So Does Acupuncture Work for Rosacea, or Not ?

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For me acupuncture has always been part of some kind of ancient mythology. Humans are controlled by a brain that has complex neurological pathways to all corners of their bodies. Can inserting fine needles in to the so-called “meridians along energy flows” in these pathways help your rosacea ?

If you are looking for hard evidence as proof that acupuncture actually works, well then the answer to this question is plainly no – there is no proof that acupuncture works for rosacea.

A lot of intellectual effort has been invested in trying to obtain hard evidence that acupuncture is effective. Good evidence of the sort that is considered generally convincing has been hard to come by. My reading of the research suggests that the likely benefits of acupuncture can be attributed to the placebo effect and that you might also expect some relief from some forms of pain.

A trip around the online rosacea boards finds only a couple of relevant posts;

From The Rosacea Forum user: eastwest, 14 months of acupuncture;

It’s now been 14 months of regularly going to acupuncture and being on the herbal therapy. I have been very disciplined about all of this and have rarely missed a day of taking the herbs that the TCM doctor gives to me and rarely miss a week of acupuncture. When I started this, I was going to acupuncture twice a week and that lasted for 6 months (I think). After the 6 month point, I started going once a week.

My rosacea is now at the point where most days I can’t even feel having it. There is a tiny tinge of redness on the corners of my cheeks, but it’s very minor. My face is cool to the touch most of the time. I told the acupuncturist the other day that I am glad that I continue to get better all of the time but how it has been a bit frustrating that it has taken so long. She said that it took the body many many years to get into this state and because of that it will take some time to get balanced again. In my case it took about 35 years to get out of whack. She says that I have shown very very good patience and that I am doing very well for it.

From Rosacea Support Community: Re: acupuncture

i tried accupuncture for rosacea for about 8 mos & it really had no effect on the rosacea, but did improve my overall quality of life.

From Rosacea Support Community member: phlika29, Re: acupuncture

This is something I have tried. A few years ago I went to a number of sessions which did have quite a major effect both positive and negative. Negatives-during each session I had a major flush which really took it out of me. Positives- after the sessions my flushing would completely alter and tended to be confined to my nose. Long term effects were negligible for me and only lasted whilst I continued regular treatments. I stopped due to the intense flushing whilst the needles were in.

From Rosacea Support Community member: bubblensqueek, Re: acupuncture

My Chinese doctor said I need 12 once a week sessions and probably can go down to once every two weeks after that. An acupuncture treatment with her is always followed by accupressure. you should give it a try. Just make sure you find someone who knows what she/he is doing.

The following recently published paper teases us with a mention of rosacea. How indeed does acupuncture relate to modern dermatology ? This Rosacea News post was inspired by this abstract being published – the authors ask “what can we learn from the ancients with regard to their use of acupuncture as part of a holistic system of medicine, and how does this relate to the practice of modern dermatology?”

I hope that holistic medicine does have something to offer rosacea, but so far that benefit is elusive.

Acupuncture in dermatology: an historical perspective., Int J Dermatol. 2009 Jun;48(6):648-52, Tan EK, Millington GW, Levell NJ.

Classical acupuncture focuses primarily on treating the person, and secondarily treating the illness. The “symptoms” are regarded as “branch” expressions of a “root” (constitutional) imbalance. Different root imbalances can produce the same symptoms. Five patients with eczema, for example, may reveal five distinct root imbalances and would all be treated very differently. Because acupuncture treats the whole person, it has something to offer almost every condition. In many cases, acupuncture aims to bring about a complete cure; in others, it aims to manage the problem.

Acupuncture remains a substantial part of the traditional Chinese medicine, which is used to treat many conditions including acne, alopecia, dermatitis, pruritus, psoriasis, rosacea, systemic lupus erythematosus, urticaria, herpes zoster, chicken pox, impetigo, leprosy, vitiligo, and tinea.

This review introduces the historical context of acupuncture within Chinese medicine and how it relates to skin disease. Specifically, a key question is, what can we learn from the ancients with regard to their use of acupuncture as part of a holistic system of medicine, and how does this relate to the practice of modern dermatology?

Update: British Journal of General Medicine says it Works!

