Your Skin: Eruptions, Traumas, and Mysteries

Diana Hermann
SRP Founder Stephanie Anderson Interviews Diana Hermann of Zi Zai Dermatology.

The skin is our hazmat suit for planet Earth. But how does it protect us from invasion by invisible microbial life forms?

To start with, the skin needs two substances to be present in the GI tract: lactic acid and acetic acid. The body makes these acids in the gut. Lactic acid is made from carbohydrate metabolism involving the gut flora; acetic acid is made from fat metabolism. (Lactic acid can also be obtained from fermented foods and acetic acid from apple cider vinegar.) Together, they form the acid mantle of the skin, preventing fungi, bacteria, viruses, spores, and fecal matter from invading the body.

From there, the skin soaks up nutrients for all of its specific needs, just like the rest of our organs, tissues, and cells. Clearly, lots can go wrong in the process.

But a few tools and a visit to the right health practitioner can go a long way in recognizing signs of distress on our skin and addressing them with some intelligence. And by intelligence, I mean a desire to work with the skin rather than force it to comply with our wishes.

So I invited Diana Hermann, a licensed acupuncturist, board certified herbalist, and owner of Zi Zai Dermatology, to talk to our Selene River Press audience. Our interview turned into a wide-ranging exploration of how she thinks and works to help people face the eruptions, traumas, and mysteries of their skin.

Tell us, Diana, how did you get into this business? 

I started out as a civil engineer. I’m a very analytical, logically minded kind of person, but I was so bored in engineering. It just wasn’t where I wanted to be. Then, on a whim, I started training in kung fu and heard about this ancient Chinese secret, acupuncture. Kung fu training included “conditioning,” meaning beating each other up to toughen our tissue so that if we actually got beat up it wouldn’t hurt so bad. (I don’t know why I ever got into that!) Then we treated our bruises with topical herb liniments.

Those of us who used the herbal liniments saw our bruises heal faster, and we didn’t bruise as easily, and the tissue didn’t swell. There was an unbelievable, unmistakable, undeniable difference between those who used herbs and didn’t. Those who didn’t looked like bloody pulps. I thought, “That is absolutely amazing, and I need to know more.”

I started looking into it and realized you can go to school for this. So I left engineering, went to grad school, and never looked back. That’s the short of it.

Wow. Did you say you were actually working in engineering?

Yeah, I have a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from CSU.  My specialty was geotechnical engineering (soil mechanics).  I worked for an environmental engineering firm here in Fort Collins and focused on slope stability for mining reclamation projects.

That’s impressive. And quite a leap to Chinese medicine.

What I find most fascinating about Chinese medicine is that it’s both science and art. It seems mystical and more magical and ethereal, or new-agey, to people because they don’t understand it. We use different terminology, and we have a different way of viewing the human body. It’s a different paradigm; it seems a little bit weird. But to me it’s incredibly logical. It’s just a different language.

Chinese medicine combines scientific tools and methods that have been passed down for generations and are known to work with a creative, artful approach to how we use those tools as every practitioner brings something new to the table. So it’s a nice combination between logical, analytical, factual, scientific, artful, and creative.

Half of my business is treating patients in a clinic, and the other half is crafting skin care products using Chinese herbs. So a lot more of my creative side can engage when I make the skin care products. Making messes and things with herbs is fun.

Sounds like a great balance for you.

Yes. And Chinese medicine—ancient Chinese philosophy, really—is all about balance. Whether on the grand scheme of things or on the micro scale, health is all about balance within one’s self and balance between one’s self and the environment.

You specialize in a very important organ that we all, especially women, pay a lot of attention to and pay a lot of money to maintain. The skin is a place where imbalances show up so quickly and, often, so obviously.

Absolutely. Very obviously. It’s just right there for everyone to see.

But you know what you’re seeing while most of us don’t. 

That’s an excellent point. I used to think dermatology ought to be easy because it’s the one organ that’s on the outside of the body. We can see it. We don’t have to guess what’s happening. It should be easy!

Oh my gosh, no. It’s actually quite complex. In fact, I think dermatology is the most complicated of all specialties in Chinese medicine.

