Essential Takeaway: 

  • There are many reasons why period acne can flare up, like getting off birth control, stress, hormonal imbalance, lifestyle changes, and hygiene practices. 
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) views the cause of acne as different root patterns of imbalance, some of the most common being heat, phlegm-dampness, and stagnation or stasis. 
  • Elix's Cycle Balance contains herbs that support the patterns of imbalance contributing to acne formation to help your body at the root. 

Adult acne…words your teenage self never thought would go together, but alas the joys of period acne strike again! Maybe you’re breaking out after stopping birth control, going through a stressful time, your hormones are shifting, or your lifestyle is a bit more imbalanced than usual. Whatever the reason for your hormones going haywire and contributing to an increase in period acne you may be asking yourself - “how can I prevent acne before my period naturally?”  Enter the wisdom of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). 

Below we’ll get into how TCM views the causes of acne, how the herbs in Cycle Balance can help support acne, TCM based tips for getting rid of and preventing period acne, and what clues TCM face mapping can tell you about your root patterns of imbalance that might be contributing to acne.

How TCM Views Acne

TCM is like learning a whole new language for supporting our bodies from the inside out. One of the unique traits of TCM is pattern diagnosis, the patterns of imbalance that affect the fundamental functioning of our body, the root causes contributing to symptoms like period acne. Below are some of the common patterns of imbalance seen with hormonal acne:

  • Heat: This correlates to the idea of inflammation in western medicine. It manifests as red, inflamed acne. Heat can arise in our body from our external environment (i.e. the weather), consuming too much heat producing products (like alcohol and fried or spicy foods), and as a result of other patterns of imbalance like stagnation. One way heat escapes our body is through the skin with things like rashes and acne. Heat is a primary pattern seen with most acne.
  • Phlegm-Dampness: You can think of phlegm-dampness like a cold type of inflammation, it is an internal build-up of “mucus” that can manifest as acne, masses, cysts, excess weight, and an overall feeling of heaviness. This type of acne manifests as cystic acne, pus filled acne, or deep seated acne that doesn’t come to a head and lasts a long time. It can result from poor digestion, the external environment, and from eating foods that promote its production (Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but that means foods like cheese).
  • Damp-Heat: Oftentimes acne manifests as a combination of the two above patterns to produce a damp-heat type of acne - red, painful, inflamed, pus-filled acne that could be deep or cystic. If there is heat in the Blood as well, this can result in blood in the pus or bleeding acne.
  • Blood-Stasis: When Qi and Blood stop moving freely in the body it stagnates and can progress to stasis, which results in “stuck” Blood that congeals. This can manifest as reddish purple deep painful acne.
  • Liver Qi Stagnation: In TCM the Liver organ system is the general in charge of movement, it keeps our Qi and Blood flowing smoothly in our body, which we need for healthy glowing skin. Since everything is connected in TCM, when the Liver organ systems function is impaired it can lead to the formation or contribute to the patterns of imbalance above. It is a common pattern seen when acne gets worse around ovulation and our menses. Stress contributes to Liver QI Stagnation, which is one reason why stress can cause an increase in acne.

Chinese Medicine for Acne

The goal of TCM herbal blends is to help support these underlying imbalances, so your body functions better and symptoms like acne fade away. Ten people could have the same complaint of acne, but each person will have different patterns of imbalance, so will receive different Cycle Balance blends that are tailored specifically for their type of acne. 

Below are some of the herbs used in Elix’s Cycle Balance, clinically proven to help alleviate 15 common menstrual symptoms, including acne. Read more about the independent clinical trial here.

Herbs that Clear Heat 

  • Mint (Bo He): Mint is antibacterial and antiviral, reduces blood pressure, and induces healthy bile flow. In TCM Mint releases the exterior and disperses heat, thereby clearing the head, brightening the eyes, and benefiting the throat. It also vents rashes and disperses stagnant, clouded Qi.
  • Gardenia Pod (Zhi Zi):  From a western point of view Gardenia Pod has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. TCM uses this herb to balance heat and resolve dampness.
  • Skullcap (Huang Qin): Skullcap has powerful antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, and is great for lowering blood pressure and reducing high levels of fat in the blood. In TCM Skullcap is used to clear heat, dry dampness, and subdue Liver Yang.

