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Learn about what bleach baths are, how to prepare them, and the safety concerns when using them as a way to treat eczema.

Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a skin condition characterized by itchy and red skin. This condition doesn’t have a permanent cure, although there are meds, treatments, and medical recommendations that make it better. Bleach baths are a controversial eczema-related topic, but some studies have shown that it’s a mean to improve symptoms and reduce the potential growth of skin infections. Throughout the years, the term “bleach” has been used to define the action of cleaning or sterilizing something, which hints at the potentially beneficial properties of using the actual substance to fight off bacterium responsible with skin infections. 

What’s a bleach bath?

Bleach is an antibacterial solution, which is believed to reduce skin inflammation and kill bacteria. Studies have started to link bleach with potential health benefits for people who suffer from atopic dermatitis

A bleach bath implied adding a small amount of bleach into a bathtub filled with water. On a general note, baths are often recommended in treating eczema, because one of the characteristics of this condition is dry skin, which is unable to retain moisture. This happens because the protective barrier of the skin is compromised, making a person who suffers from eczema more exposed to several other skin conditions.

Bleach or not, doctors recommend baths as part of eczema treatment, through a process called “soak and seal”. This technique implies soaking the entire body in water and applying a good moisturizer straight after. This method helps prevent some of those dry skin issues. After a 10-minute bath, you can use a towel to pat the skin, while making sure it’s not completely dry. Then, you can apply any atopic dermatitis medication prescribed by your doctor, plus a high-oil content moisturizer afterwards.

How to prepare a bleach bath?

  • Check the percentage of sodium hypochlorite
  • Pour the bleach into the water while it’s still running
  • Make sure water is lukewarm
  • Only bath for 5-10 minutes
  • Pat skin dry with a clean towel

Never take a bleach bath unless your doctor approves it. If a person who suffers from eczema has very dry or cracked skin, a bleach bath can be extremely painful, causing a sense of burning. In some cases, doctors could recommend avoiding baths altogether, in case the eczema symptoms are out of control. 

Step one

When preparing a bleach bath, it’s important to pay attention to the percentage of sodium hypochlorite in the bleach. This percentage varies from one country to another, but it’s best to stick to regular strength bleach, which contains about 6 six percent sodium hypochlorite. The measurements are about ¼ or ½ of a cup, added into a bathtub filled with 40 gallons of water. Avoid using bleach that’s too strong, or one that contains fragrances. Stick to the recommended measurements, because too much bleach can irritate the skin.

Step two

Make sure you pour the bleach into the water while it’s still running, and only get into the bathtub once it’s full. Submerge your body under water, but only from the neck down. Never dip your head into the water, because you want to avoid bleach from coming in contact with your eyes, lips, or getting in your mouth, nose, or ears. 

Step three

Since the bleach will basically dissolve into the water, you are exposing your body to a diluted solution. This means that one must never apply concentrated bleach directly on eczema. The water should be lukewarm, because very hot water can dry the skin even further, causing more irritation and less moisture. 

Step four

Doctors who recommend bleach bath will also tell their patients how long to soak in the water. The average time in between five and ten minutes. Afterwards, rinsing the body with warm water will clean the skin. Make sure you don’t use any soap while rinsing. 

Step five

After exiting the bathtub, use a clean towel to pat the skin dry. Patting is better than wiping the body, because scrubbing the skin is the same as scratching it, and that’s something to be avoided. In case your doctor prescribed any eczema creams or ointments, apply them immediately after. Don’t forget to moisture accordingly. 

Keep in mind that bleach contains chlorine, a substance that some people might be allergic to. Always consult your doctor before trying bleach bath treatments, to make sure you’re not one of those people.

Scientific information

Scientific studies related to the benefits of bleach baths are yet to be conclusive, but this treatment is recommended because, when done properly, it exposes the skin to little or no risks. The main idea backing up these studies is the fact that sodium hypochlorite has been used as an antiseptic and disinfectant for the past centuries. In the early days, Paris surgeons used sodium hypochlorite to treat ulcers, operative wounds, and burns. 

Other systematic reviews have revealed that both bleach baths and regular baths can help reduce the symptom severity of atopic dermatitis. The center of these studies is staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium that 90 percent of the people who have atopic dermatitis have on their skin. When this bacterium is overly-present, it can worsen the symptoms of eczema, intensifying skin inflammation. 

In 2008, the outline of a new study was drawn, based on the idea that, much like swimming in chlorinated pools, bleach baths can reduce the number of skin infections, as well as the need for antibiotics among people who suffer from eczema. 

Other studies were conducted in the following years, all of the rendering important data that supports the claim of bleach having antimicrobial properties that might be helpful for people that have atopic dermatitis. 

Conclusion

People who are still skeptical about submerging their bodies in water with dissolved bleach have some other alternatives at hand. Bath oils are one of those alternatives. By adding a few drops of gentle oils to the bath, your skin can be moisturized. Pay attention and avoid fragrant oils (or bubble bath solutions), as these contain perfume that can further irritate the skin. Baking soda and oatmeal are two more popular bath ingredients used by people that have eczema. They are both known for their itch-relieving properties.

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