their diet and my treatment would incorporate strengthening their digestive system. I always look at gut health with acne no matter where it’s located, but sometimes I must look even deeper by ordering a complex stool analysis. You’d be surprised what can be lingering in cases where acne just won’t budge!
Hormonal acne is a big one at MCM. I see many women who seek treatment for painful, sometimes cystic acne along their jawline. Acne in this area is commonly associated with hormonal imbalances and some of these women report irregularities in their cycle, recently ceasing the birth control pill, having the Mirena IUD, or having PCOS.
Acne can happen just about anywhere and the location of it helps me to narrow down the best treatment plan. These are just a couple common areas I see in clinic regularly.
From a Chinese medicine perspective, redness is seen as heat, or inflammation as it’s more commonly understood. Using face-reading the location of the redness helps to determine where it’s coming from. For example, redness between the brow can often indicate anger or long-term frustration, as this is the area of the liver. It can also indicate heat in the liver which not only has an emotional component, but also a more obvious one like a history of regular alcohol consumption. This redness may be temporary or stay all the time depending on the severity.
I see a lot of rosacea in clinic which typically resides in the cheeks, forehead and chin. The cheeks in Chinese medicine overlap with a few organs. There could be issues with the lung, stomach or heart, so I narrow it down with some questions. Do your cheeks only get red on exertion? Do you sweat easily on exertion? Do you have asthma? (Lung) Do you get extreme hunger? Do your cheeks become red when you eat certain foods? Do you crave cold drinks? (Stomach) Do you flush when you become embarrassed? Do you get heart palpitations? Do you have insomnia? (Heart) There are many more questions I go through, these are just a few that help to narrow down which meridians to work with.
Areas of the face that are prone to puffiness are typically under the eyes and the neck/jawline area. Puffiness and swelling are typically associated with the spleen and kidneys in Chinese medicine. These organs are both mainly responsible for the distribution and excretion of fluids, so if either of them isn’t happy puffiness may prevail. In some cases, the whole face can become puffy from impaired lung function. I would use specific questions, plus pulse and tongue to determine which meridians need some attention. Diet, lifestyle, stress and constitution all play a part in being prone to puffiness.
The neck/jawline can also be recognized as slow lymph drainage or a sluggish thyroid gland. Along with the appropriate plan, my patients can also work on reducing puffiness in these areas at home using their gua sha tools. If you’ve had a session with me, you’ll know how jazzed I am about the ancient Chinese technique using a heart shaped jade tool to gently scrape the face to increase collagen production, and in this case stimulate the lymphatic system. Using a downward motion from the jawline to the top of the collar bone, you can literally move fluid from your face and stimulate the lymph system to deal with it. The same can be done to reduce puffiness under the eyes. Along with regular acupuncture sessions, my patients often see fast results in the reduction of their puffiness.
You can go deep into face-reading and find some information that sounds as if a fortune teller is reading your palm, but If you approach it with an open mind you’d be surprised what you might notice in the people you meet. It takes practice, but you can start by simply observing someone’s facial colour. Pale, red, yellow tinge, dark under the eyes, green hue toward the temple. These are all things Chinese medicine practitioners are taught to interpret. If it all gets too complicated, I just go back to assessing the state of their spirit, or “shen” because that’s at the core of what lights up in a person’s eyes and entirety of their facial expressions. If a person is healthy and their spirit is strong, they’re connecting with the world around them, their skin is glowing, and their eyes are bright. I think we can all agree, when we’re feeling our best it shows.