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Eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, can cause patches of dry, inflamed, and itchy skin across your body. The persistent itchiness and discomfort can affect daily life and even make it hard to sleep.

There’s no cure for eczema. Many different treatments can help ease symptoms, but people with severe eczema often get less relief from treatment.

This skin condition is very common. According to research from 2017, roughly 10.7 percent of children and 7.2 percent of adults in the United States live with eczema.

A 2018 study of over 1,200 U.S. adults with eczema found that:

  • just over 60 percent had mild symptoms
  • just under 29 percent had moderate symptoms
  • the remaining 11 percent had severe symptoms

If you live with treatment-resistant eczema, you’ve probably tried plenty of different approaches to get relief from itchiness and other symptoms.

One thing you may not have attempted? Hypnotherapy, or the use of hypnosis for symptom relief.

Yes, really. It might sound somewhat far-fetched, but if you’re in search of a new eczema therapy to try, hypnotherapy could offer an option to consider.

Read on to get more details on hypnotherapy for eczema, including how this treatment works and what the research says.

Hypnotherapy falls into the category of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). These nontraditional approaches to treatment are often used alongside more typical methods, like prescription medications.

Contrary to what TV and other media often suggest, hypnotherapists don’t present you with a swinging pocket watch and steal your free will. They also can’t brainwash you into doing things you don’t want to do.

Hypnotherapy simply aims to help you relax and produce a more open frame of mind.

Before any hypnosis takes place, you’ll discuss what you’d like to get out of therapy with your hypnotherapist and learn more about the process. Once you agree on your therapy goals, they’ll use rhythm and repetition to bring you into a trance state.

In this altered state of consciousness, which may feel similar to a meditative state, you’ll remain aware, though you’ll typically be more open to suggestions.

For example, if you have anxiety (which could worsen eczema symptoms), your hypnotherapist might use hypnosis to offer instructions that help you relax in your day-to-day life. Your desire to relax was already there — that’s why you came to the session, after all. But hypnosis might push away some of the mental barriers keeping you from that goal.

Learn more about the process of hypnotherapy.

Hypnosis can’t get rid of eczema entirely. It might, however, help reduce your symptoms by:

Lowering stress and anxiety levels

When you feel stressed or anxious, your body releases chemicals like histamine or cortisol into your system. These can trigger eczema symptoms such as:

  • Itching. The nerve receptors responsible for itchiness may become extra sensitive to irritants.
  • Inflammation. The cells in your skin may become swollen and discolored, creating bumps or patches.
  • Weakened immune system. Your skin barrier’s defenses may struggle to fight off infection, and you may notice oozing pus made of dead white blood cells and bacteria.

Hypnotherapy can help reduce your overall stress levels, which can decrease the cortisol and histamine in your system. Lower levels of these hormones may, in turn, result in fewer eczema flare-ups, and the episodes you do get may be milder.

Calming the urge to scratch

You can think of itching as one of your body’s alarm bells — it tells you when something “attacks” your skin. When you have eczema, those bells are often very loud, not to mention easily set off.

Hypnosis can’t make your sweater feel softer or change the chemical makeup of your lotion. But it can muffle your body’s alarm bells. Your skin may still feel a bit itchy, but the sensation likely won’t consume your attention the way it did before.

Some evidence suggests as many as 91 percent of people living with eczema experience itching on a daily basis. For many people, the main goal of treatment involves soothing itchy skin.

Even mild itching might leave you automatically reaching over to scratch. But even with light scratching, your fingernails can break open your skin, leaving it more vulnerable to infection.

Hypnotherapy could help you break this habit. After hypnosis treatment, scratching may feel less like a default reaction and more like a choice you can refuse.

Promoting relaxation

If constant, severe itching keeps you from falling asleep, hypnosis could help lead to physical relaxation and help you drift off.

Research hasn’t yet determined whether hypnosis can treat clinical insomnia. According to one 2022 review, many studies on hypnosis for insomnia have involved small groups of participants, and some only observed results from one person. What’s more, since the studies don’t share a consistent definition of hypnosis, experts can’t easily generalize their findings.

That said, some people do find that hypnotherapy for sleep helps soothe itching to the point where they can finally get some rest.

Read more about self-hypnosis for improved sleep.

