Sallow complexion according to Chinese Medicine

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Sallow 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 sallow 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 sallow complexion is often associated with loose stools, cold limbs and feeling of cold in the pattern “Spleen Yang Deficiency”. As you will see below, we have in record two patterns that can cause sallow complexion.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of sallow complexion we’ve identified three 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 sallow complexion.

The two "patterns of disharmony" that can cause sallow complexion

In Chinese Medicine sallow complexion is a symptom for 2 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

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 sallow complexion, other symptoms associated with Spleen Yang Deficiency include loose stools, cold limbs and feeling of cold.

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

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

Obstruction Of the Spleen By Dampness with Liver Qi Stagnation

Pulse type(s): Slippery (Hua), Wiry (Xian)

In addition to sallow complexion, other symptoms associated with Obstruction Of the Spleen By Dampness with Liver Qi Stagnation include loose stools, nausea and feeling of heaviness.

Obstruction Of the Spleen By Dampness with Liver Qi Stagnation is often treated with Ping Wei San, a herbal formula made of 4 herbs (including Black Atractylodes Rhizomes - Cang Zhu - as a key herb). Ping Wei San belongs to the category of "formulas that transform dampness and harmonize stomach", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Dries Dampness".

Read more about Obstruction Of the Spleen By Dampness with Liver Qi Stagnation here

Three herbal formulas that might help with sallow complexion

Zhen Wu Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Warms and tonifies the Yang and Qi of the Spleen and Kidneys. Eliminates Dampness.

Why might Zhen Wu Tang help with sallow complexion?

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

Other symptoms characteristic of Spleen Yang Deficiency include loose stools, cold limbs and feeling of cold.

Read more about Zhen Wu Tang here

Ping Wei San

Source date: 1051 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Key actions: Dries Dampness. Improves the Spleen's transportive function. Promotes the movement of Qi. Harmonizes the Stomach.

Why might Ping Wei San help with sallow complexion?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Obstruction Of the Spleen By Dampness with Liver Qi Stagnation' of which sallow complexion is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Obstruction Of The Spleen By Dampness With Liver Qi Stagnation include loose stools, nausea and feeling of heaviness.

Read more about Ping Wei San 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 sallow complexion?

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

Other symptoms characteristic of Spleen Yang Deficiency include loose stools, cold limbs and feeling of cold.

Read more about Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang here

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

Why might Fresh Ginger (Sheng Jiang) help with sallow complexion?

Because Fresh Ginger is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat sallow complexion as a symptom, like Zhen Wu Tang or Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang for instance.

Fresh Ginger is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent. It targets the Spleen, the Stomach and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Relieves the Exterior and disperses Cold. Warms and circulates Qi in the Middle Burner. Calms a restless fetus and treats morning sickness. Treats seafood poisoning.

Read more about Fresh Ginger here

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

Because Liquorice is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat sallow complexion as a symptom, like Ping Wei San or Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang for instance.

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

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 Tangerine Peel (Chen Pi) help with sallow complexion?

Because Tangerine Peel is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat sallow complexion as a symptom, like Ping Wei San or Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang for instance.

Tangerine Peel is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Pungent. It targets the Spleen and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Warms the Spleen and regulates the Middle Burner Qi. Dries Dampness and disperses Phlegm from the Lungs and Middle Burner. Reduces the potential for Stagnation caused by tonifying herbs.

Read more about Tangerine Peel here

Why might Atractylodes Rhizome (Bai Zhu) help with sallow complexion?

Because Atractylodes Rhizome is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat sallow complexion as a symptom, like Zhen Wu Tang or Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang for instance.

Atractylodes Rhizomes is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Sweet. It targets the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Spleen Qi. Fortifies the Spleen Yang and dispels Damp through urination. Tonifies Qi and stops sweating. Calms restless fetus when due to Deficiency of Spleen Qi.

Read more about Atractylodes Rhizomes here

Why might Prepared Aconite (Zhi Fu Zi) help with sallow complexion?

Because it is a key herb in Zhen Wu Tang, a herbal formula indicated to treat the pattern 'Spleen Yang Deficiency' (a pattern with sallow complexion as a symptom)

Prepared Aconite is a Hot herb that tastes Pungent and Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Heart and the Kidney.

Its main actions are: Raises the collapse of Yang. Warms the meridians and relieves pain caused by Cold. Reduces Damp caused by Deficiency in Yang.

Read more about Prepared Aconite here