What your skin is trying to tell you about your health.

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Skin mapping is like geography for the face. Based on Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), skin mapping the colouring, breakouts and texture of the skin provides clues about the underlying causes of superficial skin issues (such as acne, rosacea, and under-eye circles) and also helps to get rid of them for good.

I visited a naturopathic doctor who used skin mapping to look into the reasons behind my skin issues (stubborn acne on my chin) and to effectively treat them. After following her advice, , I’ve never looked or felt better.


After discussing my bill of health and eating habits, Dr. Julia Segal ND, at Physiomed Yonge-Bloor, mapped my skin. Translation: she assessed the tone, oil, redness, blemishes and geography of my face. Mapping led to questions like, “Have you been really busy lately?” Yes. “Have you ever had problems with digestion?” Yup.Clearly, my skin revealed a lot about me.

“Chinese medicine treats your body like an ecosystem,” says Dr. Segal, meaning that since everything in your body is connected, symptoms on the face are usually manifestations of deeper issues in the body. But don’t be frightened! Many issues can be easily cleared up with a proper diet and the balancing of body functions.


In TCM the eyes are a marker for the spleen, heart, liver, kidney and lungs. The area surrounding the eyes is connected to the spline system responsible for digestion. So continuously swollen eyes are a sign of a deeper digestion issue. Imperfections and spots in the iris are related to liver function.

Do you have continuous dark circles under your eyes? It might not just be your busy schedule—dark circles are also linked to low kidney function (which can be amped up with dietary changes and supplements). Kidneys are related to the adrenal glands that regulate energy, sex drive and stress response, so treating your dark circles can also mean a big mood boost. Win-win!


Acne and redness are signs of internal heat in TCM, so it’s important to assess all body functions to locate the deeper issue. “The face is just one clue—your whole body is mapped onto the face, tongue, eyes and pulse,” says Dr. Segal. The chin (my problem area) represents the ovaries, kidneys and overall digestive system that I’ve had trouble with. For a clearer complexion, I have to remedy digestion issues first. Acne along the bottom of the chin represents the pelvic floor, and the lips are a signifier of the stomach and spline.

Ever breakout in the middle of your forehead after a big weekend? That’s because your liver isn’t happy. Breakouts on the cheeks relate to the lungs, liver and immune system. During my visit I had a breakout on my cheek—I was getting over a cough.


The tongue is one of the most informative and revealing parts of the face. Dr. Segal assessed the colour, coating and cracks of my tongue, first noticing an overall paleness, which is sign of a b12 deficiency—a healthy tongue should be pinkish red.

The tip of the tongue is linked to the heart and emotional stress. “The heart is the seat of the mind in Chinese medicine,” she says. Risks, big changes and stress affect the heart—the tip of my tongue was very red; I was having a particularly stressful week.

The coating and geography reflects the ecology of the whole body, categorized by dampness and dryness, heat and cold. The coating of my tongue is yellowish in the middle and back, a sign of damp heat that links back to the digestive system I’ve had problems with in the past.

A pronounced vertical crack represents a yin deficiency (as in yin and yang), which is common among stressed and busy people who don’t get enough rest. When you have a yin deficiency, you experience a lot of its counterpart, yang, which can show up as redness in the face and excess heat throughout the body.

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NORMAL: Healthy tongue; HEAT DEFICIENCY: Thin yellow coating, red tongue; DIGESTIVE ISSUES: Yellow greasy coat, red tongue. Spleen and stomach; YIN DEFICIENCY: Slight coating, cracks, red tip. Facial redness and heat in the body; QI DEFICIENCY: Thin white coating, red tip. Dampness in body and heat deficiency.


Although I learned that my skin problems were rooted in digestive disfunctions, I also had issues with my skin-care routine that somewhere became what I can only describe as “lazy.”

According to skin therapist Amanda Lindsay at Dermalogica, the International Dermal Institute headquarters located in Toronto, skin mapping helps provide “a detailed description of what’s going on in the skin so [they] can be more effective at treating you” during services.

The Procedure: Dividing the face into 14 zones, including the ears and neck, Lindsay analyzed my skin using an LED light, pinpointing issues she’d treat during our session and that would help her develop a personalized at-home routine for me. This approach is particularly good for combination skin like mine (oily in some places, dry as a bone in others), “Breakouts are treated very differently from the rest of the face… this gives a better treatment customization.”

The Verdict: Assessing hydration, texture, breakouts, scarring, wrinkles and inflammation, Dermalogica skin mapping gave me a huge wake-up call. Lindsay clued me into the beginnings of pigmentation and lines (I’m under 30) on the zones along my forehead due to improper SPF use—guilty as charged. We discussed dehydration caused by not drinking enough water and using the wrong moisturizer, and acne rooted in digestion that was worsened by not following an ideal skin regimen
for me.

The Prescription: Lindsay recommended double cleansing, first with the Precleanse ($50.50 for 150ml at dermalogica.ca) to remove makeup, oil and pollutants and then with the super gentle Special Cleansing Gel ($43.50 for 250ml). Most importantly she demanded I exfoliate every other day with the Daily Microfoliant ($72 for 75g) that is gentle on my sensitive area, but still effective where I need it, followed by a water-based moisturizer.

Cost: A skin analysis retails at $95 at spas and Dermalogica concept stores.