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Meet Antonia Balfour of Yin Yang Dermatology

Today we’d like to introduce you to Antonia Balfour.

Hi Antonia, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstory with our readers?
I’m a first-generation American with German and South African parents. I was very fortunate growing up to have traveled a lot internationally (and became somewhat of a travel addict). I got my pilot’s license in college and toyed with the idea of becoming a professional pilot. But I think I always knew that my constitution was too sensitive to spend my life flying. After college, I visited Asia for the first time – living in Taiwan and teaching English as a second language. It was there that I discovered Traditional Chinese Medicine. I had great results with acupuncture and herbal medicine, which piqued my curiosity in a big way. Fast forward to today – I’m now a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and have been in private practice for the past 22 years in Pacific Palisades.

My area of specialization is dermatology. My practice focuses on treating chronic, inflammatory skin conditions with herbal medicine. Most of my patients have long-term struggles with acne, rosacea, psoriasis, and eczema as well as other conditions), and they are looking for a different approach to heal the skin from the inside out.

Some of my back story: When I was a student intern studying Chinese medicine in the 90s, I had a couple of patients in the school clinic who suffered from chronic skin conditions. One of them had very severe weeping eczema that hugely impacted her quality of life. It was heartbreaking to see the extent to which she suffered. She could barely leave the house, and her life was completely on hold. She ended up getting great results with Chinese medicine. For me as a student intern, this was extremely rewarding to see. It was life-changing for her and showed me the remarkable potential of Chinese medicine. Another patient I was seeing at that time suffered from long-term severe psoriasis that covered much of his body. He, on the other hand, wasn’t getting great results with Chinese medicine. I remember being told over and over – “Dermatology is Hard!” As a student and a new practitioner, I wasn’t ready to pursue it seriously.

Over the years, my interest in treating skin conditions increased, and when I was pregnant with my daughter, I developed a painful, itchy skin condition called PUPPP. Realizing that I didn’t know “enough” about treating skin conditions with herbal medicine, I became obsessed with studying dermatology more seriously. Chinese medicine has so much to offer, with dermatology being an area of specialty dating back to Confucian times (100-200 BCE). For the past 13 years, I’ve focused much of my practice on treating skin conditions.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
There are inherent challenges that come with the territory of practicing holistic medicine. There are always people (including some in the medical field) who say that herbs and supplements are “quackery” and completely dismiss it. On the other side of the fence are people who walk into my clinic, look at the hundreds of herbs on the shelves, and think they are transported into the world of Harry Potter. They expect a quick and magical cure of all that ails them.

The reality is that healing is a journey which can take time.

Many of my patients have suffered for years with conditions that affect not only their skin but also their mental and emotional health. Some experience insufferable itching (which is maddening). And others have rashes, severe acne, or rosacea affecting the face causing things like anxiety, depression, and obsessive picking.

I spend time with patients and get to know them, and I really care about seeing them get better. I’d love it if I had a 100% success rate at curing all my patients. But healing doesn’t work like that – – obviously, no modality can cure everyone. The strength of herbal medicine is that it restores balance to the whole person. Herbal blends treat the root and the branch – addressing gut health, emotions, hormones in addition to clearing inflammation and later nourishing and stabilizing the skin. It’s not a quick fix, but it’s a comprehensive approach with remarkable success in treating ongoing, chronic conditions.

It’s a struggle for me when patients are suffering with a difficult or challenging condition and they aren’t getting results quickly enough or at the level that I’d hope for. This feeling of frustration has been a driving force that has always gotten me to study more. (And with a tradition as old as Chinese medicine, there’s *always* more to study!). But for a long time, I was hard on myself. After 22 years of practice, my perspective has shifted. I’ve become better at setting realistic expectations around healing. I know what a typical healing path looks like and accept that for many people, it can happen differently. And it’s also become clear why older doctors are revered in the field of Chinese medicine. It takes years of practice to become masterful at treating complex conditions.

Appreciate you sharing that. What should we know about Yin Yang Dermatology?
My practice is all about healing chronic skin conditions holistically.

I prescribe herbs that are based on the person, not just the condition. Every patient is given a unique blend of herbs that they take in the form of a tea that will focus on the precise look of the skin as well as other symptoms (often related to gut health or hormonal imbalances). The beauty of Chinese medicine is customization – analyzing the skin precisely and treating the whole person – both with internal teas and topical creams, salves or compresses that are infused with herbs.

In addition, one of my missions is to educate people about Chinese medicine and dermatology. When most people think about acupuncture and herbs, they think of treatment for back pain, headaches, infertility, digestive issues or women’s health. Over and over in my clinic, I see patients who come in for the first time saying, “I’ve tried *everything* to heal my skin, and I’ve lost hope. Before I found you, I thought I’d run out of options.” I want people to know that there are many paths to healing, and there’s always hope. It’s important to me that Chinese medicine becomes a modality that is on people’s radars when they are looking for a holistic way to heal their skin.

Are there any books, apps, podcasts or blogs that help you do your best?
I love podcasts! Some of my faves are: Good Life Project, How I Built This, Armchair Expert, and The Tim Ferriss show. For fun discussions about health-related topics, I love HypochondriActor.

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Image Credits
All images by Cheryl Himmelstein

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