Maybe it’s because it seems so easy. You say, “Oh, look—there’s redness.” Or, “Oh, there’s zits.” It should fall nice and neatly into this category. We should be able to throw some herbs at it and treat it, and that is so absolutely not how it works. And the more I learn about it, the more complicated and complex I realize it is.

Pompholyx eczema
Pompholyx eczema of the hand before and after 4 weeks of Chinese herbs

Of all the choices, what drew you to specialize in skin?

First of all, I didn’t even realize dermatology was a specialty within Chinese medicine when I first started studying it, until I met one of my teachers. It was one of her specialties. So as we went further in our training in graduate school, I realized, “Wow, I can really do something here. I can really help people with skin conditions.”

But, mostly, I got interested because I have a very sensitive skin myself. I get rashes at the blink of an eye. I’m in my mid-40s and have had rosacea for 20 years. I didn’t know I was developing it early on when I noticed my face got red really easily. Eventually, that became somewhat permanent. So my own struggles with skin issues are really what gave me the passion to pursue a deeper understanding of how to use Chinese medicine to help address these issues.

And the more I dove into it, the more I realized that there are a lot of people out there who have no good options for treating their skin, whether it’s eczema, acne, other inflammatory skin diseases, or simple aging. We are getting older, but nobody wants to look that way or feel that way when they look in the mirror. And it’s not as simple as putting on a good cream every day. For some people it is—God bless them, they’re the lucky ones. But for most of us, it isn’t that simple.

And I really wanted to help people, especially people with itchy skin. Because itchy skin is insanity-making at its best. And there isn’t that much help within the realm of Western or conventional medicine. They throw antibiotics or steroids at it. While those drugs are appropriate in certain cases, they’re not long-term solutions for anything, really.  Chinese medicine is most effective for inflammatory skin diseases—not skin cancers or growths but inflammatory skin conditions like eczema, rosacea, acne, even viral warts, fungal infections, yeast infections, viral infections, and bacterial infections.

It was news to me that an acupuncturist could specialize in skin conditions. I thought, “What a great market there is for this!” People are always mystified by what happens on their skin.

Yes, Chinese herbal medicine is an excellent option for dermatological conditions. And it’s unfortunate not many people know about this. Even practitioners within Chinese medicine don’t realize how much help we can offer people. The public certainly is just starting to wake up to the idea of using natural medicine to treat these conditions that have been around for thousands of years.

But there’s a little bit of a struggle with getting the information out, saying, “Hey, we’re here and we’re knowledgeable enough to help you, and we have tools to help you.” So I tend to still be a last-ditch effort for a lot of patients: “Oh, I’ve tried everything. I’ve tried steroids, antibiotics, nothing has helped. Can you help me?” And I end up getting a lot of the very difficult cases. Most of the time I can offer quite a bit of help. For those conditions that I can treat, I think Chinese medicine offers a wonderful option for many people.

It’s estimated that in Europe and the United States, somewhere between 25 to 30—even up to 40 percent of the population—suffer at some point in their life from an inflammatory skin disease. So it might be acne in the teenage years, it might be eczema your entire life, it might be a fungal infection that pops up. It could be varied—different types of diseases.

If you want to tack on anti-aging, that’s a greater percentage of people who are looking for natural solutions rather than Botox or wrinkle fillers with adverse side effects. So Chinese medicine can offer a good amount of hope for a lot of these people.

How much does nutrition figure into your practice?

In general, when I treat a patient, whether it’s for a dermatological condition, an autoimmune condition, respiratory, or anything else—except maybe a sports injury—I’ll address nutrition and lifestyle as well as provide them with an herbal prescription and then acupuncture if that’s applicable. For most dermatological conditions, the inflammatory skin diseases, I employ mostly internal herbal prescriptions and then topical herbs. On occasion I will do acupuncture. For anti-aging, I do topical applications and acupuncture.

But we always have to talk about nutrition because when you leave my office I don’t send you out in a bubble. You do things to yourself and you exist in this world and all of the things you do and consume are going to affect your health. Eating is probably the most important change or improvement somebody can make to their health.

