Atopic dermatitis (AD) is a chronic itchy, inflammatory skin disease that is extremely difficult to treat. Effective therapeutic agents are limited in number, and may have long-term toxic side effects. Frustrated by these realities, many patients stop seeking help from conventional physicians and turn to alternative medical approaches. These can include natural products, herbal products and over-the-counter (OTC) treatments. Herbs and medications share a common history, as most of our well-known medications were derived from plants

Atopic dermatitis (AD) is a chronic itchy, inflammatory skin disease that usually develops in early childhood and is commonly seen in individuals with a personal or family history of similar skin disease or asthma. Persistence of AD has been reported in 60% of adults who had the disease as children.

A system of medical practice making use of all measures that have proven to be of value in the treatment of disease is referred to as allopathic medicine. Occasionally, some of the recommended modalities are intended not to replace conventional medicine, but to complement it. Complementary or alternative medicine can be classified into herbal therapy (treatments using plant species), and non-herbal therapies, such as homeopathy, acupuncture, aromatherapy and more than 10 other modalities.

Herbs: The use of herbs is a time honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care provider. When applying herbs to the skin it is important to make sure that you have no open wounds as serious infection can result.

  • Topical creams and salves containing one or more of the following herbs may help relieve itching and burning, and promote healing. The best evidence is for chamomile (Matricaria recutita). Chickweed (Stellaria media), marigold (Calendula officinalis), and licorice (Glycyrrhia glabra) may be helpful, although there is little scientific evidence to support this cliam. One study did find a licorice cream was more effective than placebo.
  • Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) cream can relieve itching. Liquid witch hazel can help with “weeping” or oozing dermatitis.
  • St. John’ s wort (Hypericum perforatum), used as a topical cream, has shown promise in one double blind study. People with eczema who used St. John’ s wort on one arm and a placebo cream on the other saw more improvement with the arm treated with St. John’ s wort.
  • Other herbs that have traditionally been applied to the skin to treat dermatitis include Sarsaparilla (Smilax sp.) and marshmallow (Althea officinalis).

Dermatitis associated with stress and anxiety may be helped by mind-body techniques, such as meditation, tai chi, yoga, and stress management.

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