Integrative Dermatology: The Use of Herbal and Nutritional Supplements to Treat Dermatological Conditions
Last updated: November 2021
Integrative dermatology is a new approach to treating skin conditions. The goal of integrative dermatology is to combine complementary treatments with standard medical treatments. This may be a useful approach for some people who want more holistic treatment options.1,2
What is integrative dermatology?
When people seek help for a skin condition, the standard approach involves treatment with prescription drugs. This may be successful for some people. However, integrative dermatology can increase treatment options by combining complementary treatments with standard medicine. For example, an integrative dermatologist might prescribe a topical drug but also recommend:1,2
- Herbs or supplements
- Stress-relief techniques
- Diet changes
- Non-Western medicine approaches
Integrative dermatology is a new field and does not yet have standardized practices. Different specialists have different approaches to integrative dermatology. However, one common approach focuses on seeing the condition as part of the entire body, rather than just a skin condition. 1
Research on the effectiveness of complementary treatments is limited. But it is possible that when combined with modern medicine, they can achieve good results. People may be interested in integrative dermatology for a variety of reasons:1
- Unbearable side effects from other drugs
- High cost of drugs or treatment
- Desire for a more “natural” treatment
Examples of integrative dermatology
There are many types of complementary methods that can be used in integrative dermatology. The examples here have some early research showing they may be helpful when treating skin conditions. However, more research is needed to determine this for sure. Some examples include:1-3
- Ayurvedic medicine: This is a type of ancient medicine from India. It combines natural medicines like herbs with diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes.
- Acupuncture: This is a type of ancient Chinese medicine. It involves inserting small needles into the skin at important locations. The location of the needles depends on the goal of treatment. It is commonly used in Asian countries to treat skin conditions.
- Traditional Chinese herbal medicine: This is a type of treatment with a long history of use. It usually involves the combination of several specific herbs in a tea or applied to the skin. These herbs are thought to work together to help treat conditions.
- Western herbal medicine: This approach is similar to Chinese herbal medicine but was developed in the United States. It is based on the historical uses of herbs by Native Americans and Europeans. Herbal treatments may be applied to the skin (topical) or taken by mouth.
- Naturopathy: This is a broad term covering many approaches to medicine. Naturopathy practice is based on principles that help the person. The first principle is a promise to do no harm. Naturopathy might include herbs, nutrition, hydrotherapy, or lifestyle changes.
- Diet changes: Changes in the food we eat may impact the health of our skin. Some research has shown cutting out “triggers” can reduce symptoms. Triggers might include alcohol, gluten, or spicy foods. Other diet changes might include eating more food that is thought to be anti-inflammatory.
Things to know about integrative dermatology
Always talk with your doctor before starting any complementary methods along with your normal treatments. For some people, certain complementary approaches are not a good idea. Even over-the-counter supplements can interact with other treatments or medications.3
It is also a good idea to be critical of any claims of complementary or alternative treatments that can cure a condition. These claims may not be backed by science and could be trying to take advantage of people. Talk with your doctor if you have questions about complementary treatments.3
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