Mary van den Berg-Wolf and Thomas Burgoon
Acupuncture and Cutaneous Medicine:
Is It Effective?
Volume 29, Number 5, 2017
Background: In China, acupuncture has been used as a form of medical therapy for more than 2500 years. It
is a part of traditional medical practice and is used to treat the entire spectrum of human and veterinary
disease. Although dermatologic disease has received much less attention in worldwide acupuncture research
than pain and musculoskeletal conditions, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting acupuncture’s
usefulness in this area.
Objective: The aim of this article was to review the evidence in the literature regarding the usefulness of
acupuncture in managing dermatologic illness.
Results: Trials and case reports of patients using acupuncture have been published in the areas of atopic
dermatitis and urticaria, herpes zoster, psoriasis, acne, melasma, and hyperhidrosis, as well as in promoting
wound healing. Itch modulation by acupuncture has been the focus of recent research as itch is a predominant
symptom in allergic skin diseases and leads to serious impairment of quality of life.
Conclusions: Although more research is needed, acupuncture’s use in cutaneous medicine is promising in
the area of itch modulation, in treating atopic dermatitis and herpes zoster pain, and in promoting wound
Florin Pfab et al.
Acupuncture compared to oral antihistamine for type I
hypersensitivity itch and skin response in adults with atopic
dermatitis – a patient and examiner blinded, randomized,
placebo-controlled, crossover trial
Allergy. 2012 April ; 67(4): 566–573
Background—Itch is the major symptom of atopic dermatitis (AD). Acupuncture has been
shown to exhibit a significant effect on experimental itch in AD. Our study evaluated acupuncture
and anti-histamine itch therapy (cetirizine) on type-I-hypersensitivity itch and skin reaction in AD
using a patient and examiner blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover trial.
Methods—Allergen–induced itch was evaluated in 20 AD patients after several interventions in
separate sessions: preventive (preceding) and abortive (concurrent) verum acupuncture (VAp and
VAa), cetirizine (10mg, VC), corresponding placebo interventions (preventive, PAp, and abortive,
PAa, placebo acupuncture; placebo cetirizine pill, PC), and a no-intervention control (NI). Itch
was induced on the forearm and temperature modulated over 20 minutes, using our validated
model. Outcome parameters included itch intensity, wheal and flare size, and the D2 Attention
Results—Mean itch intensity (SE: 0.31 each) was significantly lower following VAa (31.9)
compared to all other groups (PAa: 36.5; VC: 36.8; VAp: 37.6; PC: 39.8; PAp: 39.9; NI: 45.7,
p<0.05). There was no significant difference between VAp and VC (p>0.1), though both therapies
were significantly superior to their respective placebo interventions (p<0.05). Flare size following
VAp was significantly smaller (p=0.034) than PAp. D2 attention test score was significantly lower
following VC compared to all other groups (p<0.001).
Conclusions—Both VA and cetirizine significantly reduced type-I-hypersensitivity itch in AD
patients, compared to both placebo and NI. Timing of acupuncture application was important, as VAa had the most significant effect on itch, potentially due to counter-irritation and/or distraction.
Itch reduction following cetirizine coincided with reduced attention.
Vitaly Napadow et al.
Cerebral Cortex Advance Access published December 4, 2012
Itch is an aversive sensory experience and while systemic therapies,
such as acupuncture, have shown promise in alleviating itch
in patients suffering from chronic itch, their antipruritic mechanisms
are unknown. As several lines of evidence implicate brainfocused
mechanisms, we applied functional magnetic resonance
imaging and our validated temperature-modulation itch model to
evaluate the underlying brain circuitry supporting allergen-induced
itch reduction in atopic dermatitis patients by acupuncture, antihistamine,
and respective placebo treatments. Brain response to allergen
itch demonstrated phase dependency. During an increasing itch
phase, activation was localized in anterior insula and striatum,
regions associated with salience/interoception and motivation processing.
Once itch reached peak plateau, robust activation was
noted in prefrontal cognitive and premotor areas. Acupuncture
reduced itch and itch-evoked activation in the insula, putamen, and
premotor and prefrontal cortical areas. Neither itch sensation nor
itch-evoked brain response was altered following antihistamine or
placebo acupuncture. Greater itch reduction following acupuncture
was associated with greater reduction in putamen response, a
region implicated in motivation and habitual behavior underlying the
urge to scratch, specifically implicating this region in acupuncture’s
antipruritic effects. Understanding brain circuitry underlying itch
reduction following acupuncture and related neuromodulatory therapies
will significantly impact the development and applicability of
novel therapies to reduce an itch.