The Best of Both Worlds: Using Integrative Approaches in Atopic Dermatitis

atopic dermatitis treatment eczema eczema treatment integrative medicine integrative therapy skin problems Feb 20, 2023
Atopic dermatitis treatment

Our skin has many important functions, but when it’s irritated and inflamed, it can wreak havoc on our physical and mental well-being. One such condition that causes inflammation in the skin is eczema, or more specifically, atopic dermatitis.

 Atopic dermatitis is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that is characterized by dry, itchy skin or red rashes that come and go. Itch is the hallmark of this condition. In dermatology, we call it ‘the itch that rashes.’ Atopic dermatitis can range from mild in some individuals to severely debilitating in others. There is quite a bit of variability in this condition; it’s a disease that certainly keeps dermatologists on their toes!

People with atopic dermatitis usually have periods when symptoms are less noticeable as well as periods when symptoms become more severe, typically referred to as flare-ups. Although it can affect any part of the body, it most often affects the hands, insides of elbows, knees, neck and face. With this condition, there is often a vicious cycle of itching and scratching which can cause thickening of the skin known as lichenification. The raw, scratched skin is also more vulnerable to infection. 

Atopic dermatitis can have a significant impact on an individual’s daily life and may be difficult to cope with both physically and mentally. While some individuals will outgrow this in childhood, for others it is a lifelong battle. Although there is no magic cure to treat this condition, in recent years there has been an explosion of new and effective therapies for patients which has been so exciting! As we learn more about this disease, we realize that a combination of both conventional therapies, as well as more integrative and holistic measures, can be of great benefit to patients with atopic dermatitis.

Conventional therapies include:

- Gentle fragrance-free cleansers

- Gentle oil-based moisturizers that help lock in moisture

- Phototherapy with ultraviolet B light

- Anti-inflammatory, steroidal and non-steroidal topical creams and ointments

- Janus kinase (jak) inhibitors

- Biologic agents

- systemic immunosuppressants


Integrative and holistic therapies include:

- Using natural moisturizing oils such as coconut oil (anti-bacterial) and sunflower oil topically

- supplements with hemp seed oil

- Acupuncture or acupressure has been shown to be beneficial and effective 

- Cognitive behavioral therapy can help patients deal with the mental challenges of this condition

- Hypnotherapy


This is an exciting time for patients with atopic dermatitis as we learn more about this disease and develop newer therapeutics that can be life changing. At the same time, taking a more holistic approach and treating the patient as a whole is gaining momentum in Western medicine. While more integrative therapies may not replace traditional medicines, they can be wonderful complementary treatments for patients as they deal with their skin conditions.

I had the pleasure of speaking to a true atopic dermatitis guru, Dr. Peter Lio and his approach to patients with atopic dermatitis, combining traditional therapies with integrative approaches. He calls it ‘the best of both worlds,’ I call it being an amazing doctor and advocate for your patients!

For more information about using integrative approaches in atopic dermatitis, check out my latest podcast with Dr Peter Lio here.

New podcasts are released every Tuesday. 


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