The Exchange

Commentary and Observations from
the Medical Front Lines

Alternative Medicine Treatment for Skin Conditions

Alternative Medicine Treatment for Skin Conditions

Patients often seek complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments for skin conditions, including herbs, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), dietary modifications, and mind/body interventions. Patient interest in alternative therapies has grown over the years for a variety of medical conditions; in the US, CAM tends to attract patients because it is frequently available over the counter and often is less expensive than conventional health care.

In fact, a 2012 survey by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health reported that more than 30% of US adults and 12% of US children were using CAM health care approaches—meaning they are considered outside of conventional medical practice. A separate survey of US adults, also conducted in 2012, found that 17.7% of respondents had taken a dietary supplement other than a vitamin or mineral in the last year.

This trend holds true to dermatology. In a national survey of US adults conducted in 2007, 84.5% of those with skin conditions reported in the past year used CAM treatments, versus 38.3% of the general population. Based on data regarding CAM in dermatologic and nondermatologic conditions, it was projected that 8.15 million US patients with dermatologic conditions would utilize CAM over a 5-year period for their disease.

Although some CAM therapies may show promising initial results, alternative medicines also can drive adverse events and even have the potential to worsen skin conditions. Additionally, the majority of CAM therapies are not overseen by the US FDA; this lack of oversight can lead to many unknowns about product effects and can pose a true health risk for patients. When collecting patient medication history, providers need to ask questions regarding CAM use—many patients may not consider these therapies to be "medication," and therefore will not include them in their self-report of medication history. As well as asking about CAM therapies during the patient history, providers should be aware of available alternative therapies that patients may ask about when discussing treatment options. General information including mechanism of action, dosing, and possible adverse events or medication interactions is essential for providers to have when counseling and educating patients who may be interested in such treatments.


Filed under: Dermatology, Health Policy and Trends

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