Pale complexion according to Chinese Medicine

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Pale complexion can be the consequence of several so-called “patterns of disharmony” in Chinese Medicine.

Chinese Medicine sees the body as a system, not a sum of isolated parts. A "pattern" is when the system's harmony is disrupted, leading to symptoms or signs that something is wrong (like pale complexion here). It is similar to the concept of disease in Western Medicine but not quite: a Western disease can often be explained by several Chinese patterns and vice-versa.

A pattern often manifests itself in a combination of symptoms that, at first glance, do not seem necessarily related to each others. For instance here pale complexion is often associated with dizziness, scanty periods and palpitations in the pattern “Blood Deficiency”. As you will see below, we have in record five patterns that can cause pale complexion.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of pale complexion we’ve identified five herbal formulas that may help treat patterns behind the symptom.

We’ve also selected below the five medicinal herbs that we think are most likely to help treat pale complexion.

The five "patterns of disharmony" that can cause pale complexion

In Chinese Medicine pale complexion is a symptom for 5 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

Prepared Rehmannia (Shu Di huang) is the king ingredient for Si Wu Tang, a formula used for Blood Deficiency

Blood Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Choppy (Se), Fine (Xi)

Tongue color: Pale

Someone has a Deficiency of Blood when their entire body, a part of body or a particular Organ is insufficiently nourished by Blood. This can be caused by blood-loss, a lack of of Spleen Qi (responsible to produce Blood) or congealed Blood which prevents new Blood from forming.

In addition to pale complexion, other symptoms associated with Blood Deficiency include dizziness, scanty periods and palpitations.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Blood Deficiency is associated with health issues such as Late Menstruation or Scanty Menstruation.

Blood Deficiency is often treated with Si Wu Tang, a herbal formula made of 4 herbs (including Prepared Rehmannia - Shu Di huang - as a key herb). Si Wu Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that tonify blood", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Restores and nourishes Blood".

Read more about Blood Deficiency here

Ginseng (Ren Shen) is the king ingredient for Si Jun Zi Tang, a formula used for Qi Deficiency

Qi Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Empty (Xu), Weak (Ruo)

Tongue color: Pale

Qi Deficiency simply means lack of Qi. It includes the lack of Original Qi, Nutritive Qi, Defensive Qi or the Qi that resides in Organs or Channels. It mainly manifests itself in a weakened function of Organs and a declining ability of the body to resist diseases.

In addition to pale complexion, other symptoms associated with Qi Deficiency include dizziness, poor appetite and palpitations.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Qi Deficiency is associated with health issues such as Abnormal Uterine Bleeding or Heavy Menstruation.

Qi Deficiency is often treated with Si Jun Zi Tang, a herbal formula made of 4 herbs (including Ginseng - Ren Shen - as a key herb). Si Jun Zi Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that tonify qi", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Tonifies Qi".

Read more about Qi Deficiency here

Yang Deficiency or Empty Yang

Pulse type(s): Deep (Chen), Empty (Xu), Slow (Chi), Weak (Ruo)

Tongue color: Pale

Yang Deficiency is an Empty-Cold condition characterized by Coldness and Deficiency. It can cause a general hypoactivity of Organ functions and Oedema. Qi and Blood is more likely to stagnate. Yang Deficiency is mostly related to Spleen Yang, Kidney Yang, Heart Yang or Lung Qi. It is a result of lack of activity or exercise, excessive sex, over-exposure to cold environments and bad diet.

In addition to pale complexion, other symptoms associated with Yang Deficiency or Empty Yang include fatigue, loose stools and cold limbs.

Yang Deficiency or Empty Yang is often treated with Ba Wei Di Huang Wan, a herbal formula made of 8 herbs (including Prepared Rehmannia - Shu Di huang - as a key herb). Ba Wei Di Huang Wan belongs to the category of "formulas that nourish yin and tonify", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Tonifies Yang".

Read more about Yang Deficiency or Empty Yang here

The Spleen is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Spleen in Chinese Medicine

Spleen Qi Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Empty (Xu)

Tongue color: Pale

Spleen Qi Deficiency is one of the most commonly seen TCM pattern. It is caused by unhealthy diet such as fat raw or cold food, bad eating habit, emotional stress or damp environment. It is the central pattern to all other Spleen disharmonies, because many other Deficiency patterns derive from it.

In addition to pale complexion, other symptoms associated with Spleen Qi Deficiency include poor appetite, fatigue and loose stools.

Spleen Qi Deficiency is often treated with Si Jun Zi Tang, a herbal formula made of 4 herbs (including Ginseng - Ren Shen - as a key herb). Si Jun Zi Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that tonify qi", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Tonifies Qi".

