Unveiling the Five Elements in Chinese Medicine: What Elemental Face Type are You?


Unveiling the Five Elements in Chinese Medicine: What Elemental Face Type are You?

By Dr. Alexa Woods

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Step into the captivating world of Chinese medicine as we embark on a journey to unravel the profound wisdom behind the five elemental types. Are you curious to learn how your personality, physical attributes, heredity factors, and even health issues or strengths are connected to your elemental makeup? Look no further, as Dr. Alexa Woods will be our guide, shedding light on this ancient art of self-discovery.


A little Chinese Medicine Background First

Traditional Chinese medicine, rooted in the observation of the natural world, has a profound understanding of the body's intricate systems. Central to the principles of this ancient practice is the belief that true health is achieved when the vital life force known as Qi flows harmoniously, creating a state of balance within the body. This concept of balance draws upon the Taoist philosophy of yin and yang, opposing forces perpetually seeking equilibrium. Delving further, ancient scholars discovered that virtually everything in existence could be classified into five distinct energy types, known as the Five Elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. In the realm of acupuncture, these elements serve as diagnostic tools, enabling practitioners to pinpoint imbalances and devise treatment plans that either bolster deficient elements or calm excessive ones, ultimately restoring harmony and restoring the body to its natural state of order. Let’s dive deeper into this.

Working With The Five Elements: Finding the Dynamic Tapestry Within

Within each of us resides the intricate dance of the five elements, shaping our very essence and intricately weaving together our personalities, physical attributes, heredity factors, and even our health. While we all carry a blend of these elements within us, there are usually one or two dominant ones that hold the key to understanding our unique makeup.

To unravel the mysteries of our elemental composition, it can be insightful to reflect upon the first 7 years of life, where the foundations of our main element were often at its strongest. However, it's important to recognize that imbalances or life experiences can influence the characteristics we exhibit. For instance, an earth child may naturally embody nurturing qualities, but if their liver energy becomes blocked, they might develop anger and resentment, leading to wood type imbalances.

Understanding our main element is a valuable tool as it allows us to discover the hidden gifts within our challenges and embrace our imperfections. By knowing our constitutional element, we can navigate towards healthy strategies for restoring balance whenever we find ourselves thrown off course.

The dominant elements can even reveal themselves in the features of our face. Although most individuals don't possess a purely one-element face shape, we can observe combinations of two or more elements. The colors associated with each element are not about pigmentation but rather a subtle hue or cast that exists independently of skin color. Features related to each element can be evaluated in terms of size and strength, with larger or stronger features indicating greater physical or emotional strength within that element.

It is crucial to acknowledge the core difference between Western and Eastern philosophies. The Eastern approach perceives our bodies as inseparable and interconnected with nature and the cosmos, embracing a holistic viewpoint. In contrast, Western psychology tends to classify and define personality types. The Eastern model encompasses a dynamic system that illustrates how we adapt to our environment and evolve through life's circumstances. Just as reducing our astrological makeup to a Sun sign oversimplifies our cosmic influence, limiting ourselves to a single elemental identity fails to capture our full complexity, as rising signs, moon signs, and other placements also shape our being.

Nonetheless, obtaining a baseline understanding of our elemental genetic profile can provide valuable insights into how to harmonize our mind, body, and spirit, as well as enhance our interactions with others. As a practitioner, I find tremendous value in utilizing this model to better care for my patients. For example, if I know a metal type is coming in for a treatment I will be certain my room is organized and tidy. This will make their treatment experience more comfortable and relaxing. That being said, I almost always see a fluidity in this profiling as use those shifts in personality to help guide me in the treatment as well. 


The Water element is related to Kidneys and Urinary Bladder. The Kidneys are responsible for growth, development, and reproduction. The Kidneys also produce marrow, form the brain and spinal cord, control bones, open to the ears, and balance body fluid metabolism. The related emotion is fear. The Urinary Bladder stores and excretes urine.

Facial Feature: The water element is expressed in the ears and how big or small they are corresponds to the inherited Jing, or Kidney essence. Other features that correlate are the  hairline, upper forehead, the under-eye area, the groove or philtrum, and the chin. The pure Water face is rare and the skin may have a blue or black hue to it.

Personality: The Water person often has a quiet power about them, with a lot of stamina or willpower. Kidney Qi is the foundation of energy for all the other organs and much of Chinese Medicine is geared toward nurturing the Water Element to ensure a long and healthy life.

