The eyes may be the window to the soul, but according to traditional Chinese medicine the face holds the secret to wellness for the whole body. Face reading has been used for centuries to diagnose and treat ailments. Its practitioners believe the face can be read in a similar way as a map and that conditions of the skin correspond to internal issues.
"When you treat the problem inside the body, the skin clears up," says Dr Shuquan Liu of Traditional Chinese Medicine Australia. Dr Liu says that a health condition can be visible in the face long before the body shows symptoms. "In Western medicine, people typically see the doctor only when they are sick. Facial reading can help diagnose and treat a condition before it becomes a bigger problem."
The colour of the skin gives the clearest indication of wellness. A darker shade to the skin can indicate the kidneys are not functioning well; pale skin relates to poor lung function; a red tinge to the skin may point to an underlying heart issue; yellow colouring signals poor digestion; pale green skin can mean problems with the liver.
A traditional Chinese medicine practitioner will assess skin colour before dividing the face into a number of zones. "In Chinese medicine there are five main zones - the forehead, nose, chin, right cheek and left cheek," Dr Liu explains.
The forehead is linked to digestion. Problems with the bladder or constipation may also show here. The nose is aligned to the lungs – large, open nostrils indicate healthy lungs. The chin is related to the reproductive organs and women may suffer breakouts in this area due to hormonal imbalances. The cheeks are also linked to the lungs and respiratory system. Broken capillaries in this area could indicate sinus congestion.
Other common skin conditions include dryness, hinting at a repressed immune system. Skin that's hot to touch – sometimes misdiagnosed as a menopausal hot flush – can be caused by a deficiency in the kidney or liver. Dark rings under the eyes don't necessarily mean you've had a bad night's sleep - they could also indicate that your liver isn't functioning well.
Sales executive Jessica Leach turned to Chinese medicine after mainstream therapies failed to offer relief for her lack of energy. "I didn't look well," she says. "My face was bloated, my skin tone was grey and I had dark rings under my eyes. I was initially hesitant, but was prepared to try anything."
Dr Liu determined that a number of her internal organs weren't functioning at total capacity and her body wasn't releasing toxins. He used a combination of herbal medicine and cupping. Leach noticed results within 24 hours.
Emma Hobson, education manager at The International Dermal Institute, likens the face to a mirror that reflects internal health as well as stress. "Using face mapping, a therapist can advise slight adjustments in diet and lifestyle that can bring a body back into harmony and balance," she says.
Face mapping is commonly used to treat pimples, says Hobson. The most common areas for breakouts are on the chin, which relates to the small intestine or ovaries, and the forehead, which can be linked to digestion and bladder, she says. "Stress, hormone imbalances, poor cleansing, dehydration and poor diet are all reflected in the condition of your skin."
Dr Liu agrees, but says that self-diagnosis is not advised. He suggests that it's better to consult a qualified practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine for diagnosis and treatment.