Written by Gystilyn O’Brien. 7/5/19. Unpublished by LifestyleCollective via Content Castle.

Chinese herbal medicine and tea set,still life

If you are anything like me you poke your head outside, squint at the sun for 30 seconds and retreat back inside to find yourself beet red. I love the sun, and the sun… well, she really loves me too–to devour me, that is. In short, I live slathered in sunscreen. I hop out of the shower and layer on the sunscreen first thing, even in places you wouldn’t think the sun can reach. Oh believe me, it gets there. There isn’t an alternative option, short of not leaving the house or moving somewhere so cold that I’m covered in three layers of clothing constantly. Not a bad choice really, but I’m a beach girl at heart. I live to sunbathe. 

All that said, modern sunscreen options are kind of terrifying. You start reading ingredients and the number of chemicals listed is dizzying. What are oxybenzone, octocrylene, and homosalate? What do you mean that the ingredients might be carcinogenic?! What’s this about blocking UVB and not UVA? Does that mean I won’t burn, but I still may get skin cancer? Ah! No, no, no! And then you read these awful reports saying sunscreen damages coral reefs. How on earth is that going to be good for your skin if it’s not good for the ocean? 

Naturally, you go find the homeopathic section of the market to compare products and there you hone in on grandma’s trusty old friend, Zinc Oxide–you know that thick white clay-like goo that never rubs in? Zinc Oxide has been used as a homeopathic sunscreen for nearly 2,000 years. Tried and true, and really good stuff but is it really the best? Then, to your surprise, you see an ad for Chinese Traditional Medicine (TCM) Sunscreen and the world spins off its axis. Immediately what comes to mind–Chinese women do have unnaturally perfect skin, forever. Maybe there’s something to that.

Following some ads you find that there’s something odd here. The ads relentlessly keep referring you to a Chinese Medicine Clinic. Now that you’ve started to notice, the advertisements are everywhere, but they don’t seem to be advertising a specific product. In fact, they seem vague, merely promoting the benefits of TCM sunscreen, but no actual product. 

Alas, fear not!  Allow me to explain. Western and Eastern medicine are fundamentally different in that Western medicine aims to treat the effects of a problem and Eastern medicine aims to treat the source of a problem. TCM philosophy believes that sunburn is not just an effect of the sun damaging skin, but rather how your body digests the sun. The purpose of being referred to a clinic is to see a practitioner who can evaluate your body and prescribe you a diet of certain foods, herbs, and tonics to help promote energy flow (chi) so that when you step outside, your body naturally produces the right chemicals needed to absorb the sun properly. The clinic will also likely create a customized sun salve for you which combines certain herbs and berries like red dates, goji berries, burdock root, yams, ginseng, and, potentially, Zinc Oxide. The thing is that salve, although customized for you, will only be effective if you’re following the prescribed regimen. It will promote your body to naturally guard against the sun, as opposed to helping your body with the damage the sun does. The methodology is completely different. 

Think of it like this: you get up in the morning with average aches and pains and you carry on about your day through your ritual of skin and body care, yoga, diet, and meditation. It’s your personalized process and you’ve come to it through years of listening to recommendations. TCM is the same concept, except it’s had 2,000 years to develop. A visit to a practitioner doesn’t just try to fix one problem but aims to mend the entire system. You go in for sunscreen and come out with a fix for sunscreen and sun damage, acne, backache, indigestion, insomnia, and a daily boost in energy. Suddenly, everything feels great. That’s opening up your chi–that’s paying attention to your body as a whole unit, instead of each issue as a separate entity. 

For me, mindfulness of the self is as important as my effects on the environment–no chemical sunscreens in the ocean! If TCM teaches consideration of the body and mind as a single unit, then I’ll gladly jump on that train to improve my whole self. Yeah, it’s different, but maybe it’s time for different. Maybe the Western methods I’ve been going at are only doing half the job. I want the whole package. I deserve the whole package, and TCM can make that happen. Go forth and check out something new. Your skin will be glad you did!