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Healthy Skin – How Chinese Herbs Benefit Your Skin
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
Chinese herbs are an excellent source of modern medicine and therapeutic cosmetics, as long as you know where and how to look. For those unfamiliar, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is mysterious and full of “mumbo jumbo” because its theory and practice are full of esoteric terminology. Terms like Qu Feng (wind repellent), Qing Dynasty (heat removal or decomposition), Xie (evil) and Yi Qi (replenishment of life energy) are certainly difficult to understand, although others, such as Jie du (removes toxins), Sheng Ji (building muscles/meat),Ming mu(clarifying vision) and Shen (calming the spirit) are more obvious. The terminology may seem archaic and sometimes downright superstitious, but the TCM system has evolved over the centuries in a logical way. You just have to look at it from a different perspective. Then it makes sense.
Although I have never had formal training in TCM, my research over the past 20 years has helped me figure out a few things, especially the correlation between traditional properties and modern scientific findings, and predicting the pharmacological functions of an herb by analyzing its traditional properties. Thus, the herb with Qu Feng properties are likely to have an anti-inflammatory effect, such as Job’s tear, wu Jia pi (shell of several Eleutherococcus spp.), ginger, du hoo (Angelica pubescens root) and many other lesser known ones. With herbs Qing re Jie du (heat-dissolving and detoxifying) properties usually have an antimicrobial and antipyretic effect. Examples include honeysuckle (flower and vine), forsythia fruit, purslane herb, Chuan Xin Lian (Andrographis paniculata herb), Yu Xing Cao(Houttuynia cordata herb) etc.
Herbs useful for the skin
Many herbs are beneficial for the skin and are used both internally and externally for this purpose. They usually have one or more of the following traditional properties: benefit/improve skin color, remove heat, remove toxins, remove swelling, refresh/nourish blood, lighten skin, moisturize skin/remove dryness, prevent scarring, promote flesh growth, etc. . The following are some common ones: lycium fruit, ligustrum, astragalus, licorice, Chinese hawthorn, Sanqi (Panax Notoginseng), Reishi (ganoderma), jujube, red and white peony root, luffa, safflower flower, Sichaun lovage (Ligusticum Chuanxiong rhizome), gaoben (Ligusticum sinense root/rhizome) etc.
Astragalus, licorice and Sanqi are known for their healing properties. Either alone or in combination, they can be used in various forms (extracts, powder, etc.) to treat wounds, chapped skin, bruises, dry skin, peeling skin, and other minor skin irritations. You can also add one or two anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial herbs to the formulation, such as Xinyi (magnolia flower bud), purslane herb, honeysuckle flower or forsythia fruit.
TCM, Sichuan lovage, gaoben, Ligustrum and Chines hawthorn are used topically to treat brown spots on the skin. The former two have been shown to have tyrosinase inhibitory effects, showing scientific evidence that these herbs can prevent excessive skin pigmentation.
Studies on the benefits of herbs for the skin
The following are from two short reports in my file describing the results of Chinese hawthorn and Sanqi for the treatment of brown spots and cracked skin.
Chinese hawthorn (Sanzha) to treat brown patches (melasma) on the face [Hubei Zhongyi Zazhi, 16(5): 47(1994)]. The results are described shanzha treated 12 patients with melasma affecting mostly the forehead and cheeks and less on the nose and upper lip. The patients’ ages varied between 23 and 45 years. The shortest illness duration was 5 months and the longest 12 years. Method: Grind 300 g of dried raw material shanzha into a fine powder and reserve for later use. Wash your face with warm water and dry with a towel. Mix 5 g shanzha powder and enough fresh egg white to form a paste and spread it on the face to form a thin film. Leave it on for 1 hour, during which time the face can be massaged to facilitate the absorption of the herb. Do this once in the morning and once in the evening. Sixty (60) applications formed one treatment period. Results: After treatment, pigmentation disappeared in 6 patients, whose skin color had returned to normal; it became paler in 4 patients; and 2 did not respond. A case example was described in a 23-year-old single woman with melasma on her cheeks, which had been treated for 6 months without success, and which had started to spread to her forehead and bridge of the nose. 2 after the course shanzha treatment (120 applications; 2 months), the patient’s melasma was completely cured.
In Western medical practice, melasma is usually treated with bleaching agents such as hydroquinone, which is quite harsh. The fruit of the Chinese hawthorn has never been known to be poisonous and is a common food and medicine. If it doesn’t work, it sure doesn’t hurt. You can buy shanzha from any Chinese herbal shop and probably many food markets in Chinatown. But remember to get dried raw (usually in rolled slices 1-2 cm in diameter and about 0.5 cm thick), and don’t shanzha candy that comes in thin wafers stacked 3-4 cm high and wrapped in paper. If raw shanzha is not dry enough to grind, you can dry it in the oven on low heat until it is brittle.
Sanqi (Panax Notoginseng) powder for treating severely chapped skin [Jiangxi Zhongyiyao, 23(1): 35(1992)]. In addition to other effects (immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, etc.). Sanqi is known for its hemostatic and wound-healing properties. This report presents the results of 68 treatments for chapped skin. 36 patients had complicated athlete’s foot and 41 experienced varying degrees of pain or bleeding. The duration of the illness varied from 6 months to 15 years. Method: Mix 30 g Sanqi grind well and enough sesame oil to form a uniform paste, place it in a closed clean container and reserve for later use. Soak the affected areas with hot but tolerable water for 10-20 minutes before applying the oily paste. Do this 3-4 times a day for 30 days. Results: After treatment, 45 patients were cured without recurrence after more than one year; and 23 showed improvements with longer periods between relapses, again responding to the same treatment. The fastest response was 3 weeks and the longest was 7 weeks, an average of 3.7 weeks. The paste is also recommended to be used preventively by applying it to the affected areas every 1-2 days.
Sanqi or tienchi ginseng is readily available at any Chinese herbal store. It has spindle-shaped whole roots, 2-4 cm long and 1-3 cm in diameter, and is very hard. Unless you have a Chinese bronze mortar and pestle with a lid, grinding this herb is not easy. You may need to break it first with a hammer and then grind it in a sturdy coffee grinder.
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