Scientists aren’t entirely sure how hypnosis works. In fact, plenty of experts continue to debate whether it works at all.

Some people believe hypnosis relies on the placebo effect: It appears to work because you want it to. If you believe hypnosis will work, merely going into a trance can convince you that your symptoms have declined, regardless of what the hypnotist says.

A 2018 study involving 60 men with burns examined this claim. Half of the men received hypnotic suggestions to reduce their pain. The other half received “neutral hypnosis.” They entered a trance state but the hypnotherapist made comments unrelated to treatment goals.

After treatment, both groups reported little difference in the intensity of background pain they felt. Yet the group of men who received true hypnosis reported a significant reduction in both pain quality and pain anxiety. Their pain had fewer attention-grabbing qualities like stabbing, throbbing, or burning, and they felt less anxious about the pain and what it signaled about their health.

Hypnotism didn’t change the severity of their physical symptoms. But it did improve the way participants perceived and related to their pain. This finding aligns with brain imaging research that suggests hypnosis can affect the parts of your brain involved in attention and emotion.

Some conditions may respond better to hypnotherapy than others. There’s more evidence to suggest hypnosis can relieve pain or anxiety than treat irritable bowel syndrome, for example. And treating anxiety, which can exacerbate skin issues, may indirectly provide eczema relief.

But can hypnosis help eczema?

There’s not much research on hypnotherapy for dermatological conditions, but limited evidence suggests it might have benefit.

To date, few high quality studies on hypnosis for eczema exist, but some small studies have found promising results.

One widely-cited but small study from 1995 involved 18 adults and 20 children with treatment-resistant eczema.

After hypnotherapy treatment, all but one participant reported immediate improvement in symptoms, including itching, scratching, and trouble sleeping. For many participants, symptom relief lasted until follow-up, which took place 1 to 2 years later.

A 2020 clinical trial involved 27 people with eczema who received an average of six hypnosis sessions.

At the beginning of the trial, participants had an average eczema area and severity index (EASI) score of 12. Experts consider this a moderate level of eczema. But by the end of the trial, participants had an average EASI score of 2.8. This score falls firmly in the mild category.

Some small studies also support hypnotherapy for similar skin conditions, like psoriasis or verruca vulgaris (common warts).

Interested in giving hypnotherapy a try?

An important first step involves finding a credentialed hypnosis professional. Asking your buddy to pull up a hypnosis app and give you a quick session might seem fast (and free), but this probably won’t have the effect you’re hoping for.

Hypnosis smartphone apps aren’t regulated. Authors of the most recent research on hypnosis apps, published in 2013, report that none of the apps studied were tested for their efficacy. These apps may have good reviews, sure. But most lack scientific evidence backing up their claims of effectiveness.

In the U.S., professional hypnotherapists may have credentials from the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH). All ASCH members must also maintain an active license to provide healthcare.

While ASCH credentials aren’t mandatory, they do offer a useful way to determine which hypnotists have had professional training. You can find ASCH members near you through the search portal on their website.

Will my insurance cover hypnotherapy?

When budgeting for treatment, it can help to keep in mind that insurance typically won’t cover hypnotherapy sessions.

Even if your dermatologist recommends hypnotherapy, getting reimbursement for complementary and alternative treatment approaches often proves difficult.

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It’s also important to remember that hypnotherapy is a complementary therapy. To put it another way, it shouldn’t replace eczema treatment from a dermatologist or other healthcare professional.

If you have persistent eczema symptoms, you’ll want to work with a dermatologist to explore options for treatment.

Evidence supporting hypnotherapy as a treatment for eczema remains limited. Still, some studies have found promising results, and many people find it helps soothe itching and discomfort when many other treatments have failed.

If you’re searching for relief from treatment-resistant eczema, hypnotherapy could be worth trying, particularly since it poses little risk of side effects. Just remember it’s always best to work with a trained and experienced hypnotherapist.

Emily Swaim is a freelance health writer and editor who specializes in psychology. She has a BA in English from Kenyon College and an MFA in writing from California College of the Arts. In 2021, she received her Board of Editors in Life Sciences (BELS) certification. You can find more of her work on GoodTherapy, Verywell, Investopedia, Vox, and Insider. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.