They say that beauty comes from within and when it comes to our skin, the saying couldn’t be truer. We all know that when something funky is going on in our body, it usually manifests itself on our skin somehow — be it through poor color, acne breakouts or flakiness. But the ancient art of face mapping takes things to a whole new level. The technique is based on the theory that each part of your face is a window to a corresponding internal section of your body.
“Face mapping is the ability to see the reflection of the body’s organs on each part of the face by observing the face’s complexion — such as luster, dullness and color [and breakouts!] — as well as the tongue and face expression,” Chapman Lee, a Chinese scholar and co-founder of the skin care line Baszicare, told Refinery29.
It’s been a part of Chinese medicine for thousands of years, but only started going mainstream the past decade or so. Now it’s rapidly taking center stage at spas and clinics, and modern practices often combine ancient Chinese medicine with clinical dermatological procedures.
The window to your health
Face mapping is also known as mien shiang — which quite literally translates to face reading. Western medical practitioners like to claim there is little truth to face mapping, but Chinese medicine practitioners have long believed that when your skin starts acting up, it indicates that something else is not going well inside you. Whatever these imbalances are, they will show up on your face.
“Your face is a mirror of your health. Your body has a map and your face is part of the map,” acupuncturist Angela Zhang told us. “Each of these organs is an open window in the face. The eyes are the window of the liver, the nose is the window into the lungs and the ears are the window of the kidney. When illness starts, the energy will not flow smoothly, so features on the face, including shapes and colors, will also change.”
Areas of your face and what they correspond to
According to Chinese medicine doctor, Dr. Wang Zheng Hu, the location of acne and other imbalances on your face can indicate their underlying cause. Think of your blemishes like X’s that mark those spots as warning signs of your health.
Here are some of the zones typically mapped in mien shiang and what imbalances in them mean.
Forehead: This area of your face is connected to your bladder and digestive system. If your forehead is red or puffy, you may be eating too much rich or sugary food. Other factors may include too much stress or an irregular sleep schedule.
If you break out frequently in this area, it might mean that you need to improve your elimination by drinking more water and eating more whole foods, according to Dermalogica.
Area between your eyes: This part of your face is linked to the liver and to the heart. Acne here may indicate the need to reduce alcohol, dairy and fatty foods in your diet. You can also ease problems in this part of your face by getting 30 minutes a day of light exercise and a good night’s sleep. Problems in this area can also indicate a food allergy.
Around your eyes/ears: If you have been working extra hours, drinking too much coffee and juggling too many commitments, it is going to show up in this area. If the half moon-shaped area under the eye is puffy and blue, you are depleting your liver or kidneys by eating too much rich food. And if your ears are redder than your facial skin, you are overworking your adrenal glands. This also applies if the inner corners of the eyes have a sunken, dark blue look to it.
Cheeks: Though breakouts in this area can be caused by dirt and oil from cellphone use or sleeping on your side, they can also be indicative of slow metabolism, low absorption of nutrients (like folic acid and iron) and lung issues, according to Mind Body Green.
Since your cheeks are linked to your lungs, breakouts on either side of your face can be related to smoking. Also consider cutting back on sugar, eating more green vegetables and going outdoors more often.
Nose: Oriental medicine experts suggest that breakouts in this part of your face may result from high blood pressure, poor diet or constipation. To avoid breakouts here, use makeup labeled “noncomedogenic” meaning that it won’t clog your pores. Besides better makeup, decrease your intake of meat and spicy foods.
Chin: This zone of the face is linked with the small intestine and breakouts in the area can happen after eating greasy or heavy foods. Breakouts can also indicate hormonal imbalance and stress.
Sides of the chin: Many women experience breakouts in this region of the face around the time of their monthly cycle, as the area links to the ovaries. Hormones do play a role in your skin, but a hormonal imbalance or stress can cause breakouts anywhere on your face.
These tips are not meant to replace a doctor’s advice. For best results, consult a naturopathic doctor, licensed dietician, nutritionist, Chinese medicine practitioner or a dermatologist.
Before you go, check out our slideshow below.
Originally published October 2013. Updated April 2017.