Bleach baths are frequently recommended as part of a holistic treatment of eczema. However, are bleach baths appropriate for eczema (atopic dermatitis)?
Eczema or atopic dermatitis is a symptom of a much deeper health problem – that stems from the gut.
It starts with leaky gut and food allergies – not necessarily the immediate IgE type. There are many lines of immune responses that are not generally measured by conventional medical doctors.
See more about allergy testing here.
However, that discussion is large enough for a book – and there happens to be a great book!
Check out The Eczema Cure, (2nd edition) an e-book that outlines the steps needed to cure eczema. It addresses the cause and it gives clear steps you need to take to overcome this disorder, using gut healing techniques.
In this article, I’ll talk about some other important topical treatments for eczema.
Bleach Baths Play a Part in Eczema Treatment
Bleach baths have been used to treat eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis) for many years. They are especially popular with naturopaths and other alternative medicine doctors as a possible treatment instead of, or alongside topical steroids and antibiotics.
Bleach baths are generally thought to be safe. The concentration of bleach is similar to that of a swimming pool. However, it can sting the skin a bit and inhalation of the fumes can be an issue.
Bleach baths are used to suppress the epidermal S aureus load. The severity of eczema has been correlated with the density of the bacteria S aureus on the skin.
Bleach is a potent anti-microbial and can also be used for other infections such as boils, impetigo and folliculitis.
Bleach is diluted with water to tiny amounts in a bathtub. The patient soaks in the diluted bathwater, thus reducing the numbers of bacteria on the skin.
Knowing what we know about the microbiome on the skin, begs the question, are bleach baths really effective for eczema – and are they good for the microbiome of the skin?
Studies Show Bleach Baths are Just as Effective as Water Baths for Eczema
A recent study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology reviewed 5 studies on the subject. The results were that,
Four studies reported significantly decreased AD (atopic dermatitis) severity in patients treated with bleach on at least 1 time point… However, of the 4 studies comparing bleach with water baths, only 2 found significantly greater decreases in AD severity with bleach baths, 1 found greater decreases with water baths, and 1 found no significant differences.
The authors concluded:
Although bleach baths are effective in decreasing AD severity, they do not appear to be more effective than water baths alone. Future larger-scale, well-designed randomized controlled trials are needed.
Importantly, these studies documented changes in S aureus colonies on the skin. They looked at epidermal colonization or density on the skin and they found no significant differences in density of S aureus on the skin, between the bleach or water bath.
This is rather surprising, considering the anti-microbial nature of bleach. If this is the case, why even use a bleach bath and take the chance of having an adverse reaction – especially with a child?
How to Make a Bleach Bath
According to the studies cited above, the general direction was as follows:
Add ½ cup of 6% bleach to a full bathtub of water (40 gallons) or 1/4 cup of 6% bleach to a half bathtub full of water. Adjust the amount of bleach and water based on bathtub size and height of bathtub water.
If a baby bath is being used, the ratio is 1/2 teaspoon bleach per gallon of water.
Soak time is generally 5 – 10 minutes. Then a rinse with regular water. Most practitioners also recommend moisturizing with an emollient or cream.
Bleach baths are recommended twice a week until the infection is cleared.
Obviously, you would not want anyone to ingest the bath water.
Adverse Events of Bleach Baths
Adverse events of bleach baths and cleansers were documented in 4 of 5 studies.
While adverse events did include stinging and burning (11%), itch (0.5%), xerosis (dryness 10.5%), erythema (redness 6.9%), urticaria (hives 5%), and oozing (5%), there were no differences in adverse reactions between bleach and water baths.
Should You Use Bleach Baths for Eczema?
The results of this small review study indicate that water baths alone can hydrate and sooth the skin and wash away scale and serum crust.
While the bleach can have anti-staphylococcal and other disinfecting properties, it can also cause stinging, burning, and transient worsening of the itch. Exposure of the eyes to bleach while in the bath, can be particularly uncomfortable, especially to a child.
Inhalation of the fumes from the bleach may also be an issue, especially if the patient has respiratory problems such as a cold or asthma.
Additionally, it is critically important to use topical emollients and/or topical anti-inflammatories after the bath (referred to as prehydration, soak and seal, or soak and smear) in order to seal moisture in the stratum corneum of the skin.
This will also increase permeability and enhance drug absorption if you are using medications.
Water baths alone or the soak and smear protocol can be effective without the addition of bleach.
Which Emollients or Moisturizers are Good for Eczema?
Emollients and/or moisturizers are critically important for keeping the skin moist and protected. There are medications that are prescribed, as well as anti-inflammatories such as topical steroids.
While topical steroids may work, when you stop using them it is common to have a flare up.
There are some beautiful products on the market that really do help and they are made without chemicals. These are:
Wild Naturals has an organic Eczema and Psoriasis Cream made with aloe vera and Manuka honey. The aloe helps heal and the honey is an antibacterial. Use this one and put gloves on if the problem is on the hands.
Puriya has the Mother of all Creams, that is a very good cream that stops itching and redness. It is made with amaranth oil which has squalene in it, whicht is a powerful anti-inflammatory.
A more conventional approach is with Cetaphil. I’m told their lotion is good for very sensitive skin – although it is made with chemicals.
Cetaphil offers a cleanser and an advanced moisturizing lotion that many people with eczema feel is very helpful.
Use White cotton gloves if the eczema is on the hands. Moisturize the hands and put gloves on to help keep in the moisture.
Kombucha Helps Eczema
Kombucha is a beverage made from fermenting white, green or black tea, by adding sugar for the cultures to consume. When the sugar is mostly gone, it is ready to drink and contains many beneficial elements.
It has been suggested that using kombucha extract topically as a kombucha skin toner may also benefit the skin.
Eczema can be extremely frustrating, with a constant cycle of flareups and remission and flareups – seemingly with no rhyme or reason.
This is when you have to dig much deeper than conventional medicine. You have to get to the source of the problem, which always turns out to be leaky gut and food allergies, whcih can and should be addressed through diet and supplements.
Check out The Eczema Cure, (2nd edition) an e-book that outlines the steps needed to cure eczema. It addresses the cause and it gives clear steps you need to take to overcome this disorder.