I think of nutrition like The Shawshank Redemption. Do you remember that movie? The main character, Andy Dufresne, busts out of jail. He doesn’t blow up the wall of the prison; he chips away at it, spoonful by spoonful, every day for 20 years. That’s nutrition. Every meal you eat, everything you shove in your little pie hole, is going to either become a waste product or part of the new you. Because you literally are what you eat. So I have to advise people: you don’t want to build a crap body, so please don’t eat crap. And nutrition is a big part of the advice I give.

It’s probably the worst compliance I have. Because I can be the authority and the expert and give people herbs and tell them, “You take this medicine.” But if they don’t make nutritional changes, and if they don’t make more positive changes outside of that, while we can still make significant improvement, they could be making so much more improvement if they would just eat better. Absolutely.

How about nutritional supplements?

I use Standard Process quite a bit, actually. But even if they take supplements, often they’re not changing their diet. I can get some people to do it. The toughest ones—and I’ve been struggling with this the last couple of months—are my teenage acne patients. Good God! If I could get them to eat better, my job would be so much easier. Their skin would look 10 times better.

I read a study recently that said a very high percentage of teenage boys with acne are deficient in zinc. And so I tested all of my acne patients for zinc deficiency using the Standard Process liquid Zinc Test, and I don’t think anybody was not zinc deficient. All of my acne patients, even the adults, were zinc deficient. So they go on Standard Process Trace Minerals and Zinc Liver Chelate, along with the herbs, with almost no exception.

Excellent.

So when I put people on big herbal formulas—and dermatological formulas tend to be big herbal formulas—I try not to do too much all at once because then I get lower patient compliance. I start with the necessary—absolutely zinc and Trace Minerals. And then, as we move along and their herb concoctions are smaller and less cumbersome, I can add in other nutritional supplements. Then they start seeing the progress and the improvement, and they’re more open to making those types of changes.

At this point, I dive further in, using SP Tuna Omega Oil or, in the case of skin conditions, SP Cod Liver Oil. Almost all of my eczema patients are on one or the other if they’re not vegetarian. If they’re vegetarian, and I can get them to take the fish oils, then they’re on that, too. Absolutely. Almost all inflammatory skin conditions, I put them on that.

And every one of my autoimmune dermatology patients are on Dermatrophin PMG.

Very good.

And I absolutely get much better results when I combine those products with my Chinese herbs.

I worked with a young man recently who had bad cystic acne. It completely cleared up using Standard Process supplements and eliminating white sugar and white flour. Then Christmas came, he completely blew his diet, and it all came right back. And it was awesome because I said to him, “There you go, dude. Eat shit and die.” (Laughs.) So he’s working hard to get back, but they have to connect those dots. 

Yeah, it’s a lot easier when they see the evidence. Sometimes you have to clear their skin first for them to make the connection to the things that then trigger a recurrence or a flare-up. So the beginning’s the hardest.

It is. And if you can just get them to make a pact with you for two or three weeks—just two or three weeks—no soda pop. Let’s just see what happens. 

My brother’s a chemical engineer, and he worked for a food chemical company where they made phosphoric acid. He spilled some and it burned a hole through the concrete floor. And I go, “Wow, that’s what’s in your soda that you drink! How can you still drink soda after you saw it burn a hole through the concrete floor?”

He goes, “I know, but it tastes so good, and I’m addicted.”

I’m like, “Oh my God, he’s an idiot.” (Laughter.) “I love you, you’re brilliant, but you’re also an idiot.”

Soda is terrible. Teenagers—I get some who eat very well because their parents kind of corral them in that way, but they still get acne because there are deficiencies in their diet because of the deficiencies in our soil sources. And there are other things. I mean, there’s genetic factors, there’s hormonal factors. It’s not just nutrition. But if I ignore nutrition, I definitely don’t get the same results.

Nummular eczema
Nummular eczema (forearm lesion) before and after 6 weeks of herbs

What’s your best recommendation for taking care of our skin? We’re all paying attention to what the skin care companies are telling us. But after investing lots of money, the results aren’t very impressive.

Right. So first things first. Don’t believe the hype. Don’t believe everything you hear about the latest skin care ingredient, that this one thing is going to solve your problem.

