Alternative and Complementary Therapies for Skin Conditions

Several herbal remedies have been touted by non-physicians as being beneficial for skin health. Although we do not endorse the use of any of these approaches, we think that you might find it interesting to learn what the science has shown regarding these treatments.

Chamomile

How some people use it

  • It has been used topically by some for skin conditions and for mouth ulcers resulting from cancer treatment.

What the Science Says

  • Chamomile has not been well studied in people so there is little evidence to support its use for any condition.
  • Some early studies point to chamomile's possible benefits for mouth ulcers and certain skin conditions. In combination with other herbs, it may be of some benefit for upset stomach and for diarrhea in children.
  • National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)-funded research on chamomile includes studies of the herb for generalized anxiety disorder and for chronic pain caused by children's bowel disorders.

Evening Primrose Oil

How some people use it

  • Evening primrose oil has been used since the 1930s for eczema (a condition in which the skin becomes inflamed, itchy, or scaly because of allergies or other irritation).
  • More recently it has been used for other conditions involving inflammation, such as rheumatoid arthritis. 

What the Science Says

  • Evening primrose oil may have modest benefits for eczema, and it may be useful for rheumatoid arthritis and breast pain. However, study results are mixed, and most studies have been small and not well designed.
  • There is not enough evidence to support the use of evening primrose oil for other health conditions.

Feverfew

How some people use it

  • Feverfew has been used for centuries for fevers, headaches, stomach aches, toothaches, insect bites, infertility, and problems with menstruation and with labor during childbirth.
  • Recently, feverfew has been used for migraine headaches and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Feverfew has also been used for psoriasis, allergies, asthma, tinnitus (ringing or roaring sounds in the ears), dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.

What the Science Says

  • Some research suggests that feverfew may be helpful in preventing migraine headaches; however, results have been mixed and more evidence is needed from well-designed studies.
  • One study found that feverfew did not reduce rheumatoid arthritis symptoms in women whose symptoms did not respond to conventional medicines. It has been suggested that feverfew could help those with milder symptoms.
  • There is not enough evidence available to assess whether feverfew is beneficial for other uses.

Goldenseal

How some people use it

  • Historically, Native Americans have used goldenseal for various health conditions such as skin diseases, and ulcers.
  • Now, goldenseal is used for colds and other respiratory tract infections, infectious diarrhea, eye infections, and vaginitis (inflammation or infection of the vagina). It is occasionally used to treat cancer.
  • It is also applied to wounds and canker sores, and is used as a mouthwash for sore gums, mouth, and throat.

What the Science Says

  • Few studies have been published on goldenseal's safety and effectiveness, and there is little scientific evidence to support using it for any health problem.
  • Clinical studies on a compound found in goldenseal, berberine, suggest that the compound may be beneficial for certain infections—such as those that cause some types of diarrhea, as well as some eye infections. However, goldenseal preparations contain only a small amount of berberine, so it is difficult to extend the evidence about the effectiveness of berberine to goldenseal.
  • NCCAM is funding research on berberine, including a study to understand the mechanism by which it may act against tumors.

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Last updated: 1/8/2019