When you have itchy skin, you want to stop the itch as soon as possible. Sometimes, though, you have no anti-itch medications around, and you can't get to a pharmacy. A home remedy is likely in your kitchen, though. Oatmeal baths can soothe skin that's itching from any one of a number of causes, from poison ivy to pregnancy-related conditions.
Oatmeal is made from common oats, Avena sativa. This grain serves as both human food and animal feed. It is an annual grass and has been used in folk medicine for conditions such as insomnia, paralysis and rheumatism. Oatmeal flakes come in differing sizes that affect cooking time, and oatmeal is the base grain for different cookies and breads.
Oats can save your skin because of the fats and sugars they contain. The fats are lubricants, which help dry skin. The website Real Age notes the polysaccharides -- basically complex sugars -- in the oats leave a "gelatinous" residue in bathwater and on your skin, also combating dryness. Oatmeal proteins work to protect your skin in general. A 2010 study, published in the "Journal of Drugs in Dermatology," found substances called avenanthramides block inflammatory compounds and histamines, thus helping to soothe skin that's become itchy.
Always use uncooked oatmeal. Oatmeal in baths should either be in powdered form, sometimes called colloidal oatmeal, or tied up in a porous container and allowed to soak. The University of Maryland Medical Center suggests tying up 1 cup of oatmeal in a sock. Unpowdered oats are heavy, so if you just dump them in the tub, they'll probably fall to the bottom. This will also create a mess to clean up when you try to drain the tub.
If the itch is not due to something obvious, such as a bug bite, see your doctor, even if the oatmeal bath soothes the itch temporarily. Itching can occur for a number of reasons, some of which require prescription medication to solve. For example, ringworm, a common name for Tinea capititis and corporis, is a fungus that causes intense itching for which you need an anti-fungal medication. If you don't get a prescription, the fungus can spread all over your body.
Oatmeal as a food is usually off-limits for people with gluten sensitivity because of cross-contamination with gluten-containing grains; however, this typically doesn't hold true for gluten-containing skin products. Oats on the skin shouldn't be a problem, but avoid getting the oat water in or near your mouth. Speak with your doctor for a final verdict regarding oatmeal baths if you have celiac disease.
- Purdue University: Avena Sativa
- PubMed.gov: Mechanism of Action and Clinical Benefits of Colloidal Oatmeal for Dermatologic Practice
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Cutaneous Drug Reactions
- Real Age: Why Your Skin Craves Oatmeal
- Columbia University: Go Ask Alice: Itchy, Dry Scalp
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Celiac Disease