Every individual ought to do their due diligence and not just believe what’s thrown at them in commercials and in fancy magazines that are trying to target $150 oils at you. And you start diving into the ingredients in these products—some of them are great. Some of them are legitimate, good products that can be useful, and some of them have complete crap in them that I can’t believe they’re still touting.

But it’s our ignorance. Not knowing what skin needs makes it easy to get sucked in.

For the average person, the number one thing you can do for your skin is eat better. Drink plenty of water. You don’t have to overdo it—please don’t drown yourself. There’s problems with drinking too much water, too. But eating right and taking care of your digestive system will improve your skin quite dramatically.

For somebody who has an inflammatory skin disease, there might be serious imbalances in their digestive system. So they could eat all the right things, and the nutrition’s not getting to the tissue for whatever reason. There’s a breakdown in the way the intestines absorb nutrients, there’s a problem with the way the body processes it on an energetic level, or whatever. There are lots of different issues. And that’s where a health care practitioner can assess that and make tweaks or changes, whether it’s using herbs or acupuncture or Standard Process products or other forms of functional medicine. There’s lots of ways to work with correcting that.

Choose better foods. Don’t eat processed, devitalized foods that come out of a box. Ditch the soda, absolutely. It will ruin your teeth, it will ruin your digestive tract, it will ruin your skin. Avoid the overuse of antibiotics, oral antibiotics. They’re prescribed for anything from acne to rosacea to the common cold, which is viral and doesn’t require antibiotics. Sinus infections that can be easily treated with natural medicine—people are taking antibiotics. Every time you take these antibiotics—and I won’t go into the whole thing about how it’s generating drug-resistant bacteria—they destroy the microbiome, the gut flora, which is not only significant to our immune system, it very directly affects the microbiome on our skin and the health of our skin.

So basically the inside and the outside are directly connected. If you touch your cheek, slide your finger to your lips—you can slide your finger right into your mouth—and everything from that point to out your butt is all directly connected. And what happens in the gut will directly affect or directly reflect what’s happening on the surface of the skin.

So proper nutrition, good nutrition, is going to have a direct impact on the health of your skin.

Then you have to consider also the environment you live in. Here in Colorado, it’s so dry, I do believe that most people to some degree need to moisturize to protect their skin against the dry air.

This is a balancing act, but I think people should absolutely use sun protection when they’re out in the sun too long. I see people overdoing it sometimes, or panicking about it, having anxiety. Yes, it’s important for the health of the skin. We don’t want precancerous lesions to develop. It certainly ages us faster. But there are things we can do. In fact, there’s a lot that I do with Standard Process products, actually, to protect the skin from the inside out: Standard Process Calcium Lactate and Cataplex F. That program is a big portion of my protocol for people out here in Colorado where we’re exposed to so much sun all of the time. Combating the environment by using good-quality moisturizers is important.

Stop smoking. You want to do anti-aging? You can waste all the money you want coming to me for cosmetic acupuncture, but if you keep smoking, I can’t combat that. You’ve got to stop smoking. It’s terrible for all skin diseases as well. Some more so than others are directly affected by smoking. In Chinese medicine, the lung is very intimately related to the health of the skin, and smoking is one of the worst things you can do for your skin.

Alcohol is not great for your skin either. Whether you have rosacea or not, it ages you faster. I’m not going to tell you not to have a glass of wine or two a day because I like my wine, but in moderation. If you want to stay youthful, keep it in moderation.

So those would be the top things. Eating right, no smoking, watch the alcohol consumption, protect against sun—do it wisely, don’t panic about it. And then combat dry climate with moisturizer.

And avoid antibiotics as much as you can. That goes back to the health of the gut overall.

Good advice.

Those are the things you can do at home, that you don’t need a professional to help you with. If you have a disease, if you have more serious imbalances, then yes, there are multiple layers of things we can do to improve your health. But that does require the expertise of a specialist.

And your herbal ointments are a great home remedy.

Yes, someone with an acute rash can treat themselves.

At what point do you also have to address their big picture?

Let’s start with somebody who comes to me with an acute rash. The products I make are designed in some cases to be standalone, where you just need a topical, and that takes care of the problem. And some of them help relieve symptoms temporarily while we work internally. They give the skin a break so that the internal medicine can be more effective.

