If getting pricked with ultra-fine needles sounds like your idea of relief, you’re surprisingly not alone.
But how can turning yourself into a human pincushion help your itchy skin?
Acupuncture isn’t a miracle cure for eczema, but research on atopic dermatitis (the most common type of eczema) suggests that getting pinned helps with symptoms. Here’s how:
- Ditching the eczema itch. A small 2019 study found that acupuncture improved symptoms of mild to moderate eczema, especially when it came to controlling itchiness.
- Reducing stress, lesions, and flare-ups. In a 2018 review, researchers reported reduced itchiness, lesion size, and flare-up incidence in acupuncture participants compared with a control group. Researchers also said acupuncture’s stress-reducing properties benefited people with eczema.
- Treating severe eczema. A large 2020 study suggested acupuncture could reduce eczema severity and outbreak size, along with that pesky itchiness.
During an acupuncture sesh, you’ll lie on a bed or table, much like you would at a massage therapy session. A licensed acupuncturist will use sterile, superfine needles to stimulate pressure points on your body. The needles usually go 1 to 2 inches deep.
To treat eczema, acupuncturists may target the arms, legs, or torso. They may stimulate the LI11 acupuncture pressure point, which is on the forearm, near the elbow. This is a large intestine meridian point that’s believed to be linked to conditions like throat soreness, finger numbness, and skin itchiness.
Scientists now know that folks with eczema have a bacteria imbalance in their gut and skin. This might explain why acupuncturists aim for the intestine-linked pressure point.
Once the acupuncturist has placed the needles, you’ll usually chill for 20+ minutes. Practitioners believe this is when your central nervous system is stimulated, your circulation increases, and your natural energy flow (your chi) is regulated.
When your session is over, the acupuncturist will gently remove and safely discard the single-use needles.
A type of eczema called allergic contact dermatitis is specifically caused by certain allergens. Allergies can also trigger atopic dermatitis flare-ups.
Although we don’t yet fully understand why, many people with allergies also develop eczema. Some experts theorize that a genetic difference in the skin lets allergens enter and cause eczema. For that reason, some derms think skin care (including eczema control) is a first-line defense for allergies.
So, if acupuncture can help reduce eczema symptoms, can it help manage your allergies too? Maaaaybe, but as with acupuncture for eczema, studies on acupuncture for allergies are limited.
And research from 2018 found that acupuncture helped improve participants’ seasonal allergy symptoms and significantly reduce their antihistamine use.
It’s a good idea to check the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine to find board certified providers before you commit to a sesh. Going to an unlicensed practitioner could up your risk of infections (hello, dirty needles), injury, and even punctured organs.
- You have a bleeding disorder or take blood thinners. You might bleed or bruise more easily during needle-based acupuncture.
- You use a pacemaker. Electrical pulse acupuncture might interfere with the pacemaker’s operation.
- You’re pregnant. Some acupuncture points are believed to induce labor. But don’t worry too much — acupuncture during pregnancy is considered safe when performed by a qualified, licensed provider.
If you have any of these health conditions, check with your doc before heading to the acupuncturist.
Acupuncture’s not the only natural eczema remedy on the block. Try giving these a whirl:
- Mind-body connection. Since stress is a known culprit for eczema flare-ups, meditation and other mind-body practices like hypnosis, yoga, or biofeedback may help.
- Acupressure. Hate needles? Try acupressure instead — same concept, no sharp, pointy things required.
- Ayurvedic medicine. Ayurveda is an ancient Indian system of medicine that seeks to bring the mind and body into balance. A combination of herbs, oils, dietary guidelines, massage, and mindful practices may be used to ease symptoms.
- Massage. Therapeutic massage may help you relax, de-stress, and relieve flare-ups.
- Probiotics and probiotics. According to the National Eczema Foundation, taking probiotics and prebiotics orally may help improve eczema symptoms.
- Vitamins and supplements. Vitamins and supplements like vitamin D, fish oil, zinc, selenium, turmeric, primrose oil, and CBD are all used to treat eczema.
- Dietary changes. Since having both food allergies and eczema is pretty common, changing up your diet may ease your symptoms. Common foods linked to eczema include eggs, dairy, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, and gluten.
- Beauty product swaps. Using unscented soaps, avoiding perfumes and fragrances, and moisturizing like you mean it can help reduce symptoms. Oh, and don’t forget those Epsom salt or oatmeal baths.
Acupuncture is often used as an alternative pain relief method, and initial research suggests it could also be an effective addition to your eczema treatments.
Since it’s low risk, it prob can’t hurt to try — especially since there’s no known cure for eczema. Still, you’ll have to commit to recurring sessions to see results, and it’s possible acupuncture won’t do anything for your eczema.
If you’re pregnant, use a pacemaker, or have a bleeding disorder, talk with your doc before trying acupuncture. And always go to a licensed, qualified acupuncturist.