Latest posts are at the bottom of this page.
Use the filter buttons above to help find answers - click on the boxes

Ask an expert - body - skin conditions

41 questions

A:  As our factsheet shows

http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/acne.html

the evidence for the use of acupuncture, while limited, is fairly good. In particular there is a systematic review from 2009 which combines the data from several studies which appears to be very positive. As always, though, there is not enough research for us to be able to give an unequivocal recommendation.

That said, acne can present in many areas of the body and to varying degrees of severity, so it is quite difficult to give an all-purpose response like this. Someone who has had the condition for thirty years and tried every medication under the sun is going to be a different proposition from someone who has a small but recent outbreak. In all cases the advice we usually give is that someone visits a BAcC member local to them for a short face to face assessment which many members offer without charge. This will enable them to give you a slightly more balanced view of what might be possible for your specific case.

We often suggest that a prospective patient considers adding Chinese herbal medicine to the mix. There is a considerable amount of anecdotal evidence in the profession that herbal medicine can greatly add to the treatment of skin conditions, possibly because the daily regimen based on the same diagnostics principles adds weight to the treatment. Members of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine are very often also members of the BAcC, and members of the Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine often use both modalities as a matter of course, so it may well taking this into account as you look for a practitioner.

Q:  How long will it take for treatment of keloids with acupuncture? I have keloids on my chest. 

A:  There isn't a great deal of information about the time scales for trying to help keloid scar tissue on the body, and more to the point there isn't a great deal of formal research which would enable us to make a specific claim that acupuncture works. Most of us have treated people with keloid scarring, and there are many anecdotal reports of considerable help and improvement. There are equally as many reports of trying to help and having no effect at all, as this expert has found on a number of occasions. There are also cases where the scarring remains but the blockages which they can create in the flow of energy, or qi as we call it, are helped considerably by the use of acupuncture treatment. We find this particularly in the case of horizontal scarring after a C-section or hysterectomy, and in the rarer cases of heart surgery or emergency surgery leaving large vertical scars in the midline.

There are occasionally short studies published about specific individual cases, and one such is

 http://aim.bmj.com/content/29/1/2.full

with some interesting photographs for what is deemed to be a good outcome. There are a number of others, but these are probably the exception rather than the rule.

The bottom line, though, is that a great deal depends both on the nature of the scarring (why it is there, how long it has been there, whether it has changes at all) and also the underlying reasons for it. If these are post-operative scars, for example, the condition which required surgery may itself be fairly serious and need to be factored in to any estimates of whether acupuncture might be able to help.

The only advice which we can give is to visit a BAcC member local to you for a brief assessment based on a sight of the scarring and the causes of it of whether they think that acupuncture treatment might be beneficial.

Q:  I have lots of scars on my skin which causes my skin to have a lot of discolouration. Especially on my arm my butt and legs. Currently my butt has
goosebump like bumps and sort of acne scarring. I've been looking for many treatments and have also used home remedies like lemon but the results are disappointing.

A:  We are not rally sure what to advise in cases like yours. Our first thought would be that we would need a great deal more information about how the scarring arose, and what the discolouration was, i.e whether it was the scar tissue which was causing the skin to be discoloured or whether the skin around the scar tissue was also discoloured. Scar tissue itself is not that easy to remove or modify, but there are occasions when it can be affecting the flow of energy in the surrounding area, and this can in turn lead to secondary problems. If the scarring itself is the result of a body-wide problem like acne, then there may be something which treatment of the system as a whole can do.

Generally speaking the advice we give to most enquirers is that a visit to a BAcC member local to them is probably their best option to get a brief face to face assessment of what acupuncture treatment may be able to offer, especially when the person has a problem for which there may be far too many possible causes and solutions for us to go through here. 

The received wisdom inside the profession is that skin problems are often amenable to a mixture of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, and it may be worthwhile finding someone who practises both. Most of the members of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine (RCHM) are also BAcC members, so this may be the best route for you to pursue to get a more detailed view of what may be possible. 