Herbs for Phlegm-Dampness 

  • Poria (Fu Ling): Poria is an antibacterial, antidiarrheal, and antioxidant. In Chinese Medicine, Poria dries damp, promotes urination, and strengthens the spleen.
  • Atractylodes (Bai Zhu): Atractylodes has antibacterial, anti-ulcer, diuretic, and metabolic properties. In TCM Atractylodes supplements the Spleen organ system and tonifies Qi, dries dampness, and promotes water metabolism throughout the body.
  • Water Plantain (Ze Xie): Water Plantain works to reduce inflammation and water retention, it also has anti-inflammatory, antitumor, antibacterial, and antiviral properties. In TCM, Water Plantain works to drain Kidney Deficiency Fire and dampness.

Herbs that Move the Blood 

  • Corydalis (Yan Hu Suo): From a western point of view, corydalis improves blood flow by increasing the diameter of blood vessels. According to TCM, Corydalis invigorates blood, promotes the movement of Qi, and alleviates pain of all kinds.
  • Motherwort (Yi Mu Cao): In western medicine Motherwort is a uterine stimulant that reduces blood clotting and allows blood to move more freely throughout the body. In TCM it invigorates the blood and dispels stasis. It also promotes urination, reduces toxic swelling, and regulates heavy or irregular menstruation.
  • Moutan (Mu Dan Pi): From a western viewpoint Moutan is great for preventing blood clots, lowering blood pressure, regulating heart rhythm, and reducing fevers. In TCM it  clears heat, dispels stasis, and cools and invigorates the blood. It also drains pus and reduces swelling.

Herbs That Keep the Liver Qi Happy & Moving

  • Cyperus (Xiang Fu)Cyperus has antioxidant, antibacterial, antidiarrheal, and anti-inflammatory properties. In Chinese Medicine, Cyperus spreads and regulates Liver Qi, which regulates the menstrual cycle and alleviates pain.
  • Bupleurum (Chai Hu) - Bupleurum has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant properties and has shown to reduce stress.   From a TCM point of view it relieves Liver constraint (i.e. gets Qi flowing again).
  • White Peony Root (Bai Shao) - White Peony Root reduces pain, stimulates the immune system, and prevents damage to the liver. Its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties also aid in blood flow. In TCM it nourishes the blood, calms the liver yang, and preserves yin, thereby regulating menses and alleviating pain throughout the body. 

How to Get Rid of (and Prevent) Period Acne

TCM views the body holistically, everything is connected and our lifestyles play a big role in our overall hormonal health. So how we choose to live impacts the formation of acne. Things like our diet, stress levels, and hygiene practices can all contribute to the prevention or formation of acne. Incorporating some of the tips below will help get rid of existing breakouts and prevent new ones from popping up.

Tips to Help Overcome Heat (A Central Imbalance With Period Acne)

  • If your digestion can handle it, increase the amount of cooling foods to help combat heat. Cucumber, celery, and watermelon are a few options 
  • Reduce the consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and fried and spicy foods as these can increase the amount of heat in our body
  • Stay well hydrated! Coconut water (without any added sugar) is like nature’s Gatorade & mint or green tea are also great cooling beverages

Tips to Overcome Phlegm-Dampness 

  • Decrease intake of foods that promote the production of phlegm-dampness, like dairy, added sugars, nut butters, banana, and heavy or greasy foods 
  • Increase the amount of cooked, easy to digest foods and consider keeping your meals simple (i.e. not too much variety of foods within one meal)
  • Avoid an excess amount of raw foods
  • Start your day with a room temperature glass of lemon water
  • Reduce the amount of cold beverage intake, try to drink mostly room temperature and warm beverages

Tips to Keep Our Liver Qi (As Well As Our Blood) Flowing Smoothly

  • Increase intake of fiber, dark leafy greens, and cruciferous vegetables 
  • Express your emotions as pent up emotions can further stagnate the Liver Qi
  • Get daily movement, exercise helps keeps our Liver Qi flowing 
  • Find ways to respond to stress like meditation, breathing, journaling, talking to loved ones, movement, whatever helps you metabolize stress productively as stress can make acne worse

Tips for Hygiene 

  • Wash your pillowcases often (at least once a week)
  • Wipe those germs off your phone with an alcohol pad 
  • As tempting as it might be, keep those fingers off your face
  • Wash your face with a gentle cleanser after exercise or sweating 
  • Reevaluate your facial care routine, keep it simple, using too many products or harsh products can actually contribute to more acne
  • Aloe (Lu Hui) applied topically can help acne due to its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory attributes. It has also been shown to help regenerate

Chinese Medicine Acne Face Map

TCM views the world and our body as a series of relationships, so many parts of our body can be seen as a microcosm of our whole body. Our tongue is a great example of this, by looking at the color, shape, and coating of the tongue we can learn about the state of certain internal organ systems. Our face is another microcosm that can teach us more about the imbalances of our body. 