Water Type Imbalances: Aches in joints, especially in the lower back, knees, or ankles, a feeling of heaviness or swelling due to fluid retention, chronic UTIs, memory problems, hearing difficulties, cravings for salty food, lethargy or fearfulness or they may over-use their strong willpower.

Balancing Water: To balance water, it’s important to support the kidneys by drinking enough water and avoiding stimulants like coffee and energy drinks. Water people feel good near water, so swimming in the ocean or even a bath is great for them. Do exercises that are calming and have low impact on the joints, such as yoga and Pilates.  Eat more naturally salty foods such as seaweed/kelp, miso, millet, barley, fermented products, pickles, parsley, and celery. Black or blue foods also help, such as seaweed/kelp, black beans, black rice, blackberries, blue berries, and eggplant.


The Metal element is related to the Lung and Large Intestine. The main functions of the Lungs are breathing, regulating water metabolism, and to disperse and descend energy throughout the body. Lungs open out to the nose, and control the skin, pores, and skin hair. Grief, sadness and sorrow is the related emotion. The Large Intestine excrete wastes from the body and absorb water.

Facial Feature: The vital feature is the nose. The Metal Face is oval with a broad forehead, prominent or long nose, refined bone structure, facial symmetry and fair skin that may have a white hue to it. Other features that correlate are the underbrow area, the high cheekbones, and the skin. Thinness of skin is an indicator of how sensitive and metallic someone is. The metal element also controls the upper back, the shoulders, the colon, the sinuses, the bronchi, the mucous membranes, body hair and the sense of smell.

Personality: The Metal person is focused on structure, organization and the fine details. These methodical people can suffer from perfectionism and too much attention to detail when out of balance. The metal element represents boundaries and taking in or cutting off input. People with strong metal tend to have acute senses and need to have a lot of space and minimal sensory input in order to rest effectively. 

Metal Type Imbalances : Easily catching colds and flus, shortness of breath, allergies, chronic URI’s, congested nose, constipation, dry skin, tiredness, and grief.

Balancing Metal: It is important to strengthen the lungs, which circulate air and qi around the body. You can do breathing exercises or Qi Gong. Since metal people are prone to sadness, it’s extra important to maintain an active social life. Eat more pungent flavored foods such as onions, chives, garlic, fresh ginger, chili peppers, cinnamon, and wasabi. Naturally white foods also help, such as daikon radish, turnip, cauliflower, potatoes, and mushrooms. Avoid mucus-inducing foods such as dairy, sweets, and fried foods. 


The Earth element relates to the Spleen and Stomach. The Spleen transforms and transports food into usable food essence (the waste is transported to the intestines), produces Blood, and opens to the mouth. The Spleen controls muscles and is responsible for keeping the Blood in the vessels (thus, bruising easily is a sign of weak spleen function). The related emotion is worry (also excessive thinking). The Stomach breaks down and ripens the food and transports it downward. 

Facial Feature: The vital feature of the earth is the mouth. This shows the most information about the functioning of the entire digestive tract. Other features that correlate are the size and shape of the lips, the upper lip area, the bridge of the nose, the upper eyelid, and the lower cheeks. The skin is soft and may have a yellow hue to it. People with a large amount of earth energy have a soft plumpness to their bodies even when they are physically fit. It is especially noticeable in the belly, the upper arms, the breasts and the lower legs. You won’t see their bones sticking out as there is a layer of flesh covering them. These earthy features show such traits as generosity, the desire for pleasure, the amount a person is able to give and receive, and the ability to manifest abundance. 

Earth Type Imbalances: Digestive problems, excessive burping or gas, poor appetite, cravings for sweet foods, weight gain, fatigue especially around 3PM, mental fog especially after waking up, and poor muscle strength.

Balancing Earth: Walking is a suitable exercise for earth because it is energizing and also helps you clear your mind. Do activities to calm your mind and worries, such as meditation, journaling, yoga, or tai chi. To balance earth, eat well-cooked and warm-temperature foods. Naturally sweet flavored foods, like grains, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, peas, and low sugar fruits (but careful not to eat too many raw and sugary fruits like mango, dates, ). Yellow foods are also helpful, such as lemon, soy beans, barley, summer squash, and potatoes.


The Wood element is related to the Liver and Gall Bladder. The Liver houses the ethereal soul, controls tendons, and is responsible for keeping the energy flowing. The Liver stores Blood and manifests externally in the eyes. Anger is the emotion of the liver. The Gall Bladder stores and excretes bile, protects the nervous system from overreaction, involved in decision making, and helps to normalize a person emotionally. 

