Băi Chóng Wō

Should I have become a dermatologist? As a child, I used to sneak into the study on weekend mornings, before the grown-ups were awake to examine dermatology texts (great photos). Yes, considering this, dermatology could be an appropriate career move. Yet, as a child I was also covered head to toe in psoriasis, and from this I have learned how annoyingly stubborn most skin issues can be and so dermatology, as a career choice, could prove quite frustrating. As an adult, I am at times a bit overwhelmed by my mysophobic tendencies, so dermatology all day, every day, might be a personal challenge. So I have decided once and for all: I will not be performing any biopsies or excisions in this lifetime (and medical school, for that matter, is out the window- whew!). Instead, I have the potent power of Chinese medicine, which, to be honest, is the only thing that has touched my psoriasis in all these years. The reason, in case you are curious, is because Chinese medicine returns homeostasis to the body and aims to treat both the manifestations and the underlying root causes of disease, something your average cortisone cream just cannot do.

I had the pleasure of spending one week in the dermatology department at CDUTCM. There were many moments that reignited my passion for the integumentary system- psoriasis, vitiligo, alopecia…life doesn’t get much more interesting! But for every one patient I found fascinating there was another that left me shifting my gaze to the nearest exit and plotting an escape. Lice, scabies, fungal stuff, staph infections, and gangrenous wounds weeping foul smelling ooze had me squirming around in my chair, itching from head to toe. All I could do was go to my happy place- the nice long shower (soap, lots and lots of soap) waiting for me once the shift ended. I never actually did go home and take a shower, I’m just being dramatic.

Most people visiting the dermatology department fell into two groups. The first group were patients with skin disorders, typically autoimmune or allergy related. The second group, the majority group, were patients utilizing Chinese medicine for cosmetic purposes- acne, wrinkles, freckles, chloasma, etc. I can only conclude that Chinese herbs were hard at work because some of these patients had skin that looked healthier than the skin on my bum the day I was born! In all seriousness, I appreciated the variety of patients that came into this department, as any kind of dermatological problem can have a colossal impact on a person’s life. This is often the case for patients with severe acne, and the doctors at CDUTCM have a rock solid treatment plan: herbs, of course, and a weekly (or bi-weekly) mask therapy. Sometimes, fire needles (acu needles heated over a flame and then rapidly inserted- not to be tried at home) were also added into the mix.

This whole mask therapy thing had me intrigued, so I had my translator escort me down the hall to see it in action.

The mask therapy room is tucked away at the end of the dermatology wing, and seems a bit top secret- or at least the herbal ingredients are. There are actually two layers applied during the masking process. The first layer, containing mostly herbs, is mixed up and painted onto the face. Then, moist gauze is applied and a steamer is turned on to help open the pores and allow the herbs to penetrate. The second layer, which, the tight lipped mask therapy lady did admit contained shí gāo/gypsum, was layered on last. After about ten minutes the shí gāo layer hardened into something reminiscent of a paper mâché arts and craft project. Apparently the results were pretty good, hence the need to keep the herbal ingredients a secret. If I ever make my way back to Chengdu, have no doubt, I will find out what is in the masks!

While watching this process, my translator friend asked what kinds of masks I use back in the states. Now, other than splurging on the regularly priced face wash from time to time, I spend little time on these things, I admitted. When I also explained that I don’t carry an umbrella on sunny days to shield my skin, I sensed some concern in her eyes, which of course, made me feel a little concerned. I got to thinking about about my careless approach to skincare –  no longer a spring chicken I flashed back to all those teenage years spent oiled up on my back patio baking my skin to a crisp. If I was going to age gracefully I needed to take some aggressive action. There was no doubt in my mind- I needed a mask! 

Our skin, the largest organ in the human body, certainly deserves some love and respect from time to time. After my week in the dermatology department, and from my personal experience, I can honestly say that Chinese herbs are a top notch option for just about any dermatological concern. The photos below were snapped back in Taipei at Poya cosmetics store where I spent more time taking photos than I did buying much of anything. Cheers!

In other news, while many of you were enjoying a second helping of turkey, Dave and I visited a toilet inspired restaurant here in Taipei with a couple of friends. Good times! I sat next to the American flag toilet, so as to be reminded of all my loved ones back in the states.

Love and thanks, y’all!

This place was so weird! I ate curry out of a toilet and juice was served in a urinal!


6 thoughts on “Băi Chóng Wō

  1. Andrea, I get such a kick out of your writing.Your description of the experiences in Taiwan are wonderful. Keep them coming.

  2. i wish i had known about chinese medicine when i had severe acne. instead i took a whole slew of strong drugs for years, culminating in acutane which is really bad for your liver and causes suicidal thoughts.

    • Well, the upside is that the liver regenerates! I feel you though, and I think as Chinese medicine grows in the U.S. people will see it as more of an option for these types of issues. At least I sure hope so.

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