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Oatmeal Bath for Eczema: Effectiveness, Benefits, and Uses

Posted on June 07, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D.
Article written by
Elizabeth Wartella, M.P.H.

When it comes to eczema, managing bothersome symptoms like dry, itchy skin is a top priority. Although prescription medications may help, there are also at-home remedies you can try for reducing itch and soothing the skin, including soaking in an oatmeal bath.

Oatmeal baths are a simple, cost-effective treatment that have been shown to help relieve symptoms of inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema. They are safe for adults as well as children and help restore the skin’s barrier function, which offers relief from the itching.

How Oatmeal Helps the Skin

Oatmeal has been used for a long time as a treatment for a range of skin conditions to soothe symptoms such as itch and irritation.

Colloidal oatmeal is a type of oatmeal produced by finely grinding oats, and it’s approved and regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use as a skin protectant. Pure colloidal oatmeal is available for purchase and can also be found in different agents like soaps and shampoos. Colloidal oatmeal is the form of oatmeal best used in an oatmeal bath.

There are many different properties of colloidal oatmeal that make it useful in treating dermatitis (skin irritation) and other eczema symptoms. Oats have antioxidants, which have been shown to help reduce inflammation and itching. Colloidal oatmeal also has high concentrations of starches, which provide water-holding properties. When used in a bath and in contact with the skin, colloidal oatmeal creates a moisturizing protective film over the skin and helps it to stay hydrated.

Other benefits of colloidal oatmeal include cleansing the skin, maintaining the skin’s pH, and replenishing the skin barrier. Cleansing and protecting the skin barrier helps to manage eczema symptoms.

Although there is currently no cure for eczema, colloidal oatmeal products and baths offer the potential for relief from bothersome symptoms of eczema and irritated skin. Discuss with your health care provider which medical treatments may help along with oatmeal baths.

Effectiveness of Oatmeal for Eczema Symptoms

Oatmeal has been used for centuries to address a range of skin symptoms, and in more recent decades, research studies have examined its effectiveness in people with atopic dermatitis and eczema. Oatmeal baths do not address the overactivation of the immune system but do help relieve the symptoms associated with atopic dermatitis.

A study found that when babies and young children were treated with a colloidal oatmeal cream twice a day and a colloidal oatmeal bath cleanser, skin itching, dryness, and roughness decreased after several weeks.

Another study examined adults with atopic dermatitis (a severe form of eczema). After four weeks of a colloidal oatmeal regimen, they showed improvement in skin condition and also in overall quality of life.

These studies showcase the anti-inflammatory benefits of colloidal oatmeal and oatmeal baths in children and adults.

One member of MyEczemaTeam talked about how they use oatmeal baths for their eczema symptoms as well as their child’s: “My boy and I are both clear for now. We have been taking oatmeal and baking soda baths. It has helped a lot.”

Another member said oatmeal baths help with eczema-related itching. “Terrible itching this morning. It drives me crazy. I decided to take an oatmeal bath and leave the lotion off for a while,” they said. “The itching has calmed down quite a bit.”

Preparing an Oatmeal Bath

Preparing an oatmeal bath is quite simple, but there are several important factors to consider.

First, you should not take an oatmeal bath if you have an oat allergy. If you are not sure if you or your child has an allergy or sensitivity to oats, try performing a skin test to test for any reaction. Apply a combination of colloidal oatmeal and water on a small patch of skin and leave it there for five to 10 minutes. If there’s any negative reaction to the oatmeal — if the skin gets more inflamed, red, or itchy, an oatmeal bath is not a good option.

If your skin is unbothered by the oatmeal test, you are all set to test out an oatmeal bath.

Where Do You Buy Colloidal Oatmeal?

You can purchase colloidal oatmeal powder at popular retailers or online through sites like Amazon. A variety of skin care brands sell colloidal oatmeal powders. Aveeno makes a colloidal oatmeal powder bath treatment that is suggested by the National Eczema Association.

You could also try making your own colloidal oatmeal.

How To Make Your Own Colloidal Oatmeal

To make colloidal oatmeal at home, follow these steps:

  1. Buy regular rolled oats.
  2. Use a coffee grinder, blender, or food processor to grind the oats to the consistency of a very fine powder. (Attaining a fine powder is important so that the oatmeal will properly mix with the bathwater.)
  3. Test the consistency of the powder by mixing a tablespoon in a glass of water. The powder and water should mix completely. If there is powder at the bottom of the glass after stirring, it hasn’t been ground finely enough. Grind the oats further until the powder is fine enough to mix with water.

Once your colloidal oatmeal is prepared, you are ready to run an oatmeal bath.

Running the Oatmeal Bath

When running an oatmeal bath, or any bath used to relieve eczema symptoms, it’s important to use lukewarm water — never hot. Hot water dries out the skin and can make eczema symptoms worse.

Follow these steps for a soothing oatmeal bath:

  1. Run the lukewarm (or warm) bathwater.
  2. While the bath is filling, sprinkle about one cup of colloidal oatmeal (or your homemade powder) under the faucet.
  3. Mix the oatmeal powder with the bathwater as the tub continues to fill.
  4. Get in the bath and soak for about 10 to 15 minutes.

After the bath, it is recommended that you pat your skin dry and apply a moisturizer all over your body while your skin is still slightly damp and warm. The process of taking a bath followed by applying prescription topical ointment and moisturizer all over (within three minutes) is called the “soak and seal” method by the National Eczema Association. Applying an emollient moisturizer within three minutes after patting the skin dry helps to seal the moisture from the bath into your skin.

If you are preparing the bath for your child or baby, you should follow the same steps as you would in preparing the bath for yourself. Just do not allow your child to eat the oat powder while in the bath.

In terms of frequency, you can try an oatmeal bath during an eczema flare or whenever your symptoms are bothersome. The National Eczema Association recommends taking at least one regular bath or shower per day.

More Than Just Oatmeal Baths

As oatmeal provides a host of skin benefits that can help relieve different symptoms, many skin care products contain oats as the main ingredient. Different body washes, cleansers, lotions, and creams contain oats, and like oatmeal baths, these products may help to treat eczema symptoms.

If oatmeal baths relieve your eczema symptoms, you might consider trying other oat-based products for your eczema. Although there currently is no cure for eczema, finding the right products and therapies to treat its symptoms can improve your life.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyEczemaTeam is the social network for people with eczema and their loved ones. On MyEczemaTeam, more than 35,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with eczema.

Have you tried oatmeal baths to relieve your eczema symptoms? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyEczemaTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D. is a dermatologist at the Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Elizabeth Wartella, M.P.H. is an Associate Editor at MyHealthTeam. She holds a Master's in Public Health from Columbia University and is passionate about spreading accurate, evidence-based health information. Learn more about her here.

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