Sandra Lanshin Chiu Fills in the Gaps of Western Medicine

Interview by Sandra Ballentine
Photographs by Huy Luong

Sandra Lanshin Chiu wearing a Tory Burch skirt and belt; Manolo Blahnik shoes; stylist’s own bodysui...
Sandra Lanshin Chiu wears a Tory Burch skirt and belt; Manolo Blahnik shoes; stylist’s own bodysuit; her own ring.

For W’s annual The Originals portfolio, we asked creatives—pioneers in the fields of art, design, fashion, comedy, activism, and more—to share their insights on staying true to themselves. See this year’s full class of creatives here.

You worked wonders with gua sha way before Western skinfluencers “discovered” jade rollers and pink quartz massage tools. Skin-savvy New Yorkers flock to your Williamsburg, Brooklyn, atelier for customized combinations of facial gua sha, acupuncture, moxibustion, and cupping. How are you making Traditional Chinese Medicine [TCM] relevant to a new audience?

The Western audience is hungry for an understanding of the world, themselves, their physiology, and their health that feels intuitive. Chinese medicine offers a lot of ideas, concepts, and principles that validate why you do or do not feel well, and it fills in a lot of the gaps in Western-style health care. When you share TCM principles with people, many of them experience a mind shift that makes them feel better about themselves and what they’re going through.

What do you think makes you a beauty and wellness original?

I like to think I’m an innovator on how to use TCM. The medicine itself doesn’t need innovating, but I think that the system and the wisdom of Chinese medicine can be applied to a lot of problems in a way that people aren’t thinking about.

What’s your biggest professional pet peeve?

Cultural appropriation in the wellness and beauty worlds. As someone with a Chinese ethnic background, I find it hard not to roll my eyes when I look at a lot of TCM-related content on social media. Not only for the obvious reasons, but also because in order to maintain the power and the efficacy of non-Western healing traditions like TCM, Ayurveda, or various traditions from Africa or Latin and South America, you’ve got to keep them accurate and authentic. The Western culture tends to think that it knows best and doesn’t ask questions from a cultural perspective.

Who is your beauty icon?

The first image that pops into my mind is Maggie Cheung in In the Mood for Love. Aside from her obvious physical beauty, I find her grit and energy super alluring in that movie. I didn’t get to see a lot of Asian people being touted as beautiful when I was growing up. Even as an adult, I feel like it’s only in the past decade or so that we’ve started seeing more examples of Asian beauty in the world, or at least in the West.

If you were stuck on a desert island—or maybe St. Barths—and had access to only one beauty product or tool, what would it be?

That’s a tough one! If I could have only one thing, then the best thing to do would be to just not worry about any of it. The attitude of “I don’t care anymore” would probably be the healthiest thing.

Okay, let’s play fill in the blank instead. “I never leave home without...”

I carry my acupuncture needles everywhere. On planes, trains, car trips, you name it. Because you never know when you will need a little energy stimulation. I enjoy the feeling of being free in my tissue—free of tightness, in particular. So if I’m not feeling that way, I use my needles to release myself from tension and discomfort.

How does your approach to cosmetic concerns differ from aestheticians and dermatologists who don’t have a background in TCM?

I approach cosmetic problems the same way I would approach medical ones—logically and systematically. That’s what we do in Chinese medicine. We say, Okay, what is the root of this problem? Is this the root or a branch? And if it’s just a branch, we’re going to keep looking for the root.

Everything’s connected.

Exactly. If you have a lack of definition in the jawline, the jaw’s not the root of that. You probably have a tight jaw and neck, which then dominoes into your upper back and shoulders. Ultimately, you can see these things affecting the pelvis or the feet. You look at the whole system of the body. That’s what it means to be holistic.

So I can’t just blame my sagging double chin on old age and gravity?

What is aging, even? Is it inevitable? Is it a problem of gravity? Or is it actually when we don’t take proper care to release our tension over time and let it accumulate? In TCM, we’re always trying to improve circulation and balance out the tension in our bodies. We have way too much tension as a modern society.

Hair by Brittney Ward; makeup by Munemi Imai; Photography Assistant: Huy Vu.