By Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D. & Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D.
Itchy skin, dry skin irritation, or skin rash? Dermatitis is a broad term that covers many skin problems, including eczema, heat rash, diaper rash, and other kinds of skin allergy. Acupuncture and TCM offer a way to treat dermatitis, eczema, and itchy skin conditions.
The medical term “dermatitis” can refer to many types of skin irritation that involve inflammation. Inflamed skin can cause itching, redness, dryness, and rashes. A dermatitis itchy skin rash is caused by an inflammatory response related to the immune system.
Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a common inflammatory skin condition; over 30 million people in the U.S. have some type of eczema. Eczema can show up as early as a few weeks after birth in some babies, or during childhood, or during adulthood.
While what exactly causes atopic dermatitis to occur in some people is not completely understood, it is generally accepted that it is a combination of genetic, immunological, and environmental factors.
Dermatitis is not contagious; it is not passed from person to person. However, you are more likely to be susceptible to dermatitis or eczema if other people in your family have it, or if there is a family history of allergies and asthma.
Eczema and other forms of dermatitis tend to “flare up” when a person is exposed to some sort of trigger and has an allergic reaction. This could be due to something in the environment, or some product or plant that touched the person’s skin. It can also be due to internal causes, like an autoimmune problem, excess heat in the body, or emotional stress.
Signs of Dermatitis:
- Itchy dry skin rash skin irritations (pruritus)
- Red rash, red bumps on skin
- Rash like a burn
- Thick skin, hard skin, swelling
- Scaly skin, creasing skin
- Crusty sores, painful skin sores
- Bleeding rash, oozing skin rash
- Flaking skin (dandruff)
Symptoms of dermatitis can come and go. Scratching at itchy patches or blisters associated with dermatitis can cause a skin infection, so it is important to manage and control this condition.
Acupuncture and TCM herbs can help relieve itchy skin and inflammation, while also helping to balance the immune system to prevent further eczema flare ups.
Top 10 Types of Dermatitis
Many different conditions can cause dermatitis—meaning, inflammation of the skin. Different kinds of dermatitis include:
- Atopic dermatitis – also known as eczema, marked by dry, itchy, red patches of skin.
- Contact dermatitis – this is when a skin rash breaks out due to exposure to some kind of external irritant, such as a cosmetic product, piece of jewelry, or plant like poison ivy.
- Seborrheic dermatitis – flaking skin, also known as dandruff, occurs mostly on oily areas of the skin.
- Dyshidrotic dermatitis – (also called dyshidrotic eczema or pompholyx) small, itchy, fluid-filled blisters that appear on the soles of the feet or palms of the hands, or the tips of the fingers or toes. The blisters may break out due to exposure to an allergen or when hands and feet are often wet or sweaty.
- Diaper rash – a red rash that forms on a baby’s bottom or perineal area due to contact with the diaper and frequent wetness.
- Neurodermatitis – (also called lichen simplex chronicus) is a type of eczema marked by one or two very itchy, scaly patches that can become thickened and leathery – most often affects an area on the neck, ankle, arm, or groin. Neurodermatitis can itch so intensely that it affects a person’s sleep, and can be triggered by stressful events.
- Nummular dermatitis – (also known as discoid eczema) is marked by round, coin-shaped lesions that appear on the limbs or torso. These lesions can become infected with scratching, and may be related to poor circulation.
- Perioral dermatitis or Periorificial dermatitis – pink scaly patches or pustules that form around the mouth. This occurs more commonly in young women. Some doctors believe it may be related to candida, and/or influenced by hormones.
- Stasis dermatitis – (also called venous stasis dermatitis) itchy, scaly, discolored skin around the lower legs and ankles, due to poor circulation and blood pooling in the lower extremities.
- Dermatitis herpetiformis – a bumpy, blistered skin rash (looks similar to a herpes outbreak, but is not actually related to herpes simplex) that is related to celiac disease, triggered by ingesting gluten or wheat.
