Touted for their many skin-nourishing benefits, oats have secured their place both in your kitchen and on your bathroom shelves—and rightfully so. But if you’re in the market for super-soft, creamy skin (is that not all of us?), allow us to introduce you to the beloved oatmeal bath.
Here’s exactly how to run your own oatmeal bath for dry, cracked skin, plus some modern spins on the age-old brew.
Why should you bathe in oatmeal? Here, the skin care benefits.
There are plenty of reasons to put your trust in oat baths.
Oats are anti-inflammatory.
You might equate oatmeal baths with not-so-fond memories of childhood (say, if you’ve ever fallen into a bush of poison ivy). That’s because oatmeal is an age-old remedy to soothe inflamed skin, allergies, and rashes. Due to antioxidants like vitamin E, avenanthramides (an active in oats with major anti-inflammatory benefits), and ferulic acid, an oatmeal bath can calm angry irritation on the skin.
“Extracts of oatmeal have been shown to lessen inflammatory mediators in the skin, giving significant clinical improvements in skin dryness, scaling, roughness, and itch intensity,” board-certified dermatologist Loretta Ciraldo M.D., FAAD, once told us about using oatmeal in skin care.
And while there’s a plethora of products that contain oatmeal—cleansers, moisturizers, and body lotions, to name a select few—there’s something to be said about dunking yourself into an entire bath of the stuff.
Soothing your skin has a very particle application: It can help you deal with itch, be it from a rash, allergy, dryness, or skin condition. This is primarily due to those avenanthramides we mentioned, as they are particularly effective in reducing itch and inflammation “Extracts of colloidal oatmeal have been shown to lessen inflammatory mediators in the skin, giving significant clinical improvements in skin dryness, scaling, roughness, and itch intensity,” adds Ciraldo.
Oatmeal baths are hydrating.
“There are polysaccharides (long sugars) that bind water to the skin surface, making oatmeal a humectant. It has lipids, which reinforce the skin’s barrier, and saponins, which are like natural soaps and anti-infective. It also contains the antioxidants ferulic acid, caffeic acid, and coumaric acid,” says holistic board-certified dermatologist Cybele Fishman, M.D. Humectants, if you’re not aware, are ingredients that attract and hold water—so using them in skin care is quite popular.
By soaking in an oatmeal bath, you’re also getting double the hydration; Ciraldo mentions that bathwater can rehydrate the skin, especially for those who suffer from conditions like atopic dermatitis (which is why a lukewarm bath feels so soothing when those individuals have flare-ups). Add oatmeal into the mix, and the anti-inflammatory benefits work twofold.
They can help build up your skin barrier function.
Not only are oats a humectant, but they also have emollient properties (meaning, it has the ability to sit in between skin cells and fill in any micro-cracks, softening irritated skin). With these two moisturizing properties working in tandem, it can help build up the barrier function of the skin.
In fact, research shows colloidal oatmeal aided genes related to skin barrier and resulted in recovery of barrier damage in an in vitro model of atopic dermatitis.
Baths help your skin absorb the ingredient.
First up: “Bathing in an oatmeal bath is more beneficial than simply applying an oatmeal lotion to dry skin,” says Ciraldo. Why? Because soaking actually leads to better and faster penetration: “Dry skin has a buildup of the dead cell layer, which acts as a major barrier to penetration of topical skin care products like lotions,” Ciraldo explains. “When we take a bath, we’re actually swelling up the surface area of the skin to allow for more penetration of beneficial ingredients like the oatmeal.”
Oatmeal baths for eczema and psoriasis.
Often oat baths are recommended for those with the inflammatory skin conditions eczema and psoriasis. Turns out, there’s good reason for this—and it’s not just a home remedy with no scientific standing. The reason why they are such an effective option is from their anti-inflammatory and hydrating qualities.
“Moisturizing and protecting the barrier of the skin is paramount in dry skin conditions like eczema (atopic dermatitis) and psoriasis,” says board-certified dermatologist Zenovia Gabriel, M.D., FAAD. And there’s research to back it up, too: Clinical trials have shown that a 1% colloidal oatmeal cream alone was enough to calm symptoms of atopic dermatitis.
However, we must note here, these will not “cure” or “treat” your conditions alone. These are complex issues that require holistic methods—however adding in an oatmeal bath can make for a complementary ritual.
How to run your own oatmeal bath: 5 simple steps.
It’s surprisingly simple. All you’ll need is, you know, some oats. According to Jana Blankenship, product formulator and founder of the natural beauty brand Captain Blankenship, you can use any type of oats to brew your bath—be it instant, quick cooking, or regular rolled oats. Then when you’re ready to run your oatmeal bath, follow the prep steps below:
- Grind 1 cup of oats into a very fine powder (a coffee or spice grinder works great, says Blankenship, but a high-speed blender can work just as well). “You want the oat powder to be fine enough to evenly disperse in the bath and make it milky,” Blankenship explains.
- Run a tepid bath. Temperature is important, as “hot water can inflame skin, so only use tepid water,” advises Ciraldo.
- As you run the water, slowly pour in the oat powder. Stir with your hands until the water takes on a white, creamy quality.
- Soak in the bath for at least 15 minutes. Just be careful when you get out of the tub, Blankenship warns: “The oats can make the bath a bit slippery.”
- Pat dry with a soft towel right when you get out of the tub. According to Ciraldo, “air drying our skin actually dries it out more than immediate towel drying.”
If you’ve mastered the basic recipe and are looking for something a little extra, here are some ways to upgrade your oatmeal bath experience:
- For a muscle-relaxing bath, add 1 cup of Epsom salts as you stir in the oats.
- You can also add ¼ to ½ cup of finely ground chamomile flowers or rose petals to the bath. This gives a “skin-soothing and sensory delight,” says Blankenship.
- For an extra boost of moisture, add 1 cup of milk (either dairy or nondairy) and 1 tbsp. of honey. We’re partial to the Manuka variety, known for its ability to tame inflammation and fight oxidative stress.
- To better enhance the absorption of the oatmeal, Ciraldo suggests lightly exfoliating dry areas beforehand (a loofah works great) to slough dead skin cells even before melting into the tub.
The bottom line.
In case it hasn’t soaked in already (pun very much intended), allow us to reemphasize: Oats are pretty much a staple for skin care. And in bath form, the benefits soar. Because oatmeal is natural, soothing, and hydrating, consider it the not-so-secret ingredient for soft skin.
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