Actinic keratoses and herbal medicine interventions: a systematic review and exploring future research directions

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Background:  Aging skin, with sun exposure, tends to develop abnormalities. One type of lesion is actinic keratosis (AK); considered a pre-cursor to non-melanoma skin cancers. Current AK treatments cause varying side effects. Although there is traditional use of herbs for treating skin conditions, little research has been conducted.

Aims & Objectives: To assess the variety of herbs that have been researched for treating AKs and their effectiveness, and herbs with a tradition of use for treating skin conditions.

Methods: A systematic review of published literature was conducted; publications were screened, with 11 papers selected. They included seven RCTs, three pilot studies and one open label study. Literature, materia medica and clinical case notes were reviewed for herbs with potential for effective AK treatments.

Results: Research papers utilising five different herbal extracts, or substances originating from herbs, were included. All showed positive effects for clearing AK lesions; there were varying adverse reactions. A significant number of herbs with tradition of use for skin damage have the therapeutic actions indicated for AK treatment.

Conclusions: There is evidence the researched herbal extracts provide effective treatment for AKs, contributing to treatment options. There is scope for further research on herbs with 'traditional use' for skin conditions, which are listed in pharmacopeia and materia medica, but are, as yet, untrialled.

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