If you have eczema, you may have looked to complementary and alternative treatments in your search for relief, including Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM is a medical system that originated in China over 2000 years ago and is now popular in the west.
According to TCM, good health is predicated on a balance between opposing yin and yang energies in the body, as well as the free flow of qi, or life force. Disease arises when there is too little or too much qi running through the body’s meridians, or energetic channels. Organ theory and element theory are also part of TCM diagnosis and treatment. TCM uses herbalism, acupuncture, acupressure, cupping, tai chi, and diet and lifestyle advice to address imbalances in the body and restore well-being.
A TCM Understanding of Eczema
TCM approaches eczema from a different lens than western medicine does, although both medical systems acknowledge the role of the environment and the skin barrier in the disease. In western medicine, eczema is recognized as an inflammatory skin condition in which genetics, environmental factors, exposure to triggers, and the skin microbiome all play a role.
What does TCM say about eczema? TCM holds that weak qi leads to imbalances of heat, wind, and dampness in the body, driving inflammation and eczema symptoms. The way eczema is described, diagnosed, and treated with TCM varies based on where on the body it occurs, whether the eczema is acute or chronic, and which organs are involved according to Chinese organ theory. Traditional Chinese medicine for eczema includes treatment with herbs, acupuncture, and lifestyle and diet and recommendations.
Chinese Herbs for Eczema
Chinese herbalism uses a wide variety of medicinal plants—there are over 11,000 herbs documented in TCM pharmacopeia. When it comes to herbal medicine, there’s no one-size-fits-all formula: TCM herbalists generally create custom herbal blends tailored to their patients’ symptoms. The same is true when it comes to Chinese herbs for eczema. Herbalists will adjust their formulas based on how the eczema presents. They may use herbs that reduce heat, dampness, and wind. Chinese herbs are generally consumed as a tea, but can also be prepared as capsules, topical formulations, or put directly into the bath.
If you’re interested in taking Chinese herbs for eczema or another health concern, it’s critical to work with a licensed TCM herbalist. You shouldn’t take Chinese herbs without supervision. Be sure to let your TCM practitioner know about any medicines you take, because some herbs and medicines may not work well together. Tell your herbalist if you are pregnant or nursing, as herbs may be contraindicated during pregnancy. Quality control can be an issue with Chinese herbs, so make sure your practitioner sources their herbs from a reputable distributor.
Acupuncture for Eczema
Acupuncture is a TCM methodology that involves inserting small needles into the skin at strategic points along the body’s meridians. Since acupuncture is used for a variety of conditions and ailments, you may be wondering, how does acupuncture help eczema? There are specific acupuncture points in the body that are associated with eczema. Acupuncturists may insert needles into these points to reduce heat, wind, and dampness, which are key eczema drivers according to TCM.
Acupuncture for eczema hasn’t been widely studied, but there is some data suggesting it may be beneficial. A 2021 study of 36 patients with mild-to-moderate eczema showed significant skin improvement after acupuncture treatment for 4 weeks. A 2015 study found that children who received TCM treatment for atopic dermatitis had lower usage rates of corticosteroids.
Acupuncture can be a useful tool for managing itch: a 2014 study showed that acupuncture reduced itch in atopic dermatitis patients by influencing their brain response, and a 2012 study by dermatologist Dr. Peter Lio found that atopic dermatitis patients’ itch was reduced after they self-applied acupressure to acupuncture point LI11 consistently for 4 weeks.
Cupping For Eczema
Cupping is a TCM therapy that uses suction cups to apply pressure to the skin and prompt the flow of energy. Because eczema skin is sensitive, open, and prone to infection, cupping may be contraindicated. While there is little data on cupping for eczema, one case report documented adverse impacts experienced by a child with eczema following cupping.
Does TCM Help Eczema?
The data on TCM for eczema is fairly scant: TCM hasn’t been researched in the same way that western medicine has, and it doesn’t lend itself easily to randomized control trials. There is some data showing that acupuncture can be beneficial to people with eczema, that children who received acupuncture treatment had lower steroid usage rates, and that acupuncture can help reduce itch. A quantitative review of 8 Chinese herbal medicine studies for atopic dermatitis found that Chinese herbal medicine helped with skin lesion size and severity and patient sleep quality, but did not influence patients’ IgE levels or improve their quality of life. A review of 6 randomized control trials of Chinese herbal medicine for eczema found that “only a few RCTs demonstrated the efficacy (or lack of efficacy) of Chinese medicinal herbs in treating atopic eczema,” and that “further larger scale trials are warranted.”
Find a Qualified Practitioner
If you’re interested in using TCM for eczema or another health concern, talk to your healthcare provider to ensure you’re a good candidate. It’s important to find a licensed TCM practitioner who has received national board certification to practice herbalism and/or acupuncture. The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine has a directory of licensed TCM practitioners.
Be sure to ask your TCM practitioner how much your appointment will cost, and if they accept your insurance. Some insurance plans will cover acupuncture in part or in full, others do not. You may be able to use your HSA or FSA account to pay for your acupuncture appointment.
Incorporate Gladskin Into Your Routine
For many people, a mix of modalities, including western medicine and TCM, can be helpful in managing their skin.
Whether you’re currently pursuing TCM or not, consider adding Gladskin to your care routine. Our Eczema Cream is clinically proven to reduce eczema symptoms and contains Micrebalance®, Gladskin’s patented endolysin that restores bacterial balance to the skin microbiome. Learn more.