Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, can cause debilitating symptoms, including inflamed, itchy, cracked, dry skin. Although eczema is an area of high research priority for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, 31.6 million Americans — and countless others around the world — are still waiting on a cure. Many individuals living with eczema try at-home remedies. For example, some people try apple cider vinegar, oatmeal or bleach baths, or colloidal oatmeal to help manage their eczema symptoms alongside their prescribed treatments. Among the at-home treatments that MyEczemaTeam members have tried is baking soda.
Although baking soda may help provide relief from your symptoms, note that what works for one person with eczema may not work for someone else. As with any new skin care regimen, talk to your dermatologist before introducing an at-home remedy like baking soda into your eczema care routine.
Baking soda is the common name for sodium bicarbonate. It’s a chemical compound made of one sodium atom (Na+) bound to one bicarbonate molecule (HCO3-). Baking soda releases carbon dioxide bubbles during baking to help baked items rise. Those bubbles make your cookies and cakes rise to become light, fluffy, and delicious. But baking soda is more than just a rising agent. It’s been a household staple for years for indigestion, cleaning, brushing teeth, and freshening laundry.
Can baking soda help manage eczema symptoms? Evidence indicates that, yes, baking soda may temporarily relieve itching. Researchers have found that adding baking soda to lukewarm water in a bath or applying it directly to the skin as a paste usually relieves the itching caused by eczema. The effect can be attributed to baking soda’s innate therapeutic properties. It’s naturally antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and soothing, and baking soda has been studied for various inflammatory skin conditions, including psoriasis and eczema. These studies on baking soda are often supported by anecdotal evidence — word-of-mouth recommendations from people who have had success with the ingredient.
There are several ways you can incorporate baking soda into your eczema skin care routine.
One strategy to relieve the itchiness caused by eczema is to add it to bathwater. The study mentioned above — as well as the National Eczema Association — recommends adding one-quarter cup of baking soda to a full bath of lukewarm water (for an adult) and soaking for 10 to 20 minutes. Make sure the warm water is lukewarm. Hot water can exacerbate the inflammation and irritation of eczema flare-ups and make dry skin worse.
After the bath, pat the sensitive skin dry carefully (never rub, which can increase irritation). Leave your skin damp, and then apply moisturizer or emollients.
Alternatively, you can make a baking soda paste and apply it to the skin. This can be done by mixing the baking soda with a few drops of water until it has reached a paste-like consistency. If you’re not sure how much water to add, keep in mind that the paste should be able to remain on the itchy, affected skin without sliding off. The amount of baking soda you use depends on how much paste you need to cover the affected areas.
Leave the paste on the skin for two to three minutes, then rinse clean with lukewarm water. Pat dry carefully, again leaving the skin damp, and moisturize.
After the baking soda bath or paste, it’s important to moisturize the skin while it’s still warm and damp. As one MyEczemaTeam member said, “Put a heaping handful of baking soda in the water, and as the skin is still damp, lotion up.”
Moisturizers are designed to keep moisture in more than they are designed to add moisture to the skin. Putting moisturizer on damp skin gives the lotion some moisture to work with from the start to help relieve dryness associated with eczema. It’s a good idea to have your moisturizer of choice handy, so it’s there when you get out of the bath. Thicker creams are better than thinner lotions.
The amount of baking soda to add to the bathwater is somewhat flexible. Consider what we’ve learned: one-quarter cup of baking soda in a full bath is recommended. Yet, a paste of baking soda can be safely applied to the skin.
The difference between the paste and the bath comes down to time: If you’re using one-quarter cup of baking soda in the bath, you soak for 10 to 20 minutes. If you’re applying a paste, you leave it on for three minutes. This means you can add more baking soda to the bath for the soak if needed, as long as you reduce the soaking time. The more baking soda you add to the bath, the less time you should soak.
The time you spend with baking soda on your skin should be limited, especially when you have a skin condition like eczema. Baking soda is alkaline, meaning it functions as a base (the opposite of an acid). An important consequence of eczema is that the itchy, sensitive skin has an increased pH level — it’s more basic than normal, which results in more inflammation and itchiness. Adding a basic topical treatment to already highly basic skin could further increase the skin’s pH if it remains on for too long. This would defeat the purpose of the baking soda treatment.
It is also crucial to limit the time spent using these treatments because baking soda can be absorbed through the skin, causing a dangerous increase in carbonate in the blood (a condition called metabolic alkalosis). Symptoms of metabolic alkalosis include confusion, hand tremors, nausea or vomiting, lightheadedness, and muscle twitching. Contact a health care professional immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.
In addition, although baking soda is safe to eat in small amounts (it’s what some antacids are made of), swallowing too much baking soda can also lead to metabolic alkalosis, which is why pediatricians warn parents not to use baking soda or products with baking soda for diaper rash. If anyone, especially a child, swallows a glob of baking soda paste, call your local poison control center immediately to be safe (U.S. Poison Control: 1-800-222-1222).
More research needs to be done on baking soda for relieving eczema symptoms. So far, the evidence suggests that a baking soda bath or paste may help relieve the itchiness of eczema for some people. Baking soda treatments may be especially helpful in combination with moisturizing the skin immediately after the bath, while skin is still warm and damp.
Talk to your doctor about trying a baking soda bath. If you get the go-ahead, try the remedy with a small amount of baking soda to start, then try variations on the amount of baking soda and time in the bath, and see what works best for you. Hopefully, you’ll arrive at a strategy that relieves your itching and reduces dryness, at least temporarily.
Don’t go it alone. Find your people at MyEczemaTeam — the social network for people living with eczema and their loved ones. More than 37,000 members worldwide come together to seek help and offer support and advice. You can ask questions, share tips, and meet others who understand what you’re going through.
Have you tried baking soda baths or pastes for eczema? Did it soothe your irritated skin? Share your experience and tips in the comments below or by posting on MyEczemaTeam.