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Exploring the Role of Alternative Medicine in Dermatology

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Peter Lio, MD, shared alternative medicine approaches and resources that dermatologists and patients can utilize for various skin conditions.

“We just had a whole day of [discussing] all the most incredible new treatments, these wonderful evidence-based approaches [to skin diseases],” said Peter Lio, MD, of Medical Dermatology Associates of Chicago, as he introduced an overview of alternative treatment techniques. "I think [that] when diseases are not curable, it's frustrating for people, and of course, a lot of what we treat are chronic inflammatory conditions and we can’t [fully] cure a lot. Sadly, when our explanations are unsatisfying, many patients feel frustrated, and we don't really know what causes it might be.”

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in alternative medicine as a complementary approach to address various skin conditions. Lio has been at the forefront of exploring alternative therapies and their potential in dermatology. He presented an overview during the session “Alternative Medicine in Dermatology” at the 2024 Masterclasses in Dermatology conference in Puerto Rico from February 16-19.1

Understanding Alternative Medicine in Dermatology

Alternative medicine encompasses a diverse range of therapies that extend beyond conventional pharmaceutical treatments. These may include herbal remedies, acupuncture, dietary modifications, and various mind-body practices. Lio emphasized the importance of an integrative approach, combining conventional and alternative methods for comprehensive dermatological care.

Lio highlighted the need for a balanced perspective and said, "I believe in a dual approach...using traditional dermatology when necessary, but also embracing alternative treatments that can enhance overall skin health."

Herbal Remedies and Topical Treatments

One area where alternative medicine has gained traction is in the use of herbal remedies for dermatological conditions. Lio acknowledged the potential benefits of certain botanical extracts and oils in managing skin issues. He noted, "Many herbs possess anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that can be harnessed for conditions like eczema and psoriasis."

Additionally, Lio advocated for exploring natural topical treatments and said, "There is a growing body of evidence supporting the efficacy of some plant-based oils and extracts in promoting skin barrier function and reducing inflammation."

One of his favorite techniques that gives patient relief is a black tea compress. To create a gentle black tea compress, instruct patients to brew 1 unflavored black tea bag for 10 minutes in a cup of boiling tap water. Discard this tea. Add another cup of boiling water to brew a second cup using the same tea bag. Allow the weaker tea to cool to room temperature before soaking a soft cloth or gauze into the tea infusion. Ring out gently before applying the damp compress to the affected areas for 15-20 minutes. Encourage utilizing good moisturizer immediately after to prevent dryness. He noted drastic improvements for many patients between days 3 and 6 of this routine.2

alfa27/Adobe Stock

alfa27/Adobe Stock

Acupuncture and Stress Management

Stress is a well-established trigger for various skin conditions, including acne, eczema, and psoriasis. Lio recognized the role of stress management in dermatological care and highlights acupuncture as a potential tool. "Acupuncture has shown promise in reducing stress levels and modulating the immune response, which can positively impact skin conditions," he explained.3

Mind-Body Practices and Dermatological Health

Incorporating mind-body practices into dermatological care is another aspect Lio encouraged. Techniques such as meditation, yoga, and biofeedback may contribute to overall well-being and potentially influence skin health. Lio emphasized, "The mind and skin are intricately connected. Incorporating practices that promote mental well-being can have a positive impact on dermatological conditions."

Nutritional Approaches

Diet plays a significant role in skin health, and Lio underscored the importance of nutritional interventions. "Certain dietary modifications, such as reducing inflammatory foods and incorporating skin-friendly nutrients, can complement traditional dermatological treatments," he notes.

He went on to explain, "While nutrition alone may not be a cure, it can certainly play a supportive role in managing chronic skin conditions."

Conclusion

As dermatology continues to evolve, the integration of alternative medicine approaches becomes increasingly relevant. Lio's insights shed light on the potential benefits of combining traditional and alternative therapies for comprehensive skin care. While emphasizing evidence-based practices, Lio encouraged an open-minded approach to alternative medicine, recognizing its potential to enhance overall patient outcomes.

"The key is finding the right balance,” he concluded.“By considering both conventional and alternative approaches, we can offer patients a more holistic and personalized approach to dermatological care." As research in this field progresses, the collaboration between conventional and alternative medicine holds promise for the future of dermatology, providing patients with a broader spectrum of effective treatment options.

Lio will present more data on alternative medicine at the 2024 American Academy of Dermatology Meeting next month, and he posts updates year-round on this topic to the Integrative Dermatology Group on Facebook.

References

  1. Lio P. Alternative medicine in dermatology. Presented at: Masterclasses in Dermatology February 16-19, 2024; Puerto Rico.
  2. Witte M, Krause L, Zillikens D, Shimanovich I. Black tea dressings – a rapidly effective treatment for facial dermatitis. Journal of Dermatological Treatment. 2019;30(8):785-789.
  3. Wild B, Brenner J, Joos S, Samstag Y, Buckert M, Valentini J. Acupuncture in persons with an increased stress level-Results from a randomized-controlled pilot trial. PLoS One. 2020;15(7):e0236004. Published 2020 Jul 23. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0236004

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