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How Our Emotional Expression Effects Our Face and Our Health; a Chinese Medicine Perspective

According to Chinese Medicine, one of the most common causes of disease is repressed emotions. Emotional health is an integral part of Chinese Medicine. The seven emotions associated with disease are: anger, joy, worry, pensiveness, grief, fear and fright. As stated in an ancient text, the Su Wen, Chapter 8, our internal organs are portrayed in terms of their mental, emotional and spiritual function1. When emotions are prolonged, intense or repressed, they can inhibit the normal flow of Qi2 to our organs. Since our primary method of expressing our emotions is our face, it is essential to ensure the free flow of emotions to and from the face. Hence, facial acupuncture can play an important role in promoting not only skin health, but physical health as well.

There is a feedback system between the face and our organs which allows for communication between them. This free flow of resources is intrinsic to the appearance of our face and to the underlying health of the associated organ systems. Our ability to connect with and express these emotions requires proper functioning of the organs and a smooth flow of Qi through the channels. Numerous studies have demonstrated the feedback system between our facial expressions and emotions. Studies performed by Paul Ekman have shown that if a person merely arranges his face into a certain expression, he will feel the corresponding emotion. In other words, emotions work from the outside in as well as the inside out. i.e. happiness may be as simple as putting on a smile.3  Conversely, an individual who cannot or does not express emotions through their facial expressions will not feel the emotion as fully. In an experiment involving the use of Botox to paralyze facial muscles involved in frowning, Havas, Glenberg, Gutowski, Lucarelli, and Davidson5 discovered lessened depressive symptoms in patients after paralysis of their frowning muscles. A study published in the Annals of Clinical and Translation Neurology, suggest that facial feedback modulates the neural processing of emotional content.7 Habitual patterns of expression get lodged in the face, and repressed or excessive emotions can affect our organs. It is a two-way system with feedback from the face to our organs and our organs to our face.

There are over 60 acupuncture points on the face. Any impediment to the channels translates to diminished function. If the energy in our face is blocked and we do not or cannot express an emotion with our face, we will not feel it as fully. For example, the actual expression of joy (smiling) can nourish the heart. According to the Su Wen “in order to make all acupuncture thorough and effective one must first cure the spirit”1. The radiance of the skin and eyes is intrinsically connected to the spirit. Facial acupuncture involves the practitioner being present in the room with the patient for extended periods of time (it can take 30 minutes to insert all the needles), it provides a unique opportunity to learn more about a patient’s spiritual and emotional well-being. This can help to facilitate the healthy expression of emotion. Below is an example of how this all works.

The Feedback Loop; How the emotions can affect the associated organs and out of balance organs affect the face according to Chinese Medicine Theory:

Excessive or lack of joy injures the Heart:

  • Emotion out of balance-restlessness, insomnia, lack of enthusiasm
  • Weakened heart function can lead to facial swelling and puffiness
  • Heart Blood deficiency can lead to wrinkles due to dryness
  • Heart fire can cause facial redness, blemishes
  • Disturbed Shen can lead to poor sleep, dark eye circles and puffiness
  • Excessive smiling can cause crow’s feet & deep nasolabial folds

Grief injures the Lungs:

  • Emotion out of balance-excessive sadness, detachment
  • The lungs rule the Qi of the entire body
  • The lungs also control the skin
  • Impairment of lung function can lead to dryness and wrinkles
  • Excessive sweating due to poor lung function can cause acne
  • Frowning can cause marionette lines (from corner of mouth to jaw)

Anger injures the Liver:

  • Emotion out of balance-frustration, moodiness, explosive anger, irritability
  • The Liver controls the Blood and the flow of Qi to all the organ systems
  • Stagnation of liver Qi often leads dark spots
  • Liver Blood deficiency can lead to dry skin
  • A frequent expression of anger can cause vertical lines between the eyebrows

Pensiveness/Worry injures the Spleen:

  • Emotion out of balance-ruminating, excessive overthinking
  • The face depends on the spleens function of transformation of food into Qi and Blood
  • When spleen Qi is deficient, there is a loss of skin tone, sagging and laxity
  • If the spleens ability to control transportation of fluids is diminished, the face will look puffy and there can be bags under the eyes.
  • Pensiveness can cause lines around the lips and at the bridge of the nose

Fear/Fright injures the Kidneys:

  • Emotion out of balance-fearful, isolated, no will (zhu)
  • The kidneys regulate the fluid balance and store the essence
  • Deficient kidney yin can cause dark eye circles
  • If kidney yang is low, there can be puffiness around the eyes
  • When Kidney essence is insufficient, aging is accelerated
  • Fear can cause lateral forehead lines, lines on cheeks

At the core of Facial Acupuncture is the foundation of treating the whole person. Doing so allows the health of the body to reflect on the skin and allowing for full expression of balanced emotional health. It is impossible to separate our emotions, our expression of them, and our health.