Skin: The Third Lung

“As the interface between our inner and outer world, the Lung manages external security. Sometimes referred to as the “third lung,” the skin is the outermost surface of the self, providing an elastic envelope that contains us, shielding against intrusion. The Lung transpires across the dermal layer: through perspiration, plus opening and closing the pores, it constantly adjusts the moisture and temperature of the body. Like a screen of variable porosity, the Lung tightens and thickens the skin to ward off undesirable influences and seal in valuable internal resources, or it loosens and thins the skin to release unwanted internal substances or feelings and permit penetration of desirable influences.” – Beinfield, Harriet, and Efrem Korngold. Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine. New York: Ballantine, 1992. Print.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), skin is viewed with great reverence. It is more than a barrier between the inside of the body and the outside environment. It is linked to the organ function of Lung (i.e. a breathing/eliminating function) and consequently, to the energy of the Metal element.

But there is more: Your skin is particularly important because it is a reflexive organ that provides important telltale signs of what is going on within your body. Any recurring skin problem in the same area is an indicator of your health condition. Your skin’s role as a provider of natural early warning signs can help you maintain or achieve an improved state of wellness.

We all know that smoking is very bad for our health, but few realize the particularly dreadful cumulative effect smoking has on skin health and quality. This is because the lungs and skin have a very specific and direct connections and is why Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) refers to the skin as the third lung.

For most people, twenty to thirty minutes of accelerated breathing three times a week is quite sufficient for the health of their skin and body. During these sessions, the breathing should be deep enough to completely empty out the lungs and then fully renew the oxygen content of the lungs. Lack of frequent and deep breathing causes parts of the lungs and a significant portion of the lung alveolus to remain collapsed.

Experts point to the necessity of breathing from the abdomen and not simply from the top of the lungs. This action helps the movement of the diaphragm, the largest muscle in the body that acts as a major pump for the movement of lymph and of water throughout the body.

The lungs (along with skin, kidneys, and colon) are one of four major organs for eliminating bodily waste (gas, fluids and solids). Poor lung energy manifests as disorders of skin and mucous membranes as well as poor venous and lymph circulation. Lungs and the large intestine are responsible for separation, distillation and elimination.

The reflex zone for lungs is found on the face, namely on the cheeks extended from the corner of the mouth, alongside the jawbone to the ear, on both sides.

Lungs are paired with the large intestine in TCM (lungs: yin and large intestine: yang). They belong to Metal element/Fall season. Lungs are where internal energy from nutrients in the blood mixes with external energy of air to provide vital energy.

Skin is called the third lung in TCM because it is the limit between the internal and the external. For this reason, skin is regulated by Metal energy. Breathing (lungs) affects the movement of vital energy through the body.

It is said, “Where chi goes, energy flows.” Body-mind exercises such as yoga demonstrate how intent and breathing can direct energy with its attendant therapeutic benefits.

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