Illuminating Your Skin with Traditional Chinese Medicine - Interview with Sandra Lanshin Chiu

Western medicine approaches illness from a "treat the symptom" perspective. On the flip side, functional medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) look to solve the underlying problem. Why mask symptoms when you can fix the root cause? 

Our founder, Caroll Lee, checked in with her favorite TCM practitioner, Sandra Lanshin Chiu, to speak more on TCM and its relationship with your natural beauty routine.

In addition to being an expert in TCM, she is also an acupuncturist, herbalist, and founder of Treatment by Lanshin, a Wellness Studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. 

Sandra Lanshin Chiu, LAC

Sandra Lanshin Chiu, LAC

What first motivated you to become a healer, and why specifically traditional Chinese medicine?

It wasn’t that I had a sudden a-ha moment about becoming a healer, it was more like a slow journey of shedding things that weren’t working for me that eventually had me arrive at what I believe is my life’s calling. I actually began my professional life as an investment banker - definitely not my jam, though it took some time to be clear about that. I made my rounds through the corporate world after that - but the work never felt satisfying or meaningful to me. 

I became fascinated by Chinese medicine during my time as a banker, when I developed a severe pain condition that I did not want to take meds for. I found a Chinese medical healer instead and his work quickly resolved my pain, but even more profound to me was how his work helped me feel something I hadn't felt in a while: happy. That a medicine could relieve my pain, and at the same time emotionally and spiritually uplift me blew my mind. It helped me feel and be more me - which felt good and right. 

And what led you to focus on skin and beauty and to apply traditional Chinese medicine there?

I treated so many back and neck pain issues at one point that I started noticing when patients got up from my table, they literally looked like they had had a great facial, even though I didn't touch their face at all. Their complexion became brighter and more even, they looked younger and their skin took on that rosy glow that reflects good blood circulation. I began to see how facial beauty really starts with the body. Today our facial rejuvenation work at Lanshin almost always includes some acupuncture work to unblock stagnating tension in the tissues and restoring good strong circulation through areas like the neck and back. In our work with skin and faces, we as Chinese medicine practitioners are able to take our clinical experience of healing pain and ailments affecting the body and apply it to facial, skin and beauty goals. Imagine what the same principles of treatment that resolve pain and disease can do when strategically applied to resolving patterns of tension that create problems with skin fatigue and dullness, facial sagging and the loss of feature definition. Our goal is to innovate on skincare this way and help people find true solutions that are firmly rooted in sustainable, natural principles that support the body’s healthy functioning - not work against or in spite of it. 

I also treat skin disorders from inside out with internal herbal medicine. I began focusing on dermatology because I was enraptured by what I saw Chinese herbal treatment could do for stubborn, awful skin disorders. I was also frustrated with the lack of options for skin treatment beyond the symptom suppressive approach of western medicine. Skin healing is so complex and yet there are so few options for effective care.  So I gravitated toward dermatology conditions over time and today it makes up over half of my cases. The need for Chinese medicine approach is great and I predict that in the not distant future almost 100% of my cases will be for skin. 

I love that you don't promote the term "anti-aging". Tell us more about your philosophy around the aging process.

I find the notion of anti-aging so disempowering. We are all growing older - and that is a natural, inevitable process to be embraced not dreaded. Rather than be against aging, I'm for growing older while cultivating and building as much vitality in my body and spirit as I possibly can. This means taking really good care of my body and my emotional needs, and making them absolute priorities. The decrepitude we are actually afraid of when it comes to aging comes from neglect of self. 

At Provenance, we believe that beauty starts on the inside, and we feed our clients the cleanest, most nutrient-dense foods around to promote that. What role do you believe diet has in our skin health?

Right diet is important for not just skin health, but overall health and radiance. I have seen a lot of skin conditions improve with eating more healthfully. But I have also seen conditions where one eats as healthy as humanly possible and yet the skin disorder doesn't budge - which is when a stronger intervention is needed, like herbal medicine to more successfully shift the condition. When it comes to skin there is no one rule that applies to all, it's always a case by case situation.

Last year I attended your seminar at the W.E.L.L. Summit on the power of Chinese Medicine in healing skin. You mentioned then that you believed eating as an omnivore, including animal proteins, is important from a Chinese medical standpoint. Can you elaborate?

To clarify, I think it can be important depending on a person's individual constitution. As I mentioned above, there is no blanket rule for all people in my clinical experience. But I have definitely observed how some people just do better when they incorporate animal proteins. Chinese medicine recognizes various properties in organ meats and different types of animals that help the functioning of our bodies. Like lamb meat is supportive to what we call our yang energy, so a good Winter choice. Liver is helpful for building good blood. This is all along with of course an abundance of fruits and veggies. Eating the rainbow is always a good policy. 

I also went to one of the Facial Gua Sha workshops at your studio Treatment by Lanshin in Williamsburg. I'm now addicted in the best way, and it's become my go-to self-care ritual almost every evening before bed. How do you practice beauty as self-care?

In addition to Facial Gua Sha - which I do on myself several times a week (other days I like to do facial needling on myself or hot herb poultice lately), I'm obsessed with moisturizing and hydrating my skin. Several times a day (like 3-4x) I apply a hydrating mist - generously - to my face and neck, followed by a few drops of a facial serum and/or oil. And I often finish with a tiny speck of facial balm, especially in dry east coast Winter. 

Finally, what are your top 5 "easy" beauty tips for our super busy New York clients?

1 - Don’t try to be perfect, learn to be satisfied with doing your best, it’s more relaxing. There is more beauty in the state of relaxation. 

2 - Engage in more pleasurable things daily - think of it as a vitamin (vitamin P) crucial to good health. Beauty is as happy does. 

3 - Treat your self-care like it's literally your job. 

4 - Hydrate your skin often not just 1 or 2x day. 

5 - Sleep well daily, and if you don’t or can’t, figure out what’s in the way and resolve it.

Caroll Lee - Founder of Provenance Meals - NYC.jpg

Caroll Lee - Founder of Provenance Meals

Caroll is an avid cook, mother of two, Board Certified Health Counselor and the founder of Provenance Meals.  Her passion in life is to feed people real food -- food that is raised, grown and prepared in traditional ways that are good for your health and good for the planet.  Caroll practices holistic nutrition, understanding that a healthy diet must be combined with other sources of nourishment—loving relationships, enjoyable physical activity, meaningful work and spiritual connectedness—to reach true health and happiness.