Along with what we consider regular orthodox medicine, there are a number of therapies such as homeopathy and herbal medicine, commonly referred to as alternative medicine. Many doctors regard these alternative forms of medicine as quack medicine. But are they? And do they have a role to play in the treatment of acne?The main difference between alternative medicine and regular medicine is the focus on the whole person. Orthodox medicine as we know it today tends to focus on the disease, in this case, acne, and the part of the body affected by it, usually the face. Alternative medicine focuses on the whole person.So while regular doctors may sometimes be guilty of isolating the patient from the disease – sometimes referring to them as “The Pimple in Bed 6”, or “Acne coming in to see you at three o’clock”, a complementary therapist would never do that. He would spend a lot of time getting to know you, what you eat, where you work, how your family is, whether you have any stress etc. Specific treatment plans are then tailored to the individual. So two people with the same disease like acne, may get completely different treatments.Now this is actually a good thing. All that attention to detail makes the patient feel listened to, that the problem has been addressed. This is part of what makes complementary medicine so effective, even in the treatment of acne, where we know stress has a role to play.Unfortunately, it also makes it very hard to objectively study the effects of a particular therapy on the disease. In orthodox medicine, there is a well-known effect called the placebo effect. This means that if a group of people were given a totally non-active substance and told it was say, a new acne drug, about one in three people would still report improvement in their acne. And this effect can last up to six weeks or even longer. The effect is further enhanced if the person receiving the medicine likes and trusts the person dispensing the medicine.So how does all this apply to acne treatment? It does in a number of ways.Firstly, acne is a disease of the skin, which is the largest organ in the body. The state of the skin can reflect the general condition of the whole body. And we do know that stress, for example, has a role to play in the worsening of acne in people already prone to having acne.Also, many complementary medicines are dispensed in low to almost negligible doses. Attention is given to nutrition and the whole individual. People who dislike taking drugs, especially when many of the drugs used to treat acne have side effects, may find this more appealing.There are no definite studies which can prove or disprove the effect of alternative medicine on acne treatment. The most sensible thing to do if you decide to try alternative acne medicine, is to inform your regular doctor, especially if you are still undergoing medical treatment. Do not stop any of your medicine suddenly in order to switch as it may be dangerous to do so.