Read more about Spleen Qi Deficiency here

The Spleen is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Spleen in Chinese Medicine

Spleen Yang Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Deep (Chen), Slow (Chi), Weak (Ruo)

Tongue color: Pale

Spleen Yang Deficiency often develops from Spleen Qi Deficiency, but it is more extensive and severe with additional Cold symptoms, such as cold feeling and cold limbs. The causes are similar to these of Spleen Qi Deficiency, along with surplus consumption of cold, raw foods and drinks and overexposure to cold damp environments and climates.

In addition to pale complexion, other symptoms associated with Spleen Yang Deficiency include poor appetite, fatigue and loose stools.

Spleen Yang Deficiency is often treated with Zhen Wu Tang, a herbal formula made of 5 herbs (including Prepared Aconite - Zhi Fu Zi - as a key herb). Zhen Wu Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that warm and transform water and dampness", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Warms and tonifies the Yang and Qi of the Spleen and Kidneys".

Read more about Spleen Yang Deficiency here

Five herbal formulas that might help with pale complexion

Gui Pi Tang

Source date: 1529 AD

Number of ingredients: 12 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies and nourish Qi and Blood. Tonifies Heart and Spleen.

Why might Gui Pi Tang help with pale complexion?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Blood Deficiency' of which pale complexion is a symptom.

Read more about Gui Pi Tang here

Si Jun Zi Tang

Source date: 1107 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Qi. Strengthens the Spleen and Stomach.

Why might Si Jun Zi Tang help with pale complexion?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Qi Deficiency' of which pale bright face that is puffy or bloated is a symptom.

Read more about Si Jun Zi Tang here

Ba Wei Di Huang Wan

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Yang. Warms the Kidneys and lower extremities.

Why might Ba Wei Di Huang Wan help with pale complexion?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Yang Deficiency or Empty Yang' of which pale face is a symptom.

Read more about Ba Wei Di Huang Wan here

Liu Jun Zi Tang

Source date: 1107

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Qi. Strengthens the Spleen and Stomach. Clears Phlegm and mucus. Promotes appetite.

Why might Liu Jun Zi Tang help with pale complexion?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Spleen Qi Deficiency' of which pale complexion is a symptom.

Read more about Liu Jun Zi Tang here

Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang

Source date: 1247

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Qi of the Spleen and Stomach (Middle Burner). Raises the Yang. Detoxifies. Lifts what has sunken.

Why might Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang help with pale complexion?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Spleen Yang Deficiency' of which pale complexion is a symptom.

Read more about Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang here

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat pale complexion

Why might Donkey-Hide Gelatin (E Jiao) help with pale complexion?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat pale complexion and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat pale complexion as a symptom (such as Liang Di Tang for instance).

Donkey-Hide Gelatin is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Kidney, the Liver and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Tonifies and nourishes Blood. Stops bleeding. Moistens and lubricates Yin.

Read more about Donkey-Hide Gelatin here

Why might Liquorice (Gan Cao) help with pale complexion?

Because Liquorice is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat pale complexion as a symptom, like Gan Cao Gan Jiang Tang or Bao Yuan Tang for instance.

Liquorice is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Heart, the Lung, the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Basal Qi and nourishes the Spleen Qi. Clears Heat and dispels toxicity. Moistens the Lungsexpel phlegm and stop coughing. Relieves spasms and alleviates pain. Harmonizes and moderates the effects of other herbs.

Read more about Liquorice here

Why might Ginseng (Ren Shen) help with pale complexion?

Because Ginseng is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat pale complexion as a symptom, like Ren Shen Yang Rong Tang or Gui Pi Tang for instance.

Ginseng is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Sweet. It targets the Heart, the Lung and the Spleen.

Its main actions are: Very strongly tonifies the Qi. Tonifies the Lungs and Spleen. Assists the body in the secretion of Fluids and stops thirst. Strengthens the Heart and calms the Shen (mind/spirit).

Read more about Ginseng here

Why might Dong Quai (Dang Gui) help with pale complexion?

Because Dong Quai is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat pale complexion as a symptom, like Sheng Yu Tang or Si Wu Tang for instance.

Dong Quai is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent and Sweet. It targets the Heart, the Liver and the Spleen.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Blood. Lubricates the Intestines. Relieve constipation. Promotes circulation and dispels Bi Pain. Reduce Dysmenorrhea and help with irregular menstruation.

Read more about Dong Quai here

Why might Prepared Rehmannia (Shu Di Huang) help with pale complexion?

Because Prepared Rehmannia is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat pale complexion as a symptom, like Da Bu Yuan Jian or Liu Wei Di Huang Wan for instance.

Prepared Rehmannia is a Warm herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Kidney and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Blood. Tonifies the Yin of the Kidneys.

Read more about Prepared Rehmannia here