Bleach Baths for Eczema - Gladskin

Bleach Baths for Eczema

Taking bleach baths for eczema symptom relief is an established eczema care practice that’s been recommended by dermatologists for decades. Taking a bath with a small amount of bleach diluted in the water can be a cost-effective and simple part of a comprehensive eczema skincare regimen. And while the scientific jury is still out regarding the efficacy of bleach baths, anecdotal evidence abounds. 

Whether your dermatologist recently recommended that you try bleach baths to relieve your eczema symptoms or you’re investigating them on your own, this quick guide offers some helpful information, including the history of bleach baths, the latest science, how to take a bleach bath, and more.  

Where did bleach baths come from? 

The origin of bleach baths is often traced back to the Carrel-Dakin Method, an antiseptic technique used to fight off infection in WWI battlefield wounds by sterilizing them with Dakin’s solution, a diluted sodium hypochlorite solution. 

Dakin’s solution consisted of roughly 0.4% - 0.5% sodium hypochlorite and 4% boric acid (a buffering agent that was also mildly antiseptic) diluted in water and was applied directly to wounds and surgical sites. In comparison, today’s chlorine-based, non-concentrated bleaches contain between 5% and 6% sodium hypochlorite. In bleach baths, these higher concentrations are diluted by the water in your bathtub.

Still, the particulars of how the Carrel-Dakin Method changed over time to become the modern bleach bath for eczema are a little blurry. 

One thought is that, sometime between The Battle of the Somme and the 21st century, people with eczema (and presumably their dermatologists) noticed the sometimes-positive effects that swimming in pools treated with liquid sodium hypochlorite — known simply as chlorine —  had on eczema-prone skin. (See our article on swimming with eczema for more information.) 

Regardless of how exactly we got here, many dermatologists today recommend either regular or periodic bleach baths as one part of a comprehensive eczema treatment regimen. Organizations like the National Eczema Association and the American Academy of Dermatology have published bleach bath recipe cards and other instructional information

The science behind bleach baths for eczema

Do bleach baths work? As of this writing, the scientific community has not landed on a definitive answer as to whether or why bleach baths reduce inflammatory symptoms in people with eczema or if they can help prevent staph infections.  

For a while, the running theory was that bleach baths killed Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus), a pathogenic bacteria that overcolonizes eczema-prone skin and contributes to eczema flare-ups. New evidence suggests that this is not the case, but that bleach baths might still help to reduce eczema symptoms in other ways. 

As dermatologist, eczema expert and Gladskin advisor Dr. Peter Lio stated in a 2018 Dermatology Times article on the topic:

“This story has been significantly complicated… by papers showing dilute bleach baths have no effect on Staphylococcus, but instead may be anti-inflammatory, and perhaps may improve the skin barrier. Culminating in a recent paper that frustratingly concludes that bleach baths “do not appear to be more effective than water baths alone,” the only certainty is that we still have a lot to learn.”

But the plot thickens! Since the latter publication mentioned above (published in 2017), a new review and meta-analysis of the literature (published in 2022) concluded that “in patients with moderate-to-severe AD, bleach baths probably improve clinician-reported severity by a relative 22%. One in 10 will likely improve severity by 50%.”

If all of this is making your head spin, you’re not alone. What is abundantly clear is that there is a need for more randomized clinical trials that test the efficacy of bleach baths and investigate on a microbial level why so many people find that bleach baths help relieve their eczema symptoms.

Bleach baths might not have the anti-bacterial benefits many thought they did, but they may still help with eczema symptom management.  If you are interested in bleach baths, consider speaking with your dermatologist about whether you should add taking a bleach bath to your eczema care routine. 

How to take a bleach bath

How to take a bleach bath 

If your dermatologist has given you the green light to try bleach baths, here are the steps typically recommended for doing so.

  • Gather your supplies:
      • Regular household bleach (5%-6% concentration, no fragrance, avoid bleach concentrates)
      • Measure cups, typically a quarter cup or half cup for adults, or teaspoons for children
      • White towels (particularly if there is concern about bleaching the fabric of your towel)
    1. Measure the appropriate amount of bleach: 
        • For a full bathtub ( a standard sized tub is generally assumed to contain roughly 40 gallons of water) use half a cup
        • For a half-full tub, use a quarter cup
        • For a baby or toddler bath, use 1 teaspoon of bleach per gallon 
      1. Start filling up your bathtub and pour the bleach as the water is running. 
      2. Get in the bath only after your bath is fully drawn, as the bleach might not be properly diluted before coming into contact with your skin. 
      3. Soak in the bath from the neck down for the amount of time recommended by your dermatologist. 
          • Most recommend between 5-10 minutes
        1. Drain the bath, then rinse your skin completely (without soap). 
        2. Pat your skin dry. 
        3. Apply your standard post-bath medications, creams, and lotions as soon as possible. 

        4. Throughout this process, make sure that you’re bathing and showering in lukewarm water, as both cold and hot water may dry out your skin. Never submerge your head in a bleach bath, and never apply bleach directly to your skin.

          Repeat as often as your dermatologist recommended. Frequency can range from a few baths per week to periodic use during flare-ups. Daily bleach baths are generally not recommended, as their beneficial effects will likely be counteracted by the bleach drying out your skin.

          Bleach bath FAQS

          Are bleach baths safe? 

          So long as the bleach bath has been recommended by a dermatologist and the person taking the bleach bath follows the best practices and instructions outlined here and by dermatological organizations, bleach baths are considered a safe eczema management tool. 

          Can bleach baths cause side effects?

          Yes. Some people may experience stinging or burning during a bleach bath, particularly if their skin is already very dry, the amount of bleach in their bleach bath was not properly diluted, or they are taking bleach baths too frequently. Not everyone finds bleach baths effective at reducing their eczema symptoms. 

          Can I give my baby or child a bleach bath?

          In general, bleach baths are reserved for children over age 2. If your dermatologist or pediatrician recommends that you give your little one a bleach bath, follow their instructions regarding the concentration of bleach and duration of the bath closely, and be careful not to let the water get into your child’s eyes. You can check out our complete guide to baby eczema baths for more tips. 

          Do you rinse off after a bleach bath?

          Typically, yes. While some people may be able to get away with skipping a post-bleach bath rinse, it is recommended that you rinse your skin off after your bleach baths. Make sure to rinse in lukewarm water. There’s no need to use soap on your whole body.   

          After Your Bleach Bath, Reach for Gladskin

          Bleach baths are most effective when they are part of a comprehensive care plan.
          Gladskin’s Eczemact™ products are microbiome-friendly and designed for skin like yours. Use our cleansers as part of your shower and bath routine and our cream and lotion once you get out. 

          Check out our Micreobalance®-containing Eczema Cream and Eczemact™ Soothing Cream for Babies & Kids for balancing your skin microbiome. You can bundle and save on your bath and skincare routine with our
          Eczemact™ Body Care Trio, which includes Gladskin’s Eczema Cream, Body Lotion, and body wash!