Psoriasis can look similar to eczema, but it is a separate condition that can coexist with various types of dermatitis. Rosacea redness can also look similar to dermatitis, but is a distinctly different condition that can occur at the same time as dermatitis.
What Causes Dermatitis?
A combination of the immune system reacting to irritants in the environment, and genetic predisposition.
Common environmental factors that can contribute to dermatitis include:
- Air pollutants
- Fluoride in water or toothpaste
- Fragrances, perfumes, air freshener
- Fragrances in skin products, cosmetics, lotions, soaps
- Tobacco smoke
There are many different types of medical treatment for dermatitis. Some are topical—meaning, applied to the skin. Others are taken in an oral pill form, or injected into the skin.
Topical corticosteroid creams, which can help reduce skin inflammation, are the most common treatment for eczema and dermatitis. These can help reduce itching and swelling. However, prolonged use of topical steroids can cause side effects like thin skin, spider veins, and acne. Steroids can affect growth in children, and can cause eye problems like glaucoma or cataracts in older people.
Steroids that are taken orally, like Prednisone, can help control systemic inflammation for a time, while patches of scaly skin heal. However, there are many serious side effects associated with taking steroids for a long time, and it is also possible to experience a “rebound effect.” This means that the dermatitis symptoms come back even stronger when a person stops taking the steroid medications.
Calineuron inhibitors and JAK inhibitors are designed to stop certain chemical processes in the body related to immune responses. They can help block immune system reactions to calm the dermatitis skin problems.
There are many new types of treatment for eczema being developed. Phototherapy, or light therapy, using ultraviolet (UV) light, may be tried when topical treatments are not working for eczema that is widespread over the whole body. However, this kind of therapy can cause prematurely aging skin, changing skin pigmentation, and potentially increase the risk of skin cancer.
Acupuncture and TCM herbal supplements offer a way to treat eczema without any damaging side effects.
Can Acupuncture Help Dermatitis and Eczema?
One of the core concepts of TCM is the 5 Elements Theory, according to which organs of the body correspond with seasons and weather conditions. According to this theory, eczema and other kinds of dermatitis arise due to imbalances within the internal organ systems affected by external conditions, such as Wind and Heat.
The lungs, especially, are connected to the skin in the TCM system. The lungs can be affected by excess heat or stagnation in the liver. Thus, an itchy red rash on the skin is actually an expression of a deeper, more complex internal condition. Therefore, it is necessary to treat dermatitis and eczema not only with topical creams, but to use acupuncture and herbs to balance all of the organ systems.
The acupuncturist gets clues about which internal organs are out of harmony by observing the eczema symptoms: the type of rash or scaly skin, the color and temperature. Each individual case of dermatitis is unique, triggered by different irritants, and arising from a person’s overall state of health.
One study showed that acupuncture treatment worked better than antihistamines for helping to reduce the itchiness of atopic dermatitis pruritus. Acupuncture also helps to reduce inflammation and overall stress.
Studies done in China to determine the efficacy of an herbal formulation developed for eczema showed that it worked well to reduce itching and recurrence of rash.
As systematic review of over 350 studies on acupuncture for eczema showed the patients who were given acupuncture treatment instead of conventional treatment experienced better overall symptom reduction and quality of life.
Top 5 Tips to Prevent Dermatitis Itchy Skin
There are things you can do to help prevent eczema flare-ups from occurring and avoid recurrent rashes.
- Do not bathe in very hot water.
- Keep showers short and warm, and use gentle cleansers, without strong chemical perfumes.
- Do not scrub your skin during or after the shower, while drying. Pat gently.
- Use moisturizer frequently to maintain a protective layer on your skin.
- Wear long pants and sleeves when hiking and adventuring. Wear gloves when gardening.
Acupuncture Near Me for Dermatitis in Los Angeles and Santa Monica
Acupuncture can help relieve itching, aid in the healing of lesions, help stimulate healthier immune responses, and reduce stress. TCM treatment can also be sought as a safe treatment for children with eczema, or during pregnancy, as it is free of negative side effects.
*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.