Reflections From the Interior

Chinese medicine is based on an idea that the body’s external manifestations can give us clues to the workings of the internal system of the body. In fact, Daoism, the philosophy that lies at the heart of Chinese medicine, suggests that all external manifestations in the physical world are secondary, and are considered to be as a result of changes firstly in the Qi, the non-material world. In the human body, the meridians connect the interior of the body with the exterior. We use a system of correspondences and long-term observation to determine how these external signs can indicate internal imbalances.

One of the first and most obvious external manifestations we look at is the facial complexion. Think about how your mother can tell if you are feeling well or not just by looking at you. Or how observing any living system, plant or animal, you get a feeling of how healthy it is. Chinese medicine physicians have long realised that colour changes externally may be related to internal pathologies. Lets explore what Chinese medicine has to say in regards to complexion.

The first thing to take note of is the lustre and moisture of the skin to evaluate whether the levels of Qi & Blood are flourishing, or insufficient. Then, there is the colour of the skin to identify the nature of the imbalance. A complexion showing signs of imbalance is divided into five basic tones: green-blue; red; yellow; light ; and dark, which are included along with other signs to create a landscape or pattern. This landscape is then interpreted to guide diagnosis, recommendations and treatment in an effort to restore balance.


Red governs diseases attributed to heat. When Blood obtains heat, it moves more recklessly and flushes the skin. For example, a person with a red face, bad breath, red tongue and constipation is diagnosed as having a heat disharmony. Physicians may preventatively recommend more yin building activities, regular and adequate sleep, regular meals with soups, avoiding lamb, coffee and alcohol. They may suggest foods like bitter melon, winter melon, seaweed, tofu, chrysanthemum or mint teas. From a clinical perspective certain acupuncture points are selected and herbs like immature bitter orange and Chinese rhubarb may be used to purge the accumulated heat.


Using systematic correspondences, yellow is related to the earth, the centre position. It is believed that human beings are a microsystem of the cosmos and this is directly related to the central organ in our body, the Spleen/Stomach system. In Chinese medicine when we talk of the Spleen, we are primarily relating this to the ‘functions’ prescribed to that organ rather than the material aspects of the organ. For all intents and purpose, think of the organ of the ‘Spleen’ as akin to the function of ‘digestion’. In Chinese medicine we say the Spleen rules transformation and transportation. The Spleen’s job is to ensure Blood and Qi are abundant, and the body is well nourished. If the Spleen fails to do these jobs, the skin turns a withered yellow and loses its lustre. This occurs in individuals with weak digestion, a poor appetite, abdominal distension, fatigue and loose bowels. The keys are to take better care of the digestion, things like, regular and balanced meals, warm cooked meals that are easy to digest. More soups, stews and porridges!


White is associated with the internal coldness or blood deficiency. You can think of conditions like bleeding disorders, piles and heavy menses, which can tend to give off a pale facial complexion. We would recommend a diet with more proteins and red meat stews and broths, adequate sleep and reducing physical work to support the functions of blood production.

When people on weight loss regimes look pale and are sensitive to low temperatures, physicians recommend lamb stew and prescribe cinnamon bark and evodia fruit to warm the body and promote overall metabolism.


Green-blue is associated with poor or obstructed blood circulation, and often appears in cold, pain and blood stasis conditions. Abdominal discomfort accompanied by a green-blue complexion may be due to excessive coldness in the intestines, leading to improper contractions. In this case, avoid any cold drinks and cold or raw foods, it is recommended to eat a diet all warm in temperature and action.

Heart attacks heralded by angina and purple lips and a greyish green-blue complexion can be triggered by blood stasis formation. The recommendations are for regular physical exercise, meditation, light satisfying meals, and strictly regular daily rhythm with adequate downtime. Physicians from a clinical perspective select Red sage root, red peony root and peach kernel to dissolve the stasis in the organ.


Many chronic conditions can give rise to facial complexions with a dull, dark hue. Chinese medicine interprets this as Kidney dysfunction, depletion of Kidney essence or Blood stasis. Kidney dysfunction is associated with infertility, sexual and urinary problems. Depleted Kidney essence can lead to ears ringing, hot flashes, mouth dryness and hair loss. Features of Blood stasis are a dry and course skin, darkened complexion, withered hair, menstrual irregularities, stabbing pain or a tumour in the abdomen.

Remember, these colour changes in complexion are just minute changes in frequency within a spectrum that allow human vision to detect a different appearance. Think of Qi as energy and information, a kind of consciousness. Humans are endowed with senses to understand changes in Qi. We use long-term observation and experience to sharpen our inherited skills. These changes are like the weather, they can be sudden, or gradual occurring over long periods of time. They are not always obvious, and masters physicians generally have a much greater awareness, training and experience to interpret this information. Observe the colour around the temples – this is the part that changes most readily!