The doctor-recommended eczema treatment you should never do

If you have chronic eczema, you’ve probably tried a lot of things to get rid of those red, itchy, scaly skin patches that plague you…

Maybe you’ve even tried things that go against your better judgement, like bleach baths. And who’s to blame you?

As odd and unappealing as bleach baths sound, doctors have been encouraging people with eczema and other skin ailments to add bleach to their bath for years. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology still recommends bleach baths to prevent eczema flare-ups.

But really? Bathing in bleach? How good could that really be for your skin or your health?

Bleach contains harsh chemicals like sodium hypochlorite (caustic soda and chlorine) and calcium hypochlorite. And bleach exposure is tied to side effects, like:

  • Eye irritation
  • Skin irritation
  • Lung inflammation
  • Asthma attacks
  • Breathing problems
  • An increased risk of COPD

The connection between asthma attacks and bleach is probably most alarming for eczema sufferers — because people with eczema are more likely to have asthma.

But even though doctors have been pushing bleach baths for years (and some evidence suggested their patients were benefitting from them), the science behind bleach baths isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…

In fact, after all these years of eczema-sufferers immersing their bodies in bleach, a recent study shows it’s not the bleach that was healing their skin, after all. It was the water…

Water works, bleach baths don’t

A recent review of the available research from scientists at Northwestern University shows that bleach baths are no more effective than regular baths at treating eczema.

Since there hasn’t been much research on bleach baths, researchers from Northwestern University reviewed the four studies that were available. Their review determined that regular baths reduced the visible signs of eczema and prevented infection just as well as bleach baths.

For years, doctors and scientists thought bleach baths were beneficial for people with eczema, because bleach killed certain types of bacteria on the skin associated with the condition. But it wasn’t the bleach doing the work all this time, it was the mere act of bathing.

“I don’t know if it throws the baby out with the bathwater, but bleach baths lack the evidence to support how commonly they are being recommended,” said senior author Dr. Jonathan Silverberg. “The water baths appear to be doing most of the heavy lifting. If bleach is adding any benefit, it’s quite modest.”

Even worse, bleach baths are known to trigger stinging eyes, burning skin and asthma flare-ups, among other side effects.

Like I mentioned earlier, people with eczema are more likely to have asthma, making bleach baths especially dangerous for them.

And get this… researchers say bathing with bleach is even more dangerous to asthma-sufferers than other types of bleach exposure, because the poor ventilation in bathrooms and the extra bleach fumes emitted from steamy water create the perfect scenario for an asthma attack.

Bye, bye bleach baths

Since bleach baths clearly don’t work — and they may even be dangerous — just stick to regular baths.

Researchers say you don’t even need soap, because that can be hard on the skin too. Soaking in warm water for 10 minutes is enough to wash away germs. When you get out, apply a lot of moisturizer to soothe your skin.

You could also try adding something healthier and less abrasive than bleach to your bath to treat your eczema, like:

Not all of these have been studied scientifically. But they’re all safe, gentle ingredients that at the very least won’t worsen your eczema or harm your health in other ways. And who knows… if anecdotal evidence is correct, they could contribute to healthy, eczema-free skin.

Sources:

  1. Water baths as good as bleach baths for treating eczema — MedicalXpress. Retrieved November 17, 2017.
  2. Chopra, et al. “Efficacy of bleach baths in reducing severity of atopic dermatitis: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” — Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, 2017.
  3. Atopic dermatitis (eczema) — Mayo Clinic. Retrieved November 17, 2017.
  4. M. Barnes, K.A. Greive. “Use of bleach baths for the treatment of infected atopic eczema.” — Australasian Journal of Dermatology. November 2013; 54(4): 251–258.
  5. What’s the problem with bleach? — Western States Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit. Retrieved November 17, 2017.
  6. The Dangers Of Household Bleach: Kids Exposed To Cleaner May Experience Respiratory Illness, Infections — Medical Daily. Retrieved November 17, 2017.
  7. Bleach — Beyond Toxics. Retrieved November 17, 2017.
  8. Other Conditions Related to Eczema — National Eczema Association. Retrieved November 17, 2017.
  9. Eczema and Bathing — National Eczema Association. Retrieved November 17, 2017.

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Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.