Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Atopic Dermatitis

An Evidence-Based Review

Brittany L. Vieira; Neil R. Lim; Mary E. Lohman; Peter A. Lio;


Am J Clin Dermatol. 2016;17(6):557-581. 

In This Article


Despite the heterogeneity among many of these trials, their typically small sizes, and the fact that their quality, on balance, is almost certainly lower than investigations of conventional medications supported by pharmaceutical companies, there is at least some evidence to support the use of selected complementary and alternative therapies. Importantly, many patients are already discussing or using alternatives and holistic practitioners have long been recommending them; as such, there is value to reviewing the evidence even if it is incomplete.

While not always practical for conventional medical practitioners, and often with unknown variables, the following treatments and modalities emerge as potential therapies for AD: acupuncture and acupressure, stress-reducing techniques (such as hypnosis, massage, and biofeedback), balneotherapy, herbal preparations (with many important caveats), sunflower seed oil, coconut oil, pale sulfonated shale oil, oral evening primrose oil, vitamin D supplementation, and topical vitamin B12. Many other therapies either have sufficient data to suggest that they are not effective, or simply do not have enough evidence to make any reasonable conclusion at this time.

As a group, the adverse events associated with these treatments were rare and tended to be mild, but all were not necessarily completely safe. The risk that essential oils may cause allergic contact dermatitis, the possibility olive oil may actually damage the skin barrier, and the warning that evening primrose oil could cause increased bleeding in some patients all represent possibilities for harm. These, too, must be kept in mind when integrating such therapies into practice.