A:  As you can imagine, we have been asked similar questions on several occasions, and a typical answer is:

Can acupuncture help eczema?

A:  The use of acupuncture for skin conditions is not particularly well researched, as our fact sheet shows:

http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/eczema-and-psoriasis.html

There may be a number of reasons for this, one of which is that skin conditions form a 'fuzzy' set where the definition and location are not always precise enough to be testing like with like, a pre-condition of the randomised double blind control trial much loved by western science.

That said, there is a considerable amount of anecdotal evidence within the profession about good reactions to treatment, especially a reduction in the amount of itching and discomfort. One has to be cautious, however; a very common effect of initial treatment is a radical improvement followed by a settling back to nearly the same state as before. We have seen a number of people become even more disheartened when this has happened, even though we have said that short-term results are unlikely and if they appear usually unsustainable.

It has to be said, though, that the collective view inside the BAcC is that skin problems are usually best treated with a combination of Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture. There is something about the precision with which the formulae are designed and the daily routine of treatment which clearly seems to evince powerful changes in the system. Most members of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine are also BAcC acupuncturists, and finding someone in your area who practises both may be a very good way forward. 

Our best advice to you is to see if there are BAcC members local to you who also use Chinese Herbal medicine, and to see if they can offer you a brief face to face assessment of whether they believe tahat acupuncture and herbal treatment can help you.

We think that this remains the best advice that we can give. The only caveat which we sometimes add is that acupuncture is often used as a last resort, and before someone comes to us they have taken a large number of medications which can had added layer upon layer of secondary effects on the initial problem. The overall clinical picture can sometimes be a little more complex than one would hope to see. However, acupuncture treatment treats the person, not the condition, and the treatment is tailored to the needs of the individual to help their system restore its own balance and healing ability. The oldest forms of Chinese medicine were often asymptomatic, driven by the simple belief that a system in balance corrected symptoms. In clinical practice, an experienced practitioner can both treat the underlying cause and the symptoms at the same time to facilitate recovery.

A:  There is no published research for the treatment of hidradenitis suppuritiva that we can find, at least, not in English; we have no doubt that it has been studied and researched in China but the vast majority of Chinese studies are never translated. Generally speaking when we cannot find research we often do internet searches, as you no doubt have done, to see that the popular perception is of the use of acupuncture, and we found surprisingly little. It is estimated that about 1% of the population suffer from HS, but a great deal goes undiagnosed as people simply live with it or, given where it often appears, are too embarrassed to go to the GP. Even so, there are usually more of the 'acupuncture fixed my problem' postings, so we suspect that the success rate has not been high.

Of course, traditional acupuncture treats the person, not the condition, and each patient is regarded as unique and different. This means that a properly trained practitioner will look at the whole system to find out what generates the imbalances which then lead to symptoms. Named conditions are what bring patients to a practitioner, but the work is not focused on the named condition alone. Treating a symptom in isolation from the overall pattern is seen by the Chinese as turning of an alarm because you don't like the noise without investigating what made it go off. The general pathology of HS suggests what the Chinese would call local accumulations of Heat and Damp, but why they manifest in ten sufferers might lead to ten entirely different diagnoses.

We often advise prospective patients to seek a brief face to face assessment with a local BAcC member to see if they can get a better idea of whether acupuncture treatment might help. In your case, though, we think there may well be merit in seeing someone who is also trained in Chinese Herbal Medicine. The RCHM is a national organisation for Chinese herbal medicine, and about 90% of its members are also BAcC members. It is something of a piece of received wisdom in the profession that skin problems often respond really well to herbal medicine, and if you are thinking of using Chinese medicine, this may give you the best shot of getting rid of this truly distressing problem.

Page 1 of 9

Post a question

If you have any questions about acupuncture, browse our archive or ask an expert.

Ask an expert

BAcC Factsheets

Research based factsheets have been prepared for over 60 conditions especially for this website

Browse the facts

In the news

Catch up with the latest news on acupuncture in the national media

Latest news