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A warm bath can be the solution to a lot of problems. Bad day at work? Take a bath. Just got dumped? Pour some wine and start the water. Ready to crawl out of your red, itchy skin? Get in that tub.
If you have atopic dermatitis, known to the rest of us as eczema, unwelcome irritated skin might plague your day. Symptoms can range from small red bumps to red and brown patches to cracked scaly dry areas on various parts of the body.
While it may be more common to see eczema on the face and hands in older adults, nowhere is truly off limits for an outbreak.
Unfortunately, there’s no definitive cause (darn you genetics!) or cure. But, like most of the annoying things in this world, a bath can help you out. Enter the oatmeal bath.
You’ve probably seen dozens of eczema creams and lotions on store shelves with colloidal oatmeal as an ingredient. That’s because oatmeal is a proven skin soother and known treatment for eczema.
No, we’re not talking about dumping a container of Quaker Oats into your bath. What you want is colloidal oatmeal, a finely ground oat powder you can dissolve in your bath water.
Studies show that colloidal oatmeal strengthens the skin barrier and helps aid in any damage caused by dryness by plumping up and moisturizing the skin.
So, do oatmeal baths really help eczema? You betcha. Organizations like the National Eczema Association lists oatmeal baths as a recognized treatment option.
Even the not-so-nature-forward Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves colloidal oatmeal baths and topical colloidal oatmeal use for skin treatment.
K, ready to take that bath? Your dermatologist can recommend specific brands of oatmeal products to try. Currently, the National Eczema Association suggests the AVEENO Eczema Therapy Bath Treatment, which has a few additives.
You can also purchase plain oat powder or make it yourself.
To DIY your own ground oatmeal
- Purchase whole, uncooked oats (also known as rolled oats) without any additives. No maple brown sugar here.
- Grind them up super fine in a blender or food processor — even a coffee grinder works. Just make sure you clean out your morning smoothie remnants first before giving it a go.
- Test your oat powder by mixing a spoonful in a glass of water. If it’s milky and feels silky to the touch, voila! You’ve got the consistency right. If not, keep on grinding.
To make the oatmeal bath your skin is yearning for, here’s what you need to do:
- Start filling up the tub with *warm* water. A hot, steamy bath is just going to eff things up more. Lukewarm to warm water only!
- While the tub is filling up, sprinkle about a cup of your oat powder under the faucet. Add more or less depending on the size of your tub.
- Keep mixing the oatmeal into the water as the tub fills to the right level. The water should start turning a milky, white color.
- Time to relax! Soak in the bath for 10 to 15 minutes to get all those good oat feels.
Tip: If you want less of a mess, tie the oatmeal in cheesecloth or pantyhose to create an oatmeal sachet.
Following the bath, it’s recommended you pat dry (never rub your skin) and immediately apply a cream or ointment moisturizer (preferably an emollient one) to lock in all that good moisture the bath just gave your skin.
If you feel kind of sticky from the oatmeal, you can rinse off with lukewarm water before drying and moisturizing.
Want to up your oatmeal bath game? The secret to a good oatmeal bath is really the oatmeal, but there are some nourishing add-ons you can try.
Skin-friendly honey and Epsom salt are great additions to an oatmeal bath cocktail. Try some of these for an extra dose of healing (although there is no proven benefit that these will help your eczema):
Lavender oatmeal bath
Lavender essential oil not only helps you chill out, but very preliminary studies suggest it may also help repair skin. Adding Epsom salt may also help calm the skin, but it’s not scientifically proven to help eczema.
- 10–15 drops lavender essential oil
- 1 cup colloidal oatmeal
- 1 cup Epsom salt (optional)
Milk and honey oatmeal bath
Some dermatologists suggest adding milk and honey to your oat bath for extra moisturizing power.
- 1 cup milk
- 1–2 cups colloidal oatmeal
- 1 tablespoon honey
Rose oatmeal bath
While there isn’t much research to support its effect on eczema, rose petals can add a relaxing spa-like experience to your bath and studies suggest it may soothe the skin.
- 1 cup colloidal oatmeal
- 1/2 cup dried rose petals
- 1 cup Epsom salt (optional)
The National Eczema Association also recommends baking soda baths to soothe eczema in addition to oatmeal baths. Try adding a quarter cup of baking soda to any of these recipes or adding other soothing essential oils like chamomile or frankincense.
While rare, you could have an unpleasant reaction to an oatmeal bath. Before taking the plunge, make sure you test some of the oatmeal bath mixture on a small patch of skin. If you experience any type of irritation, an oatmeal bath is not for you.
If you have celiac disease, make sure the oats in your bath are gluten-free, since oats are often cross-contaminated with gluten. Though topical application of products containing gluten are not known to cause issues, it’s always best to be safe.
If you have a rash that continues to stick around, skip the bath and call your doctor.
- Oatmeal soothes skin and can help treat eczema.
- Colloidal oatmeal, not the oatmeal you eat, is used for oatmeal baths and can improve the skin barrier and lock in moisture.
- Talk to your healthcare provider if you still have a recurring rash after taking an oatmeal bath.