Dampness - a root cause of skin problems

Dampness in the skin may be caused by the invasion of an external pathogen or, alternatively, generated by an internal imbalance. The main causes of dampness include: constitutional weakness of the spleen, imbalanced diet, physical overwork, chronic diseases, or overuse of antibiotics. Infants and young children are particularly vulnerable due to their insufficiently developed spleens.

The diagnostic relevance of dampness is even expressed in the TCM terminology, for example: Atopic dermatitis is known as ”si wan feng“ (”wind of the four crooks“), but is also


referred to as ”wan shi“, meaning ”persistent dampness“.  Eczema is described as ”shi zhen“, which means ”damp rash“.

Accumulated and persistent dampness tends to obstruct the free flow of qi, which generates heat.

While heat causes increased activity, dampness causes stagnation to the body. The variety of symptoms is broad, depending on the ratio between heat and dampness. Diagnostics should focus on the examination of the current skin condition. Reviewing the patient’s medical history as well as inspecting the pulse and tongue allow further differentiation.

Dampness can cause blistering and exudation. Additionally, the accumulation of damp heat causes inflammation of the skin. Secondary infections are also common with this pattern. If damp heat is not eliminated and strongly agglutinated, it may become a fire toxin.

The quality (clear or purulent) and the degree of exudate and blisters must be assessed. Additionally, it is important to determine which skin layer is affected. Erosions are shallow wounds, which may be precursors to more severe and deeper-extending wounds such as sores.

In the event of predominant dampness the skin exudate as well as the secretion of the blisters (vesicles) and erosions are clear. A skin condition with damp heat causes the formation of red blisters filled with yellow fluids (pustels) and erosions with yellow secretion. There may also be a sticky yellow scaling of the skin. Dried exudate on the skin forms a yellow crust. Damp heat combined with toxic heat creates pustels and erosions filled with purulent secretion.

If heat is predominant the skin becomes red and dry, and itching is intense. If the heat is in the blood the symptoms are aggravated, and blisters are filled with a bloody secretion. The skin may become cracked with bloody scabs if scratching is intensive.


Dr. Med. Ulrike Schütz
Medical Director, SinoPhyto GmbH


Footnotes:[1] Bensky D., Clavey S., Stöger E.: Materia Medica , EASTland Press, Seattle, WA, USA 2004, third Edition, [2] Körfers A., Sun Y.: Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgesellschaft mbH Stuttgart, 2009, [3] Atkins J., Versluys A.: The Classical Energetics of the Five Tastes, Journal of Chinese Medicine,80: 50-58, 2006, [4] Chen J.K., Chen T.T.: Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology, Art of Medicine Press, Inc., City of Industry, CA, USA, 2004