Dermatologists sometimes recommend bleach baths to manage the symptoms of atopic dermatitis, the most common form of eczema. Eczema flare-ups cause the skin to become itchy, rashy, and inflamed. This occurs when part of the immune system becomes overactive and sets off inflammatory processes that manifest as an itchy rash on the skin.
How do you take a bleach bath safely, and how do you know whether it will help your specific eczema symptoms?
A bleach bath is just what it sounds like: taking a bath containing a small amount of household bleach. Bleach baths can help reduce the amount of bacteria on the skin, which may ease eczema symptoms like itchiness and redness. Staphylococcus aureus is a bacteria linked to flares of atopic dermatitis.
The small amount of bleach used in a bleach bath is extremely diluted. You only stay in the tub for a limited amount of time, about five to 10 minutes. This allows the bleach to work without hurting your skin.
When done properly, bleach baths are safe for most people with atopic dermatitis — even children. However, bleach can also irritate and dry out the skin, so it’s best to ask your dermatologist before trying a bleach bath. As one member of MyEczemaTeam said, “The doctor has mentioned bleach baths if all else fails.”
Some MyEczemaTeam members have had luck with bleach baths for eczema. One noted, “Some find bleach baths helpful for reducing bacteria, which can cause eczema symptoms to worsen.” Another said, “I came home from work today itching all over. My face broke out badly. I am beside myself. I'm taking a bleach bath!”
Bleach baths may help some people diagnosed with atopic dermatitis experience fewer symptoms by reducing itching, redness, and scaly skin. They may be particularly useful when the severity of atopic dermatitis is extreme or is interfering with a person’s daily life.
Medical professionals believe bleach helps improve the symptoms of eczema by killing bacterial infections on the skin — particularly staph bacteria, like Staphylococcus aureus. Because atopic dermatitis can cause significant itching, people often scratch it and end up with open wounds. Staphylococcus aureus bacteria often live on the skin and can invade these wounds, causing a bacterial infection that can lead to even more itching, swelling, and pain. Reducing bacteria with a bleach bath may help people with eczema feel better by reducing itching and inflammation of the skin.
It’s important to understand that while bleach baths for eczema treatment are common, they may not effectively treat atopic dermatitis. A 2017 systematic review found that bleach baths were no more effective against eczema than water baths. In that case, if the thought of taking a bleach bath isn’t appealing to you, regular bath water may be just as effective at helping you deal with atopic dermatitis and its associated symptoms.
It’s important that you talk to your doctor or dermatologist about taking a bleach bath for eczema before trying it. Some doctors recommend them for most people with atopic dermatitis (including children), while others see them as a last resort because of potential side effects.
Because bleach can exacerbate certain other health conditions, like asthma, your doctor will need to take your entire health history into consideration before deciding whether to recommend bleach baths for your eczema.
Your dermatologist will also work with you to make sure you know how to take a bleach bath for eczema safely. They may recommend you add a specific amount of bleach to your bathwater or limit the time you spend in the tub. Your doctor should also tell you what signs and symptoms to look for if irritation starts to occur, so you know to get out of the bleach bath.
Bleach baths should not be used if you have open wounds. These baths can also be painful for people with very dry skin. Dry skin tends to tear more easily, and people with dry skin may even have small tears that they don’t know about. The bleach can get into these tears and irritate the more sensitive tissue underneath, causing significant pain and discomfort.
Making a bleach bath for eczema involves using regular household bleach (unless your doctor recommends something different). The usual ratio is one-quarter cup to one-half cup of bleach to a full, standard-sized (40 gallon) bathtub of warm water.
To avoid unnecessary skin irritation, you may want to only soak the parts of the body currently affected by atopic dermatitis. This may be difficult, depending on where you experience itching and which parts of your skin are irritated. Never submerge your head in a bleach bath. It’s generally recommended you stay in the bathwater for five to 10 minutes, and do this two times a week.
When you get out of the tub, drain it promptly and rinse your skin in fresh bathwater or in a shower. This gets the remaining bleach off your skin, so it doesn’t dry there. Bleach left on the skin can cause dry skin or an increase in redness, swelling, and other symptoms. Long baths and excessive water exposure can also exacerbate eczema symptoms.
You should also gently pat your skin dry with a towel to avoid irritation and protect the skin barrier. Do not rub.
If you use a topical corticosteroid or other medication for your atopic dermatitis, apply it once your skin is almost dry. Then use a moisturizer on your skin to counteract the drying effects of the bleach. As one MyEczemaTeam member advised, “Immediately apply eczema moisturizer containing 2 percent colloidal oatmeal (I like Gold Bond). Then apply Vaseline or Eucerin ointment over the moisturizer to seal and protect the moisture barrier of your skin.”
It’s important to take precautions during the bleach bath to avoid getting bleach in your eyes. Don’t rub your eyes or touch your face if your hands have been in the bathwater.
If you are giving a bleach bath to a child, remain with your child at all times to make sure they do not drink the bathwater or wipe it in their eyes, nose, or mouth. Do not take bleach baths more than twice a week, but note that you may need to take them twice a week for maximal effectiveness.
MyEczemaTeam members also advise against taking bleach baths for eczema if you have open wounds, even if they are infected. The bleach can irritate these wounds, causing pain. One MyEczemaTeam member said, “Do not try a bleach bath if you have open sores on your body.” Another noted, “From what I've read, if you have open sores or broken skin, bleach baths may be irritating and cause further burning and aggravation.”
Bleach baths may lead to certain side effects, including dry skin, which can make atopic dermatitis worse. It’s important to use a moisturizer after taking a bleach bath, so you don’t accidentally exacerbate your condition.
Never ingest bleach, as it is toxic when consumed. Make sure to cap bleach bottles tightly and, if you are bathing your child, keep the bottle out of reach.
At MyEczemaTeam, you can connect to a community of more than 32,000 members who are also living with eczema. Members share their experiences with skin care remedies for eczema, including bleach baths.
Have you used bleach baths for eczema? What was your experience? What else have you found that soothes your skin? Comment below or start a conversation on MyEczemaTeam today.