Each section of our face represents a different TCM organ system. By looking at what area of the face acne appears we can learn more about what organ systems need more support. The Chinese face map below shows us what organ systems correspond to each area of the face. (Note there are many different interpretations of face mapping, below is just one of many.)


Below we will cover a few of the most common areas acne appears and what it can tell us about the state of our internal organ systems. While using face mapping is not a definitive method of diagnosis, it can act as another clue as to what might be at the root of your acne. It’s worth mentioning that while TCM may use the same name for organs as western medicine it views the body through a whole different lens, so the information below does not necessarily mean you have a pathology in said organ from a western point of view.

Forehead: This area corresponds to the TCM Small Intestine organ system, which is in charge of receiving and transforming food and drinks. It separates the clean from the dirty, in other words it sorts our food based on what our body can use (nutrients) and what it needs to excrete. If acne shows up here it could indicate the body is having a hard time absorbing nutrients, possibly due to food intolerances or a damaged gut (think SIBO or leaky gut). 

Between the eyebrows: This area corresponds to the TCM Liver organ system, which is known as the general in charge of the free flow of Qi and Blood. Stress impacts the TCM Liver’s ability to move Qi and Blood, so acne here (and due to its proximity, the forehead in general) could indicate stress as a contributing factor to acne. Elix’s one size fits all formulation Daily Harmony is a great addition to your daily ritual if you experience a lot of daily stressors as it contains adaptogens that help your body respond to stress. 

Cheeks: This area corresponds to the TCM Stomach organ system, known as the “sea of food and drink,” it’s in charge of receiving food and drink and making sure everything stays down. Acne in this area can indicate faulty diet as a major contributor to period pimples. Cutting down on added sugars, refined carbohydrates, and industrial seed oils, as well as increasing vegetable intake (especially dark leafy greens) can help.      

Jawline: This area corresponds to the reproductive system so it’s the commonly known area for hormonal acne to show up. When our hormones are imbalanced excess bacteria can accumulate on the face manifesting as acne on the jawline. Cycle Balance is a great way to help rebalance your hormones. 

Notice how a lot of these TCM organ systems have to do with the quality of our digestion. What we choose to eat and drink, and how our body digests and assimilates what we consume, plays a large part in the formation of acne. So attending to our gut health can play a large part in getting rid of and preventing breakouts. Some general dietary tips to help our digestion include:

  • Cutting down on processed foods because oftentimes they contain added sugars and industrial seeds oils that contribute to inflammation and acne 
  • Focus on increasing fiber through vegetable intake like sweet potatoes, cruciferous vegetables, and dark leafy greens
  • Concentrate on eating cooked, simple to digest foods 
  • Reduce your consumption of cold beverages and an excess of raw foods, as they take more work for your digestive system 
  • If you are going to have a heavy, hard to digest meal consider using Zoey's Digestif, which helps support our digestion

How to Balance Hormones for Acne

Cycle Balance is a great way to support your hormones because it works at the root to help the underlying patterns of imbalance that are contributing to hormonal imbalance and acne. The herbs in Cycle Balance also work to strengthen our digestion and keep our Qi and Blood moving freely, both needed for healthy radiant skin. Take the online health assessment to start your journey to feeling your best from the inside out!

The Treatment of Modern Western Medical Diseases With Chinese Medicine, A Textbook and Clinical Manual by Bob Flaws & Philippe Sionneau 

The Foundations of Chinese Medicine, 2ed by Giovanni Maciocia
This article was reviewed by Dr. Elizabeth Fine.
Dr. Elizabeth Fine, DAOM, LAcDr. Fine is currently the Dean of Clinical Education at Emperor’s College and has been practicing Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine for over 25 years, with a specialization in Women’s Reproductive Health.

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