4 Eastern Medicine Treatment Options If You’ve Resolved to Avoid Topical Steroids in 2022

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By Melissa Haller Tanoko

Published On: Jan 3, 2022

Last Updated On: Jan 26, 2022

Topical steroids might be the most common eczema treatment, but they’re not the only way to help your flaring skin. Here are four steroid-free Eastern treatment options backed by science.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine (or TCM) has been used for thousands of years. It often combines herbal remedies, dietary therapy, exercise and other complementary therapies. Olivia Hsu Friedman, a TCM practitioner who lives with eczema, said, “I feel strongly that this medicine can offer help and hope to a lot of different people.”

Since TCM is tailored for each individual, it is difficult to study using standard research methods. Still, some studies have shown benefits for people with eczema. One article published in 2021 found that herbal remedies were effective for treating eczema.1 Another study found that over 80% of participants were free of symptoms and another 11% showed “a marked improvement.”2

As with other treatments, it is important to find a qualified practitioner. The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) has a directory of certified professionals across the U.S.

Acupuncture

While this traditional Chinese therapy is sometimes combined with herbal medicine, it can also be beneficial when used alone.

Acupuncture involves inserting thin needles into specific areas or “acupoints” on the skin. This process is not typically painful and is reported to provide a myriad of benefits. It has been used to alleviate back and neck pain, manage nausea during chemotherapy and even promote fertility. But does it help with eczema?

There is some evidence to show that it can. A research review published in 2018 found evidence of acupuncture helping to decrease itch, lesion size and recurrence. It was also found to reduce stress, which can trigger flares.3

If you would like to try acupuncture, look for a licensed practitioner who has experience with eczema. The NCCAOM Directory is a good place to start.

Ayurveda

Ayurveda is a traditional form of medicine that originated in India. Like Traditional Chinese Medicine, it has been practiced for thousands of years and uses a number of complementary modalities. Treatments can include herbal remedies, dietary changes, exercise recommendations, massage and mind-body practices such as meditation. 

According to Dr. Raja Sivamani, adjunct professor of dermatology at the University of California, Davis, “Western medication works well to bring an eczema flare under control, while ayurveda comes in when you think about long-term management and improving other areas of physical and mental health.”

There is little research on the use of ayurveda for eczema, but some NEA community members have reported success with it. With the help of her parents, Elina, a junior eczema warrior, tried ayurveda when she was 5 years old. Before her treatment, she had to be given antihistamines and topical steroids daily, and she often had a swollen, red face. Two months into her treatment, her antihistamine and steroid use was greatly reduced and her eczema was under control.  
To find a qualified practitioner near you, try the National Ayurvedic Medical Association’s online locator.

Meditation

Research shows that meditation helps with a variety of conditions. In 2020, investigators Dr. Mamta Javari, assistant professor of dermatology at Johns Hopkins University, and Dr. Suephy Chen, chair of the dermatology department at Duke University, received a NEA research grant to investigate whether meditation could help ease pruritus (itch) for people with eczema. 

Participants were enrolled in a meditation course taught by the Emory Tibet Partnership. They met once per week for eight weeks and were expected to practice meditation between meetings. The researchers found that while meditation did not change the physical symptoms of the participants’ eczema, it helped them to tolerate pruritus better. 

According to Dr. Javari and Dr. Chen, “The participants reported that they were better able to recognize stressful triggers and use quiet time to prevent the sensation of itching from becoming overwhelming.” Participants also reported improved sleep and less stress. 

If you would like to try meditation, there are many options; N.B.A. superstar Lebron James swears by the Calm App for his routine pregame meditation.

Don’t forget: connect with your community

If you’ve resolved to cut back on topical steroids, there’s plenty of help. Chat with other members of the community who have tried these and other alternative forms of eczema treatments. Ask questions. Learn from people who have tried everything and found what works best for them. Share your story with us.

References:

1. Wang Z, Wang ZZ, Geliebter J, Tiwari R, Li XM. Traditional Chinese medicine for food allergy and eczema. Ann. Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2021;126(6)639-654. doi:10.1016/j.anai.2020.12.002

2. Shimoide, Y. An end to suffering from atopic dermatitis.  J. Allergy Clin. Immunol. 2009;123(2)S41. doi10.1016/j.jaci.2008.12.1099

3. Akpinar R, Karatay S. Positive effects of acupuncture on atopic dermatitis. Int J Aller Medications. 2018;4(030). doi:10.23937/2572-3308.1510030

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