Facial Features: The vital feature on the face is the eyes and eyebrows. The Wood face is long with a long nose, broad forehead and narrow cheeks. Other features that correlate are the brow bones, the temple area, the set of the eyes, the sclera, and the jaw can be evaluated for size and strength. Strong eyebrows show how much energy and passion a person has to challenge the world. Together, these features, along with a green or olive cast to the skin, can be combined to show how “woody” someone is. The sense organ associated with Wood is the eyes. There may be a slight greenish hue to the face. The wood system of the body correlates to the gallbladder, the neck and head, the tendons and ligaments, the iris, the sexual organs, and the nails. 

Personality: Wood Types are determined towards accomplishing their goals. For them, life is about expansion. Spring is the season of the Wood type who resonants with this season’s new starts, growth, and possibilities. The person with a Wood constitution is always working to bring their vision to fruition and may struggle with anger or irritability as obstacles are thrown in their path. They are competitive, adventurous and love movement/ physical activity. When we are predominant in an element, it becomes a gift and a challenge. If you have a lot of Wood energy you have the potential to expand and accomplish greatness. You are also challenged to channel your power constructively, respect healthy boundaries, and choose commitments over addiction.

Wood Type Imbalances: tight muscles especially in the neck/shoulder region, high blood pressure, PMS, irritability, frustration, stress, anger, headaches, relieving stress w drug addictions or other unhealthy ways due to being too wound up, waking up between 1-3a

Balancing Wood: Keep the qi moving through exercising, walking and stretching, have enough deep sleep to prevent burnout, practice being more flexible, finding a healthy stress-relieving activity like meditation or yoga, avoiding alcohol and other toxins. Eat more sour flavors such as lemon/lime, oranges, tomatoes, and olives. Also eat more green foods such as leafy greens, beans, and avocados.


The Fire element corresponds to the Heart and Small Intestine. The Heart houses the Shen (spirit), governs Blood, externally manifests in the tongue, has taste as its sensory function, and joy as its related emotion. The Small Intestine absorb fluids and is responsible for the transporting of excretions.

Facial Feature: The vital feature is the eye, specifically fire is responsible for the light in the eye, the shen. The Fire face has narrow cheekbones, a pointed chin and may have a long face. The skin may have a red hue to it. Other features that correlate are the bright eyes, big smiles, freckles, redness in the skin— especially in the neck and chest area, sharpness in their features, and usually lots of lines showing you how much they can express their love for life. The parts of the body that belong to the fire element include the small intestines, the arteries, the hands, the chest and ribs, the tongue, and the blood.

Personality: The Fire person may have a sparkly, laughing personality or may instead have a flat tone to their voice and absence of laughter when you would expect it. The power of Fire is the energy of the Summer–flourishing, blooming, joy, exuberance. 

Fire Type Imbalances: mild anxiety, lacking joy, mania, difficulty sleeping, vivid dreams, poor blood circulation, and spontaneous sweating. 

Balancing Fire: Do relaxation activities such as meditation, breathing exercises, and yoga; Set aside time to wind-down and relax before sleep; Stay cool in hot weather.  Eat more bitter flavors. Many leafy greens have bitterness, such as kale, arugula, lettuce, and broccoli. Other foods with bitterness include asparagus, celery, parsley, bitter melon, and tea. Eating red foods also help, such as tomatoes, carrots, strawberries, raspberries, and red-skinned apples.



By Dr. Alexa Woods

Alexa Woods is a licensed Acupuncturist and board-certified herbalist. She holds her Doctorate in Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, Master of Science in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Pacific College and a BA in Developmental Psychology from New York University. She is also a Certified Doula and Reiki Master. The focus of her treatments is to help connect you with your highest health and radiance. Alexa is especially passionate about working with women’s health! She has worked with women to address their unique gynecological and reproductive issues. She loves endocrinology, focusing on returning to cyclical living to help women navigate their hormonal phases and changes throughout their lives.

Click here for Dr. Wood's offerings + book an appointment with her.




Bridges, L. (2012). Face reading in Chinese medicine (2nd ed.). Churchill Livingstone.

Dahlin, D. (2017). The five elements: Understand yourself and enhance your relationships with the wisdom of the world’s oldest personality type system. TarcherPerigee.

Mark Seem, & Kaplan, J. (1999). Bodymind energetics: Toward a dynamic model of health. Healing Arts Press.

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