Welcome to ON BEAUTY, a monthly feature highlighting creative, like-minded people who inspire us.
The first thing to establish about Sandra Lanshin Chiu is that she’s not an aesthetician. Despite the fact, that she treats the skin, and does it incredibly well, Lanshin Chiu’s skincare trajectory stems from Traditional Chinese Medicine, an ancient and sophisticated method with nuanced understandings of the body and the pathologies that disrupt healthy function. Her main focus? Applying acupuncture, herbs, and the major “tools” of TCM to treat skin disorders and rejuvenate skin cosmetically.
That said, every single protocol she crafts for her patients is different. She notes that TMI tends to be inevitable when going through her laundry list of questions, but that enables her to understand the person as a whole working system.
Here, the Brooklyn-based skin connoisseur reveals why she looks to resolve skin woes at both the surface and “under the hood,” how bowel regularity can directly affect your complexion, and the reason prescription meds and topicals don’t always cut it when it comes to treating concurrent issues.
How did you get your start and when did you first know you wanted to focus on the skin?
I started almost 20 years ago. I quit a “corporate” job and began graduate-level training in Traditional Chinese Medicine. After I completed my Master’s degree (4 years) and postgraduate training (1 year in Beijing with my beloved Chinese teachers), I came back to New York and began my private practice.
About eight years ago, I increasingly started to focus on applying acupuncture, herbs, and the major “tools” of TCM to treat skin disorders and rejuvenate skin cosmetically. I noticed that patients who were coming to me to treat issues like back pain and for fertility support weren’t finding success treating concurrent issues (like adult hormonal acne) using prescription meds or topicals from their MD.
I knew that TCM would have a way to heal them. It’s an ancient, sophisticated medicine with nuanced understandings of the body and the pathologies that disrupt healthy function. I then trained with Mazin Al-Khafaji, a TCM dermatologist who has an unheard of patient success rate. After that, I was able to kick my success rate up a level (or two).
It looks to the laws and behaviors of nature to understand healthy human body function, as well as the pathologies that can occur when that healthy state is disrupted.
You practice herbal dermatology. What does that mean?
As a licensed Herbalist, I use the principles of Chinese herbal medicine to heal chronic inflammatory skin disorders including, but not limited to, acne, rosacea, dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, and melasma.
Where does your specialty lie when it comes to the skin and what makes your take unique?
My philosophy about supporting the skin and body comes directly from the principles of Chinese Medicine. It looks to the laws and behaviors of nature to understand healthy human body function, as well as the pathologies that can occur when that healthy state is disrupted.
I work to resolve the problem at the surface (whether it’s acne or eczema, etc.), but I also look “under the hood” to identify the disruption—what‘s not working internally—causing a disorder in healthy skin function.
What does a session with you look like?
I examine every aspect of the skin, the size, location, and color depth of pimples. I also get into the details of a women’s menstrual cycle, bowel regularity, stool states, stress levels, sleep, and hygiene, basically a lot of “TMI.” But it’s all crucial information that enables me to understand the person as a whole working system. This complete picture helps me identify which herbs to include in their custom prescription in order to heal both the inside and outside of their condition.
I also love using acupuncture, gua sha, cupping, and other TCM practices for “cosmetic,” and skin-rejuvenating treatments. My philosophy applies to facial work the same way tension and blockages that cause pain and discomfort in the body affect the face. In the face, that tension can create issues like sagging jowls, deep lines and wrinkles, dull complexion, and dryness. I find it so satisfying to be able to restore healthy circulation, plumpness, and qi (life force) back into a person’s face and neck using the low-tech, highly effective tools of TCM.
Facial Gua Sha is also a beautiful, calming way to reconnect to ourselves so that we not only feel good about our skin, but also feel more relaxed and at ease.
How does Traditional Chinese Medicine address aging?
Traditional Chinese Medicine is successful in working with the common complaints related to “aging,” yet it provides a more compassionate and healing-based perspective to understand skin issues and what it takes to heal them.
TCM principles also teach that our beauty is directly connected to our harmony of nature. That principle alone has the potential to transform our collective confidence in ourselves and our beauty. That’s why I’m so passionate about sharing TCM.
You’re a champion of gua sha and you have designed a few of your own. Why is this a central element in your practice?
Unlike acupuncture, Facial Gua Sha is a Chinese medicine-based practice that can be incorporated as self-care. It empowers people as a safe and effective way to achieve results and improve the quality of their skin and health without requiring the access or the means to see a professional. I also find that Facial Gua Sha (when practiced with good technique) is exponentially more effective at immediately improving skin’s appearance and restoring youthfulness in a way that topical products alone simply cannot achieve.
Facial Gua Sha is also a beautiful, calming way to reconnect to ourselves so that we not only feel good about our skin, but also feel more relaxed and at ease. That’s invaluable in today’s world. In my opinion, to be beautiful is to be at ease.
You ask a lot of questions that most skin professionals don’t about the whole body before treating a client. Why do you integrate that into your treatments and what are some of those questions asked?
I’m not an esthetician. It’s important to understand the difference. My education is in Traditional Chinese Medicine—a 4-year Master’s level program. I’m trained and licensed to assess, diagnose, and treat disorders using the principles and tools of TCM. As such, I approach every patient, whether for eczema or frown lines, from a clinical point of view.
TCM takes a whole-system approach to treatment, so it’s absolutely necessary for me to understand what’s going on inside of a person to create a precise strategy and treatment plan for healing inflammation or disorder on the surface. I get deep with my patients on the details of their menstrual cycle, digestion and elimination, the state of their mood and stress levels, and sleep quality. They find me asking questions about the color depth and viscosity of their menstrual blood to the exact quality of their stool (soft, hard, or normal). These give me clues into how well their internal systems are functioning and helps me decide what herbs, topical products, or lifestyle practices to prescribe and recommend.
TCM principles also teach that our beauty is directly connected to our harmony of nature.
My evening skincare routine: Microneedling my face, neck, and décolletage, followed by an active serum application, followed by Gua Sha to further penetrate the products and keep my face looking awake and fresh.
Also, I love the simple ritual of making a fresh cup of sencha green tea in the morning and drinking it quietly after I’ve had my morning hydration (water, lemon, and a pinch of sea salt). With everything on my plate right now, this feels as soothing as an actual vacation.
It changes, but right now, I’m drawn to anything Neroli.
Tips for long haul flights?
Be a hydration master! Plan ahead and intentionally drink more broth, juices, and water, and eat more fruits and veggies the night before/day of. Yes, you’ll have to pee more, but it’s worth it to feel better!
I also hydrate and moisturize as soon as I sit down on the plane with a thick facial balm to seal it in for the duration of the flight.
I always use a light scarf to wrap my neck and cover all the way up to my nose so that I don’t breathe in the dry air. And finally, I coat my nostrils (inside) with herbal sinus oil.
Favorite beauty food?
My favorite beauty foods are watermelon and cucumbers, especially during the summer when they’re in season. I like hot bone broth during the winter and cold months. I’m also a fan of chia seed beverages, usually, a fresh juice diluted with water, with plumped up chia seeds (8g when dry) to maximize the hydration potential.
What’s your vice?
Do you have any charms or talismans?
Yes, he’s a black and white Japanese Chin named Jackson.