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colloidal oatmeal

What Is It?
Health Benefits
Forms

Dosage Information

Guidelines for Use

General Interaction

Possible Side Effects

Cautions

References
Evidence Based Rating Scale
 

What Is It?

Sold in pharmacies and health stores, colloidal oatmeal (Avena sativa) is not intended for a saucepan on the stove. Instead, this natural product is more suited to the water in the bathtub, where it helps soothe and soften dry skin and relieve itchy skin rashes.

When combined with a liquid, this special form of oatmeal acts like a colloid (hence its name). This means that when molecules (the tiny particles of the grain, in this case) spread through another medium (i.e., the bath water), they permanently change the consistency of that medium (meaning that they totally mix in). The beauty of a colloidal oatmeal bath, therefore, is that the oatmeal particles don't all sink to the bottom of the tub.

To produce colloidal oatmeal, the oats are very finely ground—pulverized, in fact. This enables the grain to readily absorb liquid. When the colloidal oatmeal is added to bath water, it almost instantly gives a slightly milky, almost slimy consistency to the water—which then coats the skin, moisturizing, softening and protecting it.

Health Benefits

Colloidal oatmeal has a long history of use as a soothing agent to relieve itch and irritation associated with various skin conditions, dating back to about 2000 BC. (1) In 1945, a ready-to-use colloidal oatmeal became available on the market and today is available in forms such as powders, shampoos, shaving gels and moisturizing creams. (2) The FDA now regulates the use of colloidal oatmeal as a skin protectant, and its preparation is standardized by the United States Pharmacopeia. (3, 4)

Colloidal oatmeal exhibits anti-inflammatory, anti-itch, antioxidant, and protective properties that make it a versatile cleanser, moisturizer, and buffer that soothes and protects damaged skin. These properties are a result of the vast chemical composition of oats: a high concentration in starches and beta-glucan creates a water-holding barrier on the skin; the variety of phenols makes it a strong ultraviolet absorber; the saponins act as cleansing agents; and the cellulose and fiber content of oat create emollient, or skin-softening, properties. (5) Colloidal oatmeal, therefore, may be useful in treating skin conditions such as eczema, chickenpox and shingles, sunburn, insect bites, sores, and minor skin irritations.

Specifically, colloidal oatmeal may help to:

Treat eczema. The anti-itch and anti-inflammatory properties of colloidal oatmeal may help to ease symptoms of eczema (dermatitis). Characterized by itchy, red, rash-like areas, eczema is a non-contagious skin inflammation that occurs mainly on the face, scalp, wrists, hands, elbows and knees. Several early studies showed the soothing and cleansing properties of colloidal oatmeal to be beneficial in relieving the irritation of eczema. (6-11) One study of 139 adults with various dermatoses found that using colloidal oatmeal bath and regular cleanser for three months led to a complete or significant reduction in itching in more than 71% of patients. The study showed that the barrier-enhancing properties of colloidal oatmeal help to normalize pH levels and, therefore, reduce the itch and irritation of eczema that occurs when pH levels are high. (6) A study of 152 children with dermatitis found that bathing in colloidal oatmeal (in an oil) eased the itching and irritation of eczema. (7) More recently, studies have confirmed that colloidal oatmeal contains properties that form a protective, moisturizing barrier on the skin. (12-15) In a study of 25 patients with a history of atopic dermatitis and moderately dry legs, soaking in a colloidal oatmeal bath for 20 minutes daily for seven days improved itching and burning by up to 67%. (12) In a 2007 study of 21 patients with mild to moderate atopic dermatitis, applying an oatmeal-based cream twice daily to eczema patches for two weeks significantly improved symptoms after the first and second weeks of treatment. (16) More, larger studies are needed. 

Ease itching in chickenpox and shingles. Soaking in a colloidal oatmeal bath may help to relieve the itching associated with chickenpox and shingles. A 2007 review of controlled trials and anecdotal evidence found that treatment with colloidal oatmeal baths helped to relieve the itching and discomfort of shingles, a viral infection that often appears as a blistering, painful rash on a single strip of skin. (17) The National Institutes of Health also recommends colloidal oatmeal baths to help relieve these symptoms of chickenpox and shingles. (18)

Soothe sunburn. The soothing, anti-itch and anti-inflammatory effects of colloidal oatmeal may be useful in easing the discomfort of sunburn. (5) While some alternative sources cite the use of colloidal oatmeal to relieve the itching and pain associated with minor to severe sunburn, scientific evidence is lacking. (19-21) Research is needed.

Treat insect bites. Colloidal oatmeal has a long history of use for treating minor skin problems, such as insect bites, sores, and other minor skin irritations. (3) Soaking in a colloidal oatmeal bath may help to relieve itching and dry skin caused by these irritations. While some alternative sources cite the use of colloidal oatmeal for such use, scientific evidence is lacking. (21-23) Research is needed.

Forms

  • Gel
  • Lotion
  • Powder
  • Shampoo
  • Soap

Dosage Information

According to the FDA, colloidal oatmeal can be added to baths at a minimum concentration of 0.007% when used alone, or at a minimum concentration of 0.003% when combined with mineral oil. (3)

The United States Pharmacopeia recommends the percentage of fat in colloidal oatmeal not be less than 0.2%, and that no more than 3% of total particles in the powder should exceed 150 micrometers and no more than 20% should exceed 75 micrometers in size. (4)

Guidelines for Use

 Colloidal oatmeal can be made at home. In a blender, coffee grinder, or food processor, finely grind oatmeal purchased at the grocery store. A word of caution is warranted, however. It can be a bit difficult to determine just how fine the oatmeal needs to be before it can become a colloid in water. If it's too coarse, it will simply sink to the bottom of the tub. The commercial product is processed so minutely that its ability to form a colloid is assured. Whether preparing a bath with a commercial colloidal oatmeal product or a home "grind," the instructions are the same:
Draw a tepid bath. (Don't use hot water, which will further inflame the skin and absorb moisture from the skin rather than lubricating it.) Add several cups of the oatmeal to the bath as it's filling up. Soak for 10 minutes. Then pat (don't rub) skin dry. Repeat the bath as needed, up to three times a day, depending on the severity of the condition. If feeling sticky after the bath, try rinsing the body with a few cups of tepid water.

