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Author: Steven Xie, Final Year Medical Student, University of Auckland, New Zealand; Chief Editor: Dr Amanda Oakley, Dermatologist, Hamilton, New Zealand, June 2015.

Table of contents

What is moxibustion?

Traditional moxibustion involves using heat from burning the plant Artemisia vulgaris to stimulate acupuncture points on the body. The aim is for the treated skin to become red. It is thought in traditional Chinese medicine that this improves Qi circulation, and helps with numerous conditions.

Traditional moxibustion can be either direct or indirect. Indirect is more common, which uses an insulating material between the heat and the skin. The insulator can simply be air, or other materials like garlic and salt.

Other varieties of moxibustion include drug moxibustion, microwave, laser, and electrothermal moxibustion.

What is moxibustion used to treat?

In traditional Chinese medicine, moxibustion has been used in the treatment of numerous diverse conditions, including correcting breech presentation, diarrhoea, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, urinary incontinence, dysmenorrhoea, and atopic dermatitis.

There is a lack of good quality clinical trials evaluating the efficacy of moxibustion. A systematic review by Lee et al reports that moxibustion only had statistically significant better outcome for correcting breech presentation.

What is the effect of moxibustion on the skin?

Although indirect moxibustion has been used to treat atopic dermatitis, it has not clearly been shown to relieve symptoms and signs of any skin condition.

Adverse effects on the skin include local redness with indirect moxibustion and cigarette-like burn with direct moxibustion. This is can be confused with possible abuse by a caregiver in a paediatric setting (nonaccidental injury). Serious thermal burns with scarring are possible.



  • Xu J, Deng H, Shen X. Safety of moxibustion: a systematic review of case reports. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014;2014:783704. doi: 10.1155/2014/783704. Epub 2014 May 26. Review. PubMed PMID: 24976851; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4058265.
  • Lee MS, Kang JW, Ernst E. Does moxibustion work? An overview of systematic reviews. BMC Res Notes. 2010 Nov 5;3:284. doi: 10.1186/1756-0500-3-284. PubMed PMID: 21054851; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2987875.
  • Lilly E, Kundu RV. Dermatoses secondary to Asian cultural practices. Int J Dermatol. 2012 Apr;51(4):372–9; quiz 379–82. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-4632.2011.05170.x. Review. PubMed PMID: 22435423.

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