If you’re one of the 31 million Americans living with eczema — welcome. You might be wary of the dipping temperatures and the negative effects they can have on your skin, especially if you’re trying to prevent those scaly patches from flaring up in the first place. With the coming days and weeks defined by low humidity, overactive radiators, and fuzzy knits, it might seem like a topical steroid prescribed by your doctor is the only thing that will offer relief. And while that’s a welcome treatment for some cases of atopic dermatitis, it’s totally understandable if you’re looking for a different (and steroid-free) option. Maybe even bleach — or, rather, a bleach bath.
As crazy as it may sound, bleach actually *can* make a positive impact on your irritated skin. Like most under-the-radar skin care secrets, the first murmurs about this treatment appeared via word-of-mouth from K-beauty guru, esthetician, and Peach & Lily founder, Alicia Yoon. The beauty expert started taking bleach baths to soothe her persistent eczema as a teenager and continued the practice into adulthood. “It's a treatment I’ve kept in my toolkit as a potential remedy to try depending on my flare-up,” she says. “I like trying a bleach bath when my flare-up is more persistent and won't subside.”
At first glance, the concept of bleach for your eczema might seem a bit extreme. How can such a harsh chemical possibly benefit your already stressed skin? Turns out, there is some real scientific data to back it up. Says Dr. Dhaval G. Bhanusali, MD FAAD, “We are taught early on in residency that this is one of the staples of moderate to severe eczema. I recommend it for patients who tend to get recurrent infections of their eczema or have compromised, weepy skin.” (Weepy skin means active blisters that are oozing, for the record).
How Does Bleach Help Eczema?
Dr. Bhanusali explains that because eczema disrupts your epidermal barrier, you’re potentially at risk for severe recurrent infections like Staph Aureus. And since it’s impossible to use antibacterial treatments forever without the risk of resistance, bleach baths offer the same antibacterial benefits without worsening antibiotic resistance.
“We commonly use bleach to lower levels of bad bacteria that grow on the skin, which is especially common in patients with eczema,” adds Dr. Joshua Zeichner, Associate Professor of Dermatology and the Director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. “Our microbiome is the collection of microorganisms that live symbiotically on our skin. With eczema, the microbiome is easily altered, allowing for overgrowth of staph bacteria that is associated with both eczema flares themselves as well as superficial skin infections. Bleach baths can lower staph levels, prevent skin infections, and keep the skin barrier in as good shape as possible.”
Bleach also has the added benefit of being an extremely affordable and accessible option for people suffering from eczema, especially when visiting the doctor may not be feasible for everyone.
The 411 On Using Bleach Safely
Just remember that with this treatment, it’s not as if you’re dunking your body into a vat of pure bleach. All the experts stress that it’s a very diluted amount added to a full tub of warm (not hot) water. Dr. Zeichner elaborates, stating, “I usually recommend a 1/2 cup of bleach to a half filled tub, then soak for 10 minutes. Then you should rinse the skin off afterwards.”
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using 6% bleach and adding a ¼ cup to half a tub or water, or a ½ cup to a full tub. While you’re soaking, be sure not to scrub or add in other bath products. You’re essentially just marinating before rinsing off with warm water. And don’t worry — Yoon says that while the initial moment the water hits your open skin barrier might be slightly uncomfortable, it dissipates quickly.
Bleach seems harsh, but it’s nothing like the sting of rubbing alcohol. If, however, you’re still on the fence about using bleach, Dr. Zeichner does suggest using “sodium hypochlorite, a cousin to bleach which is non-irritating, won't bleach fabrics, and is gentle on the skin,” like the CLn Body Wash.
Yoon recommends taking a bleach bath only when you see a flare up, but Dr. Bhanusali says it’s safe to do so once a week if you’re still experiencing scaly skin. As tempting as it may be to embrace a “more is more” mentality, be sure not to overdo it — you might make your eczema worse. After you dry off and while you’re still in your humid bathroom, apply a body cream with plenty of emollients to lock in moisture and protect your skin barrier. Consider it the finishing touch to make sure your skin is soothed and irritation-free.
Looking for a few stellar moisturizers to keep your eczema-prone skin soft, supple, and itch-free? Check out five options below.
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Obviously Yoon took it upon herself to create the ideal balm to soothe irritated skin. The added centella asiatica extract — also known as cica or tiger grass — calms flaky patches while Panthenol repairs and restores. If you’re new to K-beauty, this product is a great place to start.
This French staple is well-known for soothing even the most damaged and irritated of skin, courtesy of its signature thermal spring water. Rich shea butter drenches your skin with moisture, while a boost of antioxidants helps protect against environmental damage.
There’s a reason everyone from dermatologists to tattoo artists swear by this ointment to heal wounds — it really works. For less than the price of an oat milk latte, the 41% petroleum formula restores much-needed moisture to dry patches of skin (not to mention your lips, cuticles, and everywhere in between).
Did you know that this celeb-favorite brand contains a patented ingredient complex that was originally developed for burn victims? Dr. Bader’s signature TFC8 uses a combination of amino acids, vitamins, and synthesized molecules to repair damaged skin and keep future irritation at bay. A targeted hand cream is a must to keep eczema in check, especially with rigorous hand washing.
CBD is so hyped up these days it may seem like yet another passing skin care fad, but a properly formulated product can actually deliver powerful soothing benefits. This cream contains full spectrum CBD (also known as “whole plant extract”) to calm eczema flares, while shea butter nourishes and provides a much needed dose of moisture. Treat your body to this one — it’s worth it.