General Interaction

There are no known drug or nutrient interactions associated with colloidal oatmeal.

Possible Side Effects

There are no known side effects associated with colloidal oatmeal.

Cautions

Try not to let the treated bath water get into the eyes (it could irritate them), and hold off on taking an oatmeal bath if the area to be treated is acutely inflamed. The only real danger with an oatmeal bath is that it can be much more slippery than you think. Hold on to the side of the tub very carefully when getting out. Have someone help you out of the tub if you have any concerns. 

References 

1. Gibson L, Benson G. Origin, history, and uses of oat (Avena sativa) and wheat (Triticum aestivum). Available at: http://www.agron.iastate.edu/courses/agron212/Readings/Oat_wheat_history.htm. Accessed May 24, 2010.
2. Oats. Available at: http://www.aveeno.com/active-naturals/oats. Accessed May 24, 2010.
3. Skin protectant drug products for over-the-counter human use; final monograph. 68FR33362. 2003; June 4.
4. Colloidal Oatmeal. The United States Pharmacopeia: The National Formulary. Rockville, Maryland: United States Pharmacopeia Convention, Inc; 2006:591-592.
5. Kurtz ES, Wallo W. Colloidal oatmeal: history, chemistry and clinical properties. J Drugs Dermatol. 2007 Feb;6(2):167-70.
6. Grais ML. Role of colloidal oatmeal in dermatologic treatment of the aged. AMA Arch Derm Syphilol. 1953:68:402-407.
7. Dick LA. Colloidal emollient baths in pediatric dermatoses. Arch Pediatr. 1958;75:506-508.
8. Smith GC. The treatment of various dermatoses associated with dry skin. J S C Med Assoc. 1958;54:282-283.
9. Franks AG. Dermatologic uses of baths. Am Pract Dig Treat. 1958; 9:1998-2000.
10. Dick LA. Colloidal emollient baths in geriatric dermatoses. Skin. 1962;1:89-91.
11. O'Brasky L. Management of extensive dry skin conditions. Conn Med. 1959;23:20-21.
12. Wallo W, Nebus J, Nystrand G, et al. Agents with adjunctive therapeutic potential in atopic dermatitis. Poster presented at: 65th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology; February 2-6, 2007; Washington, D.C. P712.
13. Hart J, Polla C, Hull JC. Oat fractions. Cosmet Toiletries. 1998;113:45-52.
14. Data on file. Warhol J. Biological activity of oat compounds: a review of the scientific and medical literature. Skillman, NJ: Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies; 2000.
15. Zhou M, Robards K, Glennie-Holmes M, et al. Oat lipids. J Am Oil Chem Soc. 1999;76:159-169. 
16. Nebus J, Wallo W, Fowler J. Evaluating the safety and tolerance of a body wash and moisturizing regimen in patients with atopic dermatitis. Poster presented at: 65th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology; February 2-6, 2007;Washington, D.C. P714.
17. Dworkin RH, Johnson RW, Breuer J, et al. Recommendations for the management of herpes zoster. Clin Infect Dis. 2007 Jan 1;44 Supl 1:S1-26. Modified November 3, 2008. Available at: http://www.guideline.gov/summary/pdf.aspx?doc_id=10222&stat=1&string=. Accessed May 24, 2010
18. Herpes zoster. US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health Web site; updated June 19, 2008. Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000858.htm. Accessed May 24, 2010
19. Sunburn. Herbs2000.com Available at: http://www.herbs2000.com/disorders/sunburn.htm. Accessed May 24, 2010
20. Herbal Remedies for Sunburn. Natural Herbal Healing. Available at: http://www.freewebs.com/herbal_remedies/sunburn.html. Accessed May 24, 2010.
21. Colloidal Oatmeal. Available at: http://colloidaloatmeal.com/. Accessed May 24, 2010.
22. Colloidal Oatmeal? Natural Medicines. Available at: http://www.health-resourcesite.com/Colloidal-Oatmeal.php. Accessed May 24, 2010.
23. Oatmeal. Nature's Treatments. Available at: http://www.natures-treatments.com/oatmeal.htm. Accessed May 24, 2010.

Evidence Based Rating Scale

The Evidence Based Rating Scale is a tool that helps consumers translate the findings of medical research studies and what our clinical advisors have found to be efficacious in their personal practice into a visual and easy to interpret format. This tool is meant to simplify the information on supplements and therapies that demonstrate promise in the treatment of certain conditions.

 

Condition

Rating

Explanation

 

Chickenpox

   

The National Institutes of Health recommend colloidal oatmeal baths to relieve itching and discomfort. (17, 18)

Eczema  
Several small studies indicate potential efficacy. Larger studies are needed to confirm or refute efficacy. (6-16)
Insect bites & stings  

A long history of use and anecdotal evidence from alternative sources indicates potential efficacy, but scientific evidence is lacking. (21-23) 

Shingles  


The National Institutes of Health recommend colloidal oatmeal baths to relieve itching and discomfort. (17, 18)

 

Sunburn  
A long history of use and anecdotal evidence from alternative sources indicates potential efficacy, but scientific evidence is lacking. (5, 19-21)


Date Published: 04/18/2005
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