The Case for Bathing in Oats to Tackle Dry, Itchy Skin

Amy Lawrenson
Photo credit: Image Source - Getty Images

From Women's Health

An oatmeal bath is quite possibly the most wellness way to soothe your skin. Usually reserved to the kitchen and bowls of steaming hot porridge, oats are actually a potent anti-inflammatory ingredient used to calm skin flare-ups (think eczema and psoriasis) and to nourish parched skin.

Ground oats suspended in a carrier liquid (in this case your bathwater) is known as colloidal oatmeal and is the best way to drive the beneficial properties of the oats into the skin.

To find out exactly what these benefits are and how to get the most out of your oatmeal bath, WH called on two dermatologists to share their pro tips below.

Okay. What is an oatmeal bath good for?

'Colloidal oatmeal is thought to have both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties due to the presence of compounds such as Vitamin E, ferulic acid, and avenanthramides. It is thought that these compounds can help soothe the skin, and many people do report a beneficial effect,' explains Dr. Ophelia Veraitch dermatologist at The Cranley Clinic, Harley Street.

When it comes to specific skin conditions, 'colloidal oatmeal baths help to soothe and improve':

Studies have shown that oatmeal has anti-inflammatory, barrier repair, and moisturising properties,' adds Dr. Lisa Stirling, MD, a board certified dermatologist in Encinitas, California and a medical advisor for eMediHealth.

Talk me through how to run an oatmeal bath...

To make your own oatmeal bath at home, Dr. Stirling recommends:

  • Blend one cup of oats in a food processor or blender
  • Run a warm bath. Pour the powder into the water and stir
  • Get into your bath and soak for 15-20 minutes and gently rub into the skin
  • Rinse with warm water and dry the skin using a gentle patting motion with the towel
  • Follow this by applying a fragrance free, hypoallergenic moisturising cream

She suggests doing this one or two times per week and limiting the time spent in the bath to 15-20 minutes. 'Lukewarm water is the best temperature, hot water can cause inflammation and worsen itching, dryness, and rashes.'

I've heard that oatmeal can stop itching?

'Avenanthramides are the principle polyphenol antioxidant present in oats, which have been shown to decrease inflammation associated with allergy and itch in skin cells. The high concentration of starches and beta-glucan is responsible for the protective and water-holding functions of oat, while the saponin component in oats provides a cleansing activity,' says Dr. Stirling.

This explains why colloidal oats are often found in bath soaps, skin cleansers, shampoos, shaving gels, hydrating lotions and specialist creams for skin conditions such eczema and psoriasis.

So do oats cure these skin conditions?

While oats help to soothe inflammatory skin conditions, according to Dr. Veraitch they’re not a cure. 'It is important to see your GP or a dermatologist for skin condition specific treatments,' she advises.

And can everyone use oats?

Antioxidants are a great way to protect the skin and oats are rich in them. And let's face it, nourishing skin even when it’s healthy is no bad thing, so running yourself an oatmeal bath isn’t a waste even if you’re not dealing with anti-inflammatory conditions.

However, an oatmeal bath isn’t necessarily the most luxurious way to while away your time in the tub. Also, it’s worth noting that, 'oatmeal based products should be used with caution as some people will be allergic them,' adds Dr. Veraitch.

Any other dry skin tips ?

If you regularly suffer with dry skin and skin flare-ups then it’s worth having a few different skin-nourishing tricks up your sleeve.

Dr. Veraitch recommends using 'an emollient after bathing, as this will reduce water loss and protect the skin. Ointments are more effective than creams, as they have a high percentage of oil, but if they feel too greasy on the skin then cream alternatives can be used. If emollients are used in the correct way, they have a steroid sparing effect, which means less steroid cream will be needed in the future to control the eczema.'

'Those with eczema can benefit from treatment with topical steroids or a steroid sparing topical calcineurin inhibitor. Those with psoriasis can benefit from coal tar, coconut oil and vitamin D-containing topicals. However, as with any treatment, these should be used as medically advised. For those with more severe disease, advanced treatments such as phototherapy or oral medications might be required.'

Dr Stirling adds that, 'natural plant-derived aloe vera can help soothe rashes and irritated skin. Honey can help eczema, especially if the skin barrier is scabbed or crusted.' However, natural doesn’t always mean better, 'some natural products can cause allergies or inflammation, especially botanicals and floral based ingredients, which should be avoided,' she adds.

Both dermatologists agree that it’s best to avoid soaps and any products containing alcohol and fragrance that can irritate the delicate skin.

But what if oatmeal baths don’t help?

Colloidal oatmeal isn’t a cure for skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. Dr Stirling recommends 'discontinuing any treatment if prolonged redness, worsened itch, or burning/stinging develops.

An evaluation with a dermatologist for any skin condition not improving, especially if it is painful, crusted, or oozing is key. Most patients require prescription medications in combination with natural remedies for improvement in the skin.'

Now you know all about oatmeal baths, ditch your dry scalp with these trichologist-approved tips.

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