Here is a really interesting critique of what seems to be at face value, an encouraging, prestigious peer-reviewed journal article finding support of some benefit from acupuncture as a generally beneficial treatment.

This is bad news for those who want proof that acupuncture is worthwhile, as this article soundly criticises the journal for such poor research.

Acupuncturists show that acupuncture doesn’t work, but conclude the opposite: journal fails

One wonders about the standards of peer review at the British Journal of General Practice. The June issue has a paper, “Acupuncture for ‘frequent attenders’ with medically unexplained symptoms: a randomised controlled trial (CACTUS study)”.

There is no need to wade through all the statistics; it’s perfectly obvious at a glance that acupuncture has at best a tiny and erratic effect on any of the outcomes that were measured.

But this is not what the paper said. On the contrary, the conclusions of the paper said

Conclusion

The addition of 12 sessions of five-element acupuncture to usual care resulted in improved health status and wellbeing that was sustained for 12 months.

How on earth did the authors manage to reach a conclusion like that?

My conclusions

(1) This paper, though designed to be susceptible to almost every form of bias, shows staggeringly small effects. It is the best evidence I’ve ever seen that not only are needles ineffective, but that placebo effects, if they are there at all, are trivial in size and have no useful benefit to the patient in this case..

(2) The fact that this paper was published with conclusions that appear to contradict directly what the data show, is as good an illustration as any I’ve seen that peer review is utterly ineffective as a method of guaranteeing quality. Of course the editor should have spotted this. It appears that quality control failed on all fronts.

We Need Your Help!

Only if we get to hear from real users of acupuncture will we ever know for sure. If you have tried acupuncture for your rosacea, or any skin condition please do let us know in the comments below. Thanks.

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About the Author: David Pascoe started the Rosacea Support Group in October 1998. .

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3 Reader Comments

  1. Linda says:

    I got diagnosed with a mild rosacea condition less than a year ago. I have tried Mirvaso, naturopathy & now acupuncture for past 2 months. Mirvaso did temporarily worsened my condition so I stopped. I am a pescatarian most of my life & eat pretty balanced diet; I meditate & practise yoga. My weaknesses are alcohols & sweets. Now I stay away from most trigger foods if I can, once in awhile I break bad. I have been getting acupuncture treatments twice weekly for 2 months along with some blemishes medication (supposedly detoxify). I think the blemishes pills irritated my system (bowel) & more I have been losing a lot of hair! So I stopped the pills. I am switching to a more experienced acupuncturist & hopefully find better ways to beat it.

  2. susan says:

    I started acupuncture recently to help with sleep. After 3 treatments (1 per week), I noticed that my rosacea is significantly better than it has been in years; still some redness but my skin is smooth with no breakouts. This is a welcome surprise.

  3. Angela says:

    I was diagnosed with rosacea by a dermatologist at the Mayo Clinic. My symptoms began when I was about 12 and have worsened significantly over the past 20+ years. I have no known triggers aside from stress, but the erythema is constant with noticeable broken blood vessels. I also had ocular rosacea that I initially thought was standard conjunctivitis starting around age 25. I became very ill two years ago and started flushing head to toe, among other things. Long story short: I have a series of genetic mutations that cause mitochondrial dysfunction. When I addressed the mutations with supplements, the rosacea began to improve.

    With regard to acupuncture, it was the only treatment modality that worked (see above where I went to the Mayo Clinic-I tried literally everything else available for my mystery illness). The first time I lay down on the treatment table, my face was swollen, hot to the touch, and cherry red. When I sat up 40 minutes later, my cheeks were still pink (from the broken blood vessels), but the flushing and swelling were gone for a couple of hours. The results are cumulative, and i saw a slight improvement at each treatment. Overall, I have had wonderful results from acupuncture. I started three days per week and have been able to scale down to twice a month now–in China, people undergoing treatment have acupuncture on a daily basis, and I think many people here who say acupuncture didn’t help them are just not going often enough. How does it work for a vascular condition like rosacea? My understanding is that it increases glutathione levels in the body. This phenomenon would likely explain why acupuncture is known to treat psoriasis, PTSD, and other conditions thought to have their roots in oxidative stress. I came to the table as a skeptic with her roots firmly planted in traditional medicine and left as an advocate of this strange and wonderful treatment. Who would have guessed?

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