colloidal oatmeal soothes sensitive skin

Is your skin on fire? When your skin’s all red and irritated, you need to call your skin’s firefighters to come to the rescue – like colloidal oatmeal.

Believe it or not, your skin’s best firefighters are oats. Yep, the same thing that’s in your oatmeal… In the skincare world, oats often go by the name “colloidal oatmeal”. They’re fancy like that.

Colloidal oatmeal is the number one treatment I recommend for eczema, as well as for everyone who’s skin has turned, for whatever reason, into a red, irritated mess. When everything else fails and all your other skincare products seem to make the irritation worse, colloidal oatmeal may just be the thing that turns your skin around.

What makes it a must-have for sensitive skin wh? Let’s find out what the science says:

What Is Colloidal Oatmeal?

How is colloidal oatmeal different from the regular oatmeal that you eat for breakfast? While regular oatmeal is kept whole and eaten for breakfast, colloidal oatmeal is milled, so it can be used as a skin treatment.

Colloidal oatmeal is made from ground oats that are boiled to release the colloidal material, a process that became available only in 1945. The result is a very fine powder loaded with “polysaccharides (60%-64%), proteins (10%-18%), lipids (3%-9%), saponins, enzymes (such as the potent antioxidant superoxide dismutase), prostaglandin-synthesis inhibitors, flavonoids, and vitamins”.

When the oats are mixed with water or other liquids, the mixture creates a protective film on the surface of your skin – hence the name. A “colloid” is a solution of teeny tiny particles suspended in water or another liquid. When the oats so finely grounded, they disperse evenly in the water, where they can be absorbed by your skin, instead of just sinking to the bottom where they would be useless for you.

According to a 2007 study, the unique composition of colloidal oatmeal makes it a multitasker with plenty of skincare benefits for dry, irritated skin: “The high concentration in starches and beta-glucan is responsible for the protective and water-holding functions of oat. The presence of different types of phenols confers antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. Some of the oat phenols are also strong ultraviolet absorbers. The cleansing activity of oat is mostly due to saponins.” We’ll take a closer look at these below.

In the meantime, I want to clear up some confusion. You’ll often find oatmeal hiding under the name Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Meal in your lotions and potions. It’s only when oats are used as a skin protectant (for example, in products to treat eczema) they use the superhero name of colloidal oatmeal.

Struggling to find skincare products that don’t irritate your sensitive skin? Download your FREE “Skincare Ingredients To Avoid” cheatsheet to find out what the most common culprits are and cut them out of your skincare routine:

Colloidal Oatmeal Benefits:

According to science, colloidal oatmeal has several skincare benefits:

  • Skin protectant (this makes colloidal oatmeal an excellent treatment for eczema)
  • Hydrating
  • Antioxidant
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • UV-protectant
  • Cleansing

It’s time to take a closer look at each of them:

1. It Is A Skin Protectant

Your skin has a natural protective barrier that keeps potential irritants and germs out and seals water in – hello moisture and bye irritation! But, this barrier can be torn down. If you’re dealing with dry skin or sensitive skin conditions like eczema, it means your skin’s natural protective barrier is compromised. Irritants are getting in and moisture is getting out. Not a recipe for healthy skin.

Enter colloidal oatmeal. This is one of those ingredients the FDA regulates as an active agent. What does it mean? A product with colloidal oatmeal must be formulated in a certain way and contain a certain amount of colloidal oatmeal. Note: this is true for products that claim to be drugs. You’ll know what they are because the active ingredient (in this case, colloidal oatmeal) is in a separate box. If a product claims to be a cosmetics, it doesn’t need to follow these regulations. I know, semantics, but that’s the state of affairs now.

So what does colloidal oatmeal do for eczema, dry skin, and other sensitive skin conditions? Thanks for its high concentration of starches and beta-glucan, when you mix oats with water, you create a protective barrier on the skin that prevents water loss.

In other words, it patches up the holes in your natural skin barrier, so that the germs and irritants that are causing havoc on your skin can’t penetrate inside and hurt it anymore. On top of that, this barrier keeps moisture in. When your skin has all the moisture it needs, it’s softer, suppler, and less itchy.

2. It Helps Fight Skin Inflammation And Heal Eczema

According to NYC dermatologist Dr. Rachel Nazarian: “Colloidal oatmeal is a natural anti-inflammatory. Those with incredibly sensitive skin such as eczema and atopic dermatitis can usually find relief and calm their skin by applying colloidal oatmeal lotion or taking baths that contain oatmeal.”

Colloidal oatmeal contains Vitamin E and phenols, a group of antioxidants with anti-inflammatory effects. Add these soothing benefits to its skin protectant properties and you’ve got a wonderful superhero ingredient for sensitive, irritated skin.

In other words, colloidal oatmeals soothes redness and irritations and strengthens your skin’s protective barrier, so your skin doesn’t get easily upset by cold weather, germs and other triggers – while its anti-inflammatory properties reduce redness and irritation. This makes colloidal oatmeal a skin saviour for anyone with psoriasis, eczema and atopic dermatitis.