If someone has really mild acne and they don’t need a full regimen of herbs, we have topical products that they can use daily. We can change their skin care regimen to use more herbal and natural products every day. Because it’s a lot like nutrition—if you’re putting something on your skin every day, whether it’s a cleanser or a moisturizer or anything else that you would use, a little bit each day is going to make a cumulative difference over time. So whether it’s a product that’s toxic, and it ends up making your skin unhealthier over time, or something beneficial that makes your skin healthier over time, what you do every day makes a difference. It’s like Andy Dufresne, slowly chipping his way out of prison over 20 years—that’s a significant impact. So we have products that are for everyday use in that type of a case.

We have one product called Little Red Rash Ointment. It’s for a little bug bite, or you’ve got this rash that you’ve never had before, maybe it’s contact dermatitis from working in your garden, your dog brought some kind of something home that you reacted to, that type of situation. It’s not necessarily infesting your skin like ringworm. It’s a temporary thing. You just need some itch relief and your body can take care of the rest.

Acne on back
Adult acne on the back before and after 12 weeks of herbs. The dark lesions still visible in the “after” photo are just post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and will heal eventually. No active lesions present.

Are all your skin products herbal?

Yes, all of our products are herbal based. Our niche is using Chinese herbs in the products to enhance the intended effect of a product.

We have products like a soap for acne complexions, a cold sore oil, and an anti-aging cream.

There’s a skin disease called molluscum contagiosum. It’s a viral skin disease in the wart family. And a lot of little kids get it because it’s contagious; it’s passed by friction. So we’ll see it in young kids who play together in daycare. Wrestlers get it a lot because they’re in physical contact, rubbing skin to skin, and it’s easily passed through mechanical friction like that. We have an ointment that’s designed to treat that. Used topically, it alone often can rid the body of that particular viral infection.

Then you get some cases where it’s really stubborn; they’ve had it for a lot longer. Maybe there’s an underlying constitutional deficiency and their immune system can’t handle it. Then I would add internal herbs to that particular treatment to help the body rid itself of that virus faster.

Then you have things like shingles, which is varicella zoster virus. Or cold sores, herpes virus. These are in the herpes family. They’re incurable. Once you’ve got them, they’re with you for life. But we have topical products that can be used to reduce the outbreaks, reduce the frequency of outbreaks, get symptoms under control faster. For some people, if they have a really bad case or they’ve had it for many, many years then, yes, I go with the internal route in addition to topical.

So it’s a disease-dependent approach to treatment. Some diseases require internal, some diseases do not. And it’s case specific—some people need more help to deal with these diseases than other people with the same disease.

Impetigo’s another one. It’s a bacterial infection. I have topical things that can treat it. These would need to be a prescription from me. I would have to see how the impetigo was presenting. I have some ointments that are helpful, but I often make a custom herbal wash for that patient. Most of the time, topical takes care of it. In cases where the person has some other immune issues going on, so they get it more frequently, I give them internal herbs as well.

But it depends on the type of case. For anti-aging, we have several products that I have people use topically, and that alone can change their skin simply because maybe the products they were using before were too drying or harsh. They’re just more sensitive to certain ingredients. So we have additional options for them. And topical products might make a big shift for them.

Maybe they want more help and they choose facial renewal acupuncture, to help rejuvenate, kind of plump up, the face. So we use acupuncture to help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It kind of plumps them up from under the skin. And that, in combination with topical products, is enough.

For older patients with more damage that’s been done to their skin over their lifetime, whether from the elements, exposure to sun, poor diet, poor lifestyle choices, or genetics, whatever it is, I’ll put them on internal herbs to help as much as possible as well. And nutritional supplements.

Tell us about your facial renewal treatments. 

It’s called “Constitutional Facial Renewal Acupuncture” because we don’t only treat the face. In Chinese medicine we don’t just treat the skin that’s stretched on the outside of you; we treat inside as well. Same for facial acupuncture. I don’t treat only the fine lines on the face because they were generated there from a multitude of sources. I can’t change where the muscles are placed on the face because that gives shape to our features. But I can change how they fire. Some people have atrophied muscles. They’re not as strong because of the way they use their body, whether it’s the way they chew or the way things are sitting. We can turn on muscles that have not been firing correctly. And then when those are turned on again, they get strengthened because they’re being used again. They get strengthened, they plump up a little bit, and you have, let’s say, less of a sunken look in the cheeks that we often get as we age. Some of that is collagen loss, some of that is fat loss, and some of that is loss of muscle tone.

