Ingredients that calm the skin and reduce inflammation are life savers for those with sensitive skin or conditions that cause irritation, such as eczema and rosacea. One of the most common ingredients in products catered toward sensitive skin is colloidal oatmeal, which claims to lock in moisture and soothe the symptoms of skin-condition flare ups. But what exactly is this star ingredient that has been used for centuries to reduce itch and irritation?
We spoke with New York-based, board-certified dermatologist, David Cohen, to break down everything you need to know about colloidal oatmeal and how to best use it on the skin.
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What is colloidal oatmeal?
To address the leading question, yes, colloidal oatmeal is different from processed oatmeal packages that may contain sugar and artificial flavors that you’d find in your pantry or grocery store. Instead you can pick up a container of unprocessed whole oats or steel cut outs to use on your skin.
Colloidal oatmeal is created when oats are finely ground, or blended, and boiled to extract the gel-like colloidal material. In this form, colloidal oatmeal is easier to apply and absorbs better into the skin, Cohen says. This substance contains high levels of lipids (naturally occurring fatty acids), which are beneficial for the skin, as these molecules aid in retaining moisture and protecting the skin barrier that keeps damaging bacteria and dirt out.
When colloidal oats are applied to the skin, they create a protective film over the skin. In fact, in 2003, the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began to regulate and classify colloidal oatmeal as a skin protectant and over-the-counter drug. This means that products with colloidal oatmeal must contain at least 1% of the ingredient.
What are the benefits of using colloidal oatmeal?
Protects the skin barrier: The outermost layer of the epidermis functions as the skin’s protective barrier and helps to ward off infection, keep out irritants, and seal in moisture. When the skin is dry, sensitive, or affected by inflammation causing conditions the skin barrier is compromised. This leads to the skin letting too much moisture out or too many irritants in, according to Cohen.
Clinical studies show that colloidal oatmeal can help strengthen the skin’s barrier and reduce the amount of moisture being lost with its high antioxidant content.
Soothes irritation: Colloidal oatmeal contains cellulose and fiber, which give it emollient properties that reduce both redness and irritation, Cohen explains. The oats contain avenanthramides, a compound that reduces itch and inflammation. This compound can also work to soothe symptoms of allergies and rashes because, “colloidal oatmeal extracts lessen the impact that inflammatory agents make when in contact with the skin,” Cohen says.
Colloidal oatmeal’s soothing properties can also relieve discomfort of a sunburn. It even contains natural flavonoids that make it possible for the oats to absorb UV rays and provide some level of photoprotection, according to Cohen. Of course, you should still use sunscreen when you spend time outdoors to protect your skin from harmful sun rays in the first place.
Calms inflammation: Oats contain phenols that give it antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Colloidal oatmeal also has antifungal properties that make it a good option for calming inflammation and reducing itching from rashes or various forms of atopic dermatitis, Cohen says.
How can you incorporate colloidal oatmeal into your routine?
Colloidal oatmeal can be used by anyone who does not have an oat allergy and can be used daily in products like lotion, body wash, and face wash. Look for a product that contains at least 1% colloidal oatmeal, as clinical trials suggest that this percentage can reduce symptoms of atopic dermatitis, including itching and moisture loss.
If you experience a reaction, Cohen recommends checking the ingredients list on colloidal oatmeal products that you’re interested in using because, it could be a result of a preservative, like parabens, in the product and not the actual oats themselves. You’ll also want to check for common irritants in the formula, like artificial fragrance or sulfates commonly listed as sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate.
Colloidal oatmeal is not known to interfere with prescriptions or have any extreme side effects unless you have an oat allergy, Cohen explains. Before applying it to an irritated area of skin, perform a patch test by placing a dime-sized amount of product on the back of your wrist over the course of at least a week and monitoring the skin in that area for any reactions.
Colloidal oatmeal serves as an easy at-home option to soothe irritated skin without a prescription. (Though if you are being treated for a skin condition, it’s always best to consult your doctor before trying a new product.)
1. For a moisturizer: La Roche-Posay Lipikar Soothing Relief Eczema Cream
This creamy moisturizer can be applied to both the face and body and contains 1% colloidal oatmeal to calm sensitive and inflamed skin. It claims to, “replenishes skin’s essential lipids and provides instant and long-lasting hydration.” It also contains moisturizing shea butter and glycerin and soothing niacinamide and is fragrance-free to limit irritation. Apply the moisturizer immediately after a bath or shower to lock moisture into the skin and create a protective layer over the skin.
Get the La Roche-Posay Lipikar Soothing Relief Eczema Cream on Amazon for $14.99
2. For a body wash: Aveeno Skin Relief Body Wash
This body wash claims to cleanse the skin of dirt, oil, and bacteria without stripping it of moisture. It promises to relieve itch and leave the skin feeling smoother and softer after use. It’s free of fragrance, soap, and dyes that may irritate sensitive skin.
Get the Aveeno Skin Relief Body Wash from Amazon for $6.99
3. For a face wash: Eczema Honey Oatmeal Facial Cleanser
This daily cleanser washes away dirt, oil, and makeup and is gentle enough for sensitive skin. Formulated with manuka honey, colloidal oatmeal, and oats extract it claims to calm and moisturize irritated or dry skin and strengthen the skin barrier.
Get the Eczema Honey Oatmeal Facial Cleanser on Target for $18.29
4. For an oatmeal bath: Aveeno Soothing Bath Treatment
The Aveeno Soothing Bath Treatment comes in packets that contain 100% colloidal oatmeal and can be sprinkled into warm bath water and mixed in until it creates a milky bath soak. The brand recommends soaking for 15 to 30 minutes as needed and gently patting dry after to keep a thin layer of the product on the skin. It aims to “soothe irritated skin due to eczema, insect bites, rashes, sunburn, prickly heat, chickenpox, and hives.”
Get the Aveeno Soothing Bath Treatment on Amazon for $6.97
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.