A 2012 study confirms that “the daily use of moisturizers and/or cleansers containing colloidal oatmeal significantly improved many clinical outcomes of atopic dermatitis” and was “well tolerated in babies, children, and adults with AD.”

FYI, you can also use colloidal oatmeal to soothe sunburn, rashes (including diaper rashes), hives, insect bites, and other pruritic conditions.

Related: How To Treat A Sunburn

3. It May Help Protect Skin From UV Rays

A 2007 study has found that some of the phenols (that family of antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties, remember?) have strong ultraviolet absorbing properties. What does it mean?

For starters, you CAN’T use colloidal oatmeal as a sunscreen. It’s not a sunscreen. Yep, I may sound like a broken record, but I want to be clear here. But it can boost the effectiveness of your sunscreen when used together with it. What a powerful combo!

4. It Can Cleanse Skin

Oats also contain saponins, a natural group of carbohydrates found in plants that have both antioxidants and soothing properties. Plus, they have detergent-like properties. Heck, their name is derived from the Latin word… soap! (Fun fact: “sapone” is “soap” in Italian).

When you mix saponins with water, you reduce the surface tension of water, allowing the formation of foam and bubbles. Because of these, they’re good at making cleansers foam. The best part? They’re gentler than the sulphate cleansing family and suitable even for sensitive skin types, eczema, and psoriasis.

Colloidal Oatmeal For Eczema: Does It Work?

Eczema is a common (and super annoying!) skin condition characterized by red, itchy patches of skin. It can show up anywhere on your body, but it’s more common in elbows and knees. Unfortunately, there’s no cure for eczema yet, but there are plenty of things you can do to soothe the symptoms – like using colloidal oatmeal.

Thanks to its skin protectant and anti-inflammatory properties, colloidal oatmeal can soothe the redness and itchiness of eczema. Plus, by patching up your skin’s protective barrier, it prevents further irritation, so that your skin can heal faster.

It works like this: UV rays, for example, damage your skin, causing it to release prostaglandins. These compounds cause blood vessels to dilate, resulting in redness and inflammation. Colloidal oatmeal lowers the levels of prostaglandins, calming down your skin and restoring its barrier function.

Does It Have Any Side Effects?

Sounds awesome! Does it have any side effects? After all, withe sensitive skin, you can never tell how it’ll react to something…

Thankfully, colloidal oatmeal rarely causes allergic reactions even people with sensitive or eczema-prone skin. Phew! However, if you’re allergic to oats, bran, or related ingredients, it’s best to avoid colloidal oatmeal in your skincare products.

As always, test it on a small patch of skin and, if you experience any redness, irritation, or swelling, stop using the product immediately.

How To Use Colloidal Oatmeal In Your Skincare Routine

There are two ways to use colloidal oatmeal in your skincare routine. The first and simplest one is to use a cream or lotion. Simply apply it on your face or irritated area of your skin as often as needed. The second one is a colloidal oatmeal bath. Let’s take a closer look at that:

How To Make a Colloidal Oatmeal Bath

If you have big areas of your body that are sensitive and irritated or you just want a relaxing bath, a colloidal oatmeal bath is very healing.

I prefer to bath colloidal oatmeal sachets (Aveeno makes a good one – more on them in a section below), but you can also buy oats from the grocery store and grounded very finely in a blender so they can absorb water.

If the particles sink to the bottom when you put the ground oats in the water, they’re not ready. You need to process them a bit more. You know when you’ve got it right – the oats give water a milky look.

Now you have the colloidal oatmeal ready, it’s time to fill the bathtub with lukewarm water. Adds several large scoops of ground oatmeal to the water and – enjoy your bath! Soak in the lukewarm water for at least 10 minutes before getting out and patting your skin dry (don’t rub – it’s irritating!).

You can take a colloidal oatmeal bath up to three times a day if needed. If your skin gets too sticky, rinse it off afterwards.

What Are The Best Products with Colloidal Oatmeal?

  • Aveeno Bath Treatment ($6.97): If you can’t be bothered to ground your own colloidal oatmeal for your bath, get this treatment. Pour it into your bath water to relieve rashes, sunburns, eczema, and irritations. Available at iHerb and Walmart.
  • Eucerin Eczema Relief Body Cream ($10.43): A moisturising cream with colloidal oatmeal, ceramides, and mineral oil to strengthen your skin’s protective barrier, reduce irritations, and soothe skin. Available at Walmart
  • First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream ($38.00): A rich cream with 0.5% colloidal oatmeal, shea butter, and soothing extracts to deeply moisturise skin and reduce irritations. Available at DermstoreFeel UniqueSephora, and Ulta
  • Paula’s Choice Calm Redness Relief Toner For Normal To Oily Skin ($21.00): If you’re a regular here, you know I don’t do toners. Most people just don’t need them. But if you have sensitive skin or eczema that needs the extra soothing care, this toner is actually useful. Lightweight and hydrating, it features plenty of skin-soothers to reduce irritations. Available at Paula’s Choice

The Bottom Line

Dealing with psoriasis or eczema or got stuck with a bad rash? Colloidal oatmeal comes to the rescue. Its soothing and moisturising properties calm down your skin, nursing it back to health.