To Chinese Medicine, the whole world, including the human body, is viewed through the lens of the 5 Elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. Symptoms of disease are also interpreted through this framework.

For example, what Western medicine might diagnose as lower back pain caused by muscle strain, Chinese Medicine might diagnose as a symptom of “excess” of Wood (or Liver/Gallbladder meridians) or a “deficiency” of Water (or Kidney/ Bladder meridians) – and the treatment goal would be to bring those excesses or deficiencies back into balance using acupuncture or one of the many other modalities of Chinese Medicine.

The face reflects the body. Practitioners of Chinese Medicine can read symptoms of bodily ailments by close observation of the face, and your face exhibits your most dominant elements.

Let’s look at some well-known faces through the lens of the 5 Elements.


A good way to begin to understand the Wood element is through the plant metaphor. When a plant gets the nutrients it needs, it can flourish, upward and outward, and root itself solidly to the earth. When deprived of resources, the plant may be thwarted, brittle or unbending, wither and uproot.

When in balance, the person with a strong Wood constitution displays character traits of planning and vision, qualities of leadership. Ailments rooted in a disharmony of the Wood element are familiar- ever hear of the “A” type personality? There’s a good chance this describes a person who is driven and goal oriented to the exclusion of other important matters. When this element is out of balance, common complaints are frustration, anger and overall tightness. This patient may see problems in the liver and gall bladder, and complain of headaches, high blood pressure, PMS, digestive problems, gallstones or ulcers.

Where does the Wood element express itself in a face?
Wood Features: Rectangular faces, squared jawline, intense gaze, and strong brow bones

Where do Wood-related stresses show on your face?

  • Lines – vertical lines between the eyebrows
  • Acne – between eyebrows, or upper corners or forehead, redness, congestio


In balance, the Fire element motivates us to connect with others in the world, inspires us and encourages us to take risks for goals we consider important. Out of balance, an excess of Fire can make you prone to heart problems, anxiety and insomnia.

Where does the Fire element express itself in a face?
Fire Features: Long face, with more pointed chin, or “heart-shaped” face; narrow, prominent cheekbones, and a more pointed forehead than the Wood type. Other Fire features are freckles, red, curly or wiry hair, rapid speech and quick body movements.

Where Fire shows up on your face:

  • Facial Lines: crow’s feet (from living well, laughing!)
  • Acne: blemishes on nose
  • Redness in skin, rapid skin flushes


The Water Element is characterized by movement and power. Water shows up in nature as a force, and the impact can range from the positive to the very negative. It has the capacity to be soothing when calm, and ‘going with the flow’ is Water at work in the most affirmative way. Water, however, can also be destructive, like the force behind a tidal wave. Water character traits are strong will and resilience, and when out of balance, can be conveyed as fear. When the Water element is out of balance, some common ailments are dizziness, tinnitus, vertigo, lower back pain, and urinary incontinence.

Where does the Water element express itself in a face?
Water Features: Dark hair and coloration, deep set, large eyes, a strong forehead and chin

Where Water related stress shows up on your face:
Faces that characterize the Water element over other elements (and thus reflect potential disease states related to an over expression of that element) might exhibit under-eye puffiness or darkness, deep wrinkles on the forehead (expressing long standing worry, or fear, a familiar emotion to a person residing in the Water element).


The Earth element is characterized as the center, and in ancient models of the 5 element system, earth was not included as part of a cycle, but rather placed in the center, around which the other elements revolved.

The Earth meridians (Stomach and Spleen) provide nourishment and stability, transforming and moving nutrients efficiently, so that we get the most out of our food, keeping the body-as-machine running optimally; that is, digesting the food we take in, and creating the energy we need to move through daily life.

Digestive issues are common when the Earth meridians are not functioning well. In the body one could experience bloating, heaviness, lethargy, and muddled–thinking: dampness, both in body and the mind.

Where does the Earth element express itself in a face?
Earth Features: short, square faces with distinct jawline, sallow complexions. Facial features can be large, especially the mouth.

Where Earth related stress shows on your face:

  • Facial Lines: vertical lines above the lips and at bridge of the nose
  • Acne: chin, and upper cheeks


An approach to understanding the Metal element is through its name: hard and strong are two adjectives that immediately come to mind. The atomic structure of metal is orderly and tightly knit; it can be malleable and also lustrous. Metal is found deep in the earth and remains hidden until brought to the surface. Metal characteristics reflect these origins: introspection, insistence on clarity and willful endurance, to name a few.

The Metal meridians (Lung and Large Intestine) are in charge of inspiration and elimination. When out of balance, characteristic complaints can be diseases of the respiratory system and lower intestines.

Where does the Metal element express itself in a face?
Metal Features: Oval face with widely set, prominent features like cheekbones and nose.

Where Metal related stress shows up on your face:
Hollowed out cheeks, dry skin conditions like eczema, or redness, puffiness and breakouts around the nostrils and lower cheek, and a pale complexion.


The above offers a lighthearted window into the Chinese Medicine view of the Five Elements as seen through celebrity faces. Chinese Medicine regards what we might refer to as “worry lines,” “wrinkles,” or “sagging jowls” as road-signs to disease states in other parts of the body that can be treated through acupuncture with corresponding points on the face and elsewhere. The benefits of facial acupuncture are not only that those lines, wrinkles or jowls can be reduced, but also that the underlying symptoms that cause them can be simultaneously addressed. Your body’s improved health will then also be conveyed in your face!


“Every time I looked in the mirror I saw my father’s bulldog jowls and my mom’s deep wrinkles. Having no desire to inject anything into my skin or to undergo the knife, I turned to Gabrielle for facial rejuvenation acupuncture. I’m so glad I did. Her warmth, insights, and diagnosis create the perfect combination for healing and health. After each treatment I was energized and upbeat. Healing appeared in many unexpected places. Friends commented on how relaxed I looked. Now when I look in the mirror I once again see me.“ S.L.

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