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Eczema - which complementary medicines work and which don't?

Complementary medicine specialist Professor Edzard Ernst and colleagues conclude their series on which alternative therapies work and which don’t by looking at eczema

Complementary medicine specialist Professor Edzard Ernst and colleagues conclude their series on which alternative therapies work and which don't by looking at eczema

Many eczema sufferers try complementary therapies, particularly homeopathy, acupuncture or special diets.

Clinical bottom line

Likely to be beneficial

Probiotics: Reduce symptoms in infants and children.

Zemaphyte: A Chinese herbal mixture, which may reduce skin lesions but results are not entirely uniform.

Unknown effectiveness

Autogenic training: Effects on itching, long-term results are encouraging but not enough data available.

Autologous blood therapy: Not enough data available.

Biofeedback: Effects on itching, severity of skin lesions: not enough data available.

Black seed (Nigella sativa) oil: Not enough data available.

Borage (Borago officinalis) oil: Conflicting results.

German camomile (Matricaria recutita): Not enough data available on topical preparation.

Hypnotherapy: Not enough data available.

Johrei healing: Data unconvincing and scarce.

Liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra): Topical gel, not enough data available.

Selenium: Results contradictory.

Shuangfujin (Chinese herbal remedy): Not enough data available.

St John's wort (Hypericum perforatum): Topical, not enough data available.

Likely to be ineffective or harmful

Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) oil: Initial positive studies were superseded by more rigorous negative trials.

Massage: No evidence of effectiveness.

Zinc: No evidence of effectiveness.

Conclusions

Probiotics and the Chinese herbal mixture Zemaphyte may be effective. Only Zemaphyte is associated with serious risks.

For probiotics, the risk–benefit balance is likely to be positive. Conventional treatments are probably more effective than complementary and alternative medicine.

Professor Edzard Ernst is professor of complementary medicine at Peninsula Medical School, Universities of Exeter and Plymouth.

Dr Max Pittler is senior research fellow in complementary medicine.

Barbara Wider is research fellow in complementary medicine.

Kate Boddy is information officer in complementary medicine.

This is an extract from the Oxford Handbook of Complementary Medicine ISBN 978-0-19-920677-3, which offers evidence-based analysis of therapies. It is available from bookshops or at www.oup.com/uk

Probiotics have been shown to be of some benefit for infant eczema Probiotics have been shown to be of some benefit for infant eczema

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