Does Cupping Therapy Helps Treat Eczema?
An ancient Asian therapy for eczema
Cupping has become a very popular therapy: celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston, and Lena Dunham have been known to show off their cup marks.
What is Cupping?
Cupping is a therapy which started in East Asia and has traveled throughout many regions of the world. Many medical systems have adopted and incorporated cupping therapies.
Cupping is performed by depressurizing the inside of the cup with a flame or a vacuum, so it then lifts up the skin below it. Traditionally cupping works to increase circulation and remove heat from the body. It is used for a wide range of conditions including stress, muscle pain, arthritis, chest colds, fevers, and even some skin conditions.
Plastic and glass are the most common materials used today. Cups may range in size from 1-3 inches across the opening.
Cupping is safe but does leave round bruises, which are generally painless.
Many cupping techniques can be used depending on the therapeutic goal. Flash fire cupping is when the cups are rapidly and repeatedly placed close to one another on a region of the body, the upper back for example. Sliding cups are when a lubricant, petroleum jelly or a waxy balm, is rubbed into an area of the body, usually the back. The cups are positioned over the back and slid back and forth throughout a region. These techniques are both considered dry cupping and are excellent for muscle pain, common colds, and chest congestion.[1,3]
Bleeding cupping, also called wet cupping, is another technique. The skin is pricked with a lancet and the cup is placed over the area. The suction from the cup will draw blood through the incision. The bleeding is thought to remove heat and stagnation from the body. Wet cupping is more often used for reducing swelling, inflammation, and removing heat from the body.
Cupping for Skin Conditions
Many skin conditions are caused by heat and stagnation. Wet cupping, in particular, is used for skin conditions because it can remove heat and stagnation. It has been theorized that wet cupping has an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect in certain conditions which may be a reason why wet cupping can be effective for some skin conditions.[4,5]
There are a number of small studies and reports for wet cupping alone or in combination with other therapies being used for acne, urticaria, and herpes zoster.[4-6]
Is Cupping Safe for Eczema
In Chinese Medicine, heat is a very common cause of eczema. Some small reports and traditional sources suggest that wet cupping may be effective for eczema.[7,8] While cupping may be a useful therapy for treating heat conditions, the skin of those afflicted with eczema can be very sensitive. The pressure of the cupping may aggravate the skin and is best to be avoided, particularly in severe cases. There is one published case study of an eczema flare after cupping.
Is Cupping Safe for Other Skin Diseases?
Psoriasis is often caused by heat. Those with psoriasis are prone to developing new psoriasis lesions on areas that are injured. In some people, this can even happen from a tight belt or a hard seat. Cupping acts by creating pressure on the skin and is likely to develop new psoriasis.[10,11] Cupping should be avoided by those with psoriasis. There are numerous reports of cupping leading to the development of new psoriasis lesions.[5,10,11]
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8. Chen D, Lu C-j, Kurtz A. Eczema & atopic dermatitis. Beijing: People's Medical Pub. House; 2007.
9. Hon KL, Luk DC, Leong KF, et al. Cupping Therapy May be Harmful for Eczema: A PubMed Search. Case Rep Pediatr.2013;2013:605829; PMID: 24282650.
10. Vender R, Vender R. Paradoxical, Cupping-Induced Localized Psoriasis: A Koebner Phenomenon. J Cutan Med Surg.2015;19(3):320-322; PMID: 25775648.
11. Yu RX, Hui Y, Li CR. Koebner phenomenon induced by cupping therapy in a psoriasis patient. Dermatol Online J.2013;19(6):18575; PMID: 24011324.