People who frown a lot. I like this phrase—I hate using this phrase—but “resting bitch face.” (Laughs.) When people aren’t using their face, there’s a default expression. And sometimes it’s a big old scowl. That can be genetics, their bone structure. Or they might have vision problems or work outdoors and squint a lot. Or it could also be a question of what’s on their mind most of the time. Are they unhappy? Do they have issues with depression or irritability or anxiety? When we change how a person processes emotions, make them more balanced—not turn them into some weird happy joker-looking person—but when we help them be healthier emotionally, it changes the expression on their face, and it changes how they use those muscles. That changes the fine lines and wrinkles and the musculature. And that will change the outward appearance pretty significantly, in some cases.

Working to treat the constitution of a person or correct imbalances can change not only the appearance but also the color of their skin. For instance, we can reduce what we call heat rising to the face. This can, to some degree, be translated as inflammation. But we can reduce that redness if it’s an inappropriate manifestation. If someone has a sallow or pale or drained-looking complexion because their vitality isn’t up to snuff, when we change the energy of their body, that vitality is directly reflected in their face. Our face reflects so much about us.

Just like we can brighten the eyes, whether that’s literally removing redness or lifting and improving the vitality of that which is reflected through the eyes. That changes people’s appearance quite a bit, too.

Botox often focuses on the fine lines and wrinkles. But when we change the vitality of a person and get them feeling healthier, and they can better express what’s really on the inside in a healthy way, it changes their appearance so drastically. Even if those fine lines and wrinkles are still there, people don’t see them because they don’t focus on that. They see past it instantly because of what is projected through. That’s not to say we don’t work on fine lines and wrinkles. We do.

The holism of your method is so beautiful because a person is benefiting not just in a superficial cosmetic way—they’re actually getting a new lease on life.

Yeah, in a lot of cases, absolutely. In Chinese medicine we almost always work on the whole person, with the exception of certain things like a common cold. Do I really need to address your entire constitution because you have acute bronchitis? Probably not. If you get bronchitis every two months then yes, we have to look at this differently. But not every case is me having to completely transform somebody.

But if we’re looking cosmetically, there’s a lot that we can do to change and improve someone’s appearance by improving their general overall health. It can be pretty significant sometimes.

But I’m not a magician—if only! I will do what people want me to do within the reasonable tools that I have, the skills that I can provide. The changes that are physically possible in the natural world. But you’ve earned the lines on your face, and they tell a story. I will lessen the appearance of those lines the best that I can, but I caution people who really want to change things so dramatically. We have to ask why do they want that? What else is there that they want to change so they’re not necessarily hiding behind their appearance?

You want what’s projected outwardly to be a reflection of what’s inside. So maybe we need to change and improve what’s inside to make someone more comfortable with what’s outside.

I think that’s one of the reasons I really don’t like Botox. You want to do Botox? Power to you. You’re injecting toxins underneath the skin that can migrate just about anywhere, and that freaks me out.

Facial structureI didn’t realize those chemicals would travel away from the injection site.

There’s no little pouch that keeps them corralled in your forehead to reduce the corrugated wrinkles of the forehead. They will eventually migrate away, and they can cause all kinds of other problems. I don’t know why people don’t know that. Probably because the people in the Botox industry don’t talk about all that.

I don’t like Botox because you’re introducing a toxin into your body that’s not doing you any real benefit—with the exception of people who have migraines. Sometimes Botox is used as migraine therapy, and it can work. But that aside, I don’t know, I like to see the real person. And to have a lack of expression on the face is, to me, too big a cost to smooth out the appearance of skin.

But when your face no longer can light up when you’re laughing at a joke or smiling, or you’re beaming with pride at your kid who just graduated college—when your face can’t express that anymore—that seems really sad. I caution people to consider what they’re giving up in order to have what they think is improved appearance, because it isn’t always an improved appearance. It’s a little bit of a loss of who you are, what you can reflect to the outside world about what’s happening inside of you.

