Xiaolan Zhao, renowned Toronto-based practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and author of “Inner Beauty: Looking, Feeling and Being Your Best,” discusses how to be as beautiful as possible — from the inside out.
Q: Can you describe the elements used in TCM that distinguish it from Western medicine?
A: TCM has three modalities to help people. First, acupuncture, which is the insertion of needles into meridien points to release a blockage and allow chi to flow. Second, a type of massage, used to open the meridien. And third, herbs to help detox and nourish.
We believe whenever the skin has problems, it’s expressing something internal. There are 14 meridiens in your body, from top to toe. We link the meridien to the area of problem skin and take a deeper look at this person’s health. Skin is the largest organ and skin care is not just about using one or two herbs. We look at which linked organ is affected.
For example, when detoxing the liver, we can use dandelion. When detoxing the heart, we use cryanthemum. For the kidneys, we use cinnamon. If the stomach has problems, we use ginger. But wherever the skin has problems, we believe it’s the body communicating with you.
Q: What role do lifestyle factors play?
A: The skin is an expression of chi, of body energy. If you have good chi, you have shiny skin and illuminated eyes. If you don’t eat right and you don’t drink enough or you drink too much coffee or alcohol, then your body isn’t balanced and the skin shows it. A lot of people who drink a lot of coffee are really wrinkly because they’re dehydrated. Same with people who drink too much alcohol. It’s the same for people who’re concerned with health and think they should avoid oils, but the skin is nourished by oils. It’s all about balance. All life.
Q: Any general recommendations for people who are concerned their skin isn’t looking its best?
A: Yes, keep alkaline. Often, skin problems arise when the body is too acidic. Drink less coffee and wine, drink more water, eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and eat less meat (eat organic when you do). Getting enough sleep is also really important.
Q: If you could offer women some advice about preserving their health and beauty, what would it be?
A: Pay attention to your breathing. There’s a whole chapter in my book about it. We take our breathing for granted, but it’s so important. When I see patients, the first thing I want to know is if they’re breathing properly. Patients who have yoga or meditation practices often have better skin and they’re usually very health conscious. They do the right things.
Beauty is ultimately about health — if you have good health, then you’re beautiful. You also have to peacefully, comfortably be yourself and not be chasing impermanent, external things.
In TCM, there are seven emotions connected with our organs. The liver is connected to anger, the heart is connected to happiness, the spleen is connected to worry, the kidneys are connected to fear and the lungs are connected to grief. If you obsessively worry or get angry, it can cost you your health and beauty.