We don’t need any more zombies.

Yeah, when a person can’t show expressions appropriately on their face, it causes a disconnect with the people they’re interacting with. And people have a harder time connecting with you. You appear less authentic, less vulnerable, less real. You literally look fake. And you come across that way not because you’re fake on the inside but because you have no viable way of expressing what’s on the inside past words and tone of voice because you can’t see it on your face. If there isn’t a little twinkle at the outer corners of your eyes when you smile, so much is lost in the translation there. You have to interpret it differently.

Okay! That’s my little tangent on Botox, sorry. (Laughter.) But I prefer the authentic expression of a human being. And yes, we can certainly pretty it up and reduce some of the hardship that might show on someone’s face, but let’s keep the humanness and character.

Right.

We don’t want to have someone not like who they are. Because who you are is more important than what you look like. So where I will tie that in is to say I choose carefully the clients I work with because if somebody wants to have a porcelain face that looks like they had Botox, I can’t achieve that. I don’t even know that any acupuncturist can truly achieve that. But we’re designed, we’re bred, we’re trained to make you as healthy as possible. And that kind of Botox desire is not in alignment with making you your best self, from my point of view, in my medical opinion as a Chinese medicine practitioner. (And then also my personal opinion.) So I can’t work with somebody like that.

It’s wise not to make promises you can’t keep.

It would be nice if everybody was a Subaru and I was a Subaru mechanic. Because then I can guarantee you that if I change out this part with a part that works, everything will be fine. But we’re human beings. There’s so much to factor in to health. I can’t take away a challenging relationship or a job that stresses you out or really bright hot weather in the summer and freezing cold weather in the winter. All of this affects our health, and I can’t change those things. I can tweak, to the extent that I can, things inside you, but the rest is out of my hands.

That’s why healing is a process. That process seeps in and moves through and takes time to act on all those factors, eventually revealing a whole new level and expression of your health.

So there’s no guarantees.

There’s no guarantees. And the acupuncture needles are just like nutrition—they’re not miracle drugs that are going to act five minutes after the treatment. 

It’s that which you do every day that has the biggest impact over time.

If only we could get that message to young people. But when you’re young, it’s almost impossible to think in terms of the future, of consequences for your actions.

We’re immortal and oblivious when we’re young, and it’s delightful. But it’s detrimental. Once you’re 30, 40, 50, you’re, “Oh, I wish I’d have known. I wish I would have listened to everyone who told me to wear sunscreen. I wish I would have not slathered on the cocoa butter and laid in the sun. I wish I hadn’t gotten drunk every weekend for 20 years.”

You know what I wish? I wish when I had braces that I didn’t brush back and forth and back and forth as hard as I could because I thought I was cleaning my braces really well. Because now I have very sensitive teeth from the receding gums in those areas.

That’s a job for SP Cyruta Plus!

Right!

It’s frustrating to see how ignorant kids are about their own health.

I see that every day. I see people letting their children have soda, letting their children have candy and shit food, and I get it. It’s really hard to hear, “Ma! Ma!” Or kids throwing a tantrum. I understand this. I understand there’s peer pressure. I understand there’s commercials on TV. But it still drives me nuts because it’s one of the worst disservices you can do to a kid.

And we get it—a kid doesn’t comprehend consequences for their actions. But parents do. That’s why we call them parents! And if the parent isn’t there doing that for the kid, then, yeah, you’ve got nothing. It’s just going to happen and they’re going to find out when they’re in their 40s that they’re not going to last as long as they had planned on.

And then it’s too late. I mean, we can make a lot of changes still, but some things—you set certain things in motion, and they’re in motion for 20, 30, 40 years before you realize the consequences. It’s very difficult to come back from that, if at all in some cases. Like autoimmune disease. That stuff is set in motion many years before symptoms ever show up. Cancer, too. Most tumors don’t develop overnight. Most of them have been there 10 years before they have a measurable or diagnostically locatable type of manifestation.

Hindsight is 20/20, but really I think one of the greatest gifts a parent can give to their kid is discipline around nutrition. I wish I’d eaten better as a kid.

Absolutely. I second that notion.

My dad worked for Nabisco.

Oh my God!

Yeah, he was an engineer, and he worked on all of their lines. It was all prepackaged processed crap. But you know, I love me some Oreo cookies! And quite often they would make a batch of a new product, and they would give it to employees to do market testing at home. There it would be, a white package—a new package of cookies that weren’t on the market yet! Nobody else in the world has these, and we get to taste test them.

So we ate a lot of crap because it was always there, and my mom had a sweet tooth. And I think that put me into certain habits until I realized that, once you’re no longer growing an inch or two a year, you can get fat real easy. You can get unhealthy really fast. So changing those bad habits was a much greater struggle than it would have been if I’d had good habits all along. Everything in moderation, right? We did not have moderation when it came to Nabisco products. (Laughs.)

Well, this was a long, wonderful journey!

Provide me a glass of wine next time, and I could talk for hours on this stuff.

I love the flow that you’re in with this information and the big picture that you work with, from nutrition to energy. 

We have to. We don’t live in bubbles. We’re not isolated from our environment. We’re not immune to the things we do to ourselves every day.

That’s the main theme of this conversation. And after we get ourselves into trouble, we want to find a way back, to undo some of our mistakes and be free enough to live our purpose.

I think you nailed it—free enough. I don’t want my patients to have to constantly think, “What clothes should I wear today to cover up this rash so nobody judges me for my psoriasis?” Or, “Oh, I’ve got to make sure I don’t leave the house without makeup on because this acne is just so embarrassing.” Or, “I can’t think clearly because I itch so damn much all day long.” Or, “I’m so worried about the food I put in my body because I’m constantly reacting to everything I eat.” “I’m tired all the time. I want to get so much done, but I don’t have the energy to.” That’s not freedom. To have to think constantly about your health is not freedom.

“Zi Zai” is Mandarin and means “to be free of restrictions or limitations.” My goal is to get my patients balanced so they don’t have to worry so much about their health. They can just go and live and experience life.

I think that’s the beauty of the realm you’re working in, unlike the Western medical profession, where patients are basically on their own. Take your drug and get more exercise. Most medical response is predictable and impersonal. But you, a holistic doctor, are walking side-by-side with your patients.

Oh, yeah. I make mistakes too. I’m not perfect by any stretch.

Yes, but you still know more than most of your patients. They’re learning skills from you that they’ll take with them for life. That’s really important.

It is really important. I wish that didn’t have to be part of my job! But we don’t learn anything about our anatomy and physiology and our bodily function in school or at home.

Oh, do not get me started.

This I could talk about just as long as Chinese medicine! I used to teach math. I taught high school math for several years. I think learning trigonometry is stupid if it means these people who have a brain for math have no frickin’ idea how to take care of their own body. I would rather forget math. (Not all math. I love math. I was an engineer. Love math.) But I would rather trade a math class for a health class where you actually learn how to care for yourself.

Yes, ma’am.

I think our entire school system needs to be revamped. If young people learned what their bad lifestyle habits could lead to, whether that’s unprotected sex or eating crap food, the diseases you can develop that can’t be cured, they’d make very different choices in those moments of challenge.

It makes me sad that I have to educate my patients about fundamental things that they should have learned before they got to 10 years of age. But that’s why we’re here, right? Maybe it will be easier for the next generation of healers and future generations of humans. Won’t need so much outside help just to care for themselves in a healthy manner.

Right! And that’s a very good thought to end on. 

We’ll just keep on keeping on.

Seek health…find beauty.
Diana Hermann

Photo of Diana Hermann by Glass Photography; facial structure image from iStock/JFalcetti; case photos by Diana Hermann

Stephanie Selene Anderson

Stephanie Selene Anderson is Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Selene River Press.

5 thoughts on “Your Skin: Eruptions, Traumas, and Mysteries

  1. Brad P says:

    Great interview! I wish more people under 30 paid attention to the long-term effects Diana mentioned.

  2. zizaidermatology says:

    Thanks, Brad. And I completely agree. I wish I had listened to this advice when I was younger!!

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