I wanted to talk about an interesting remedy for eczema that’s gotten a lot of press. In 2009, a study was published in Pediatrics about using bleach to treat eczema in children. Yes, they took the very same chemical found in regular household Clorox, diluted it in a bathtub full of water, and then bathed children suffering from eczema as young as 6 months in it.
Amazingly, it worked. After only one month, the kids who got the bleach baths scored much lower on a scale of eczema severity and body surface area coverage of their eczema than kids who took regular baths. They kept at it, and two months later the kids who got the bleach were doing better still — so much better that the study was stopped early so that kids in the untreated group could be given the same bleach treatment, and reap all the benefits. The scientists also found that the kids’ eczema only improved in areas that were submerged in the bleach bath (below the neck, since the kids were instructed not to dunk their heads under the water). This is a very convincing sign that the bleach was doing its job!
So why did this work so well? As it turns out, giving bleach baths to children wasn’t just some random idea. The scientists who did the study knew that a certain bacteria, called Staphylococcus aureus (“Staph”), can colonize the skin in normal people. But in people with eczema, the amount of Staph colonization on the skin is known to be much, much higher than normal. In people with eczema, staph can be found on the skin up to 76-100% of the time! In comparison, staph is found on normal skin only 2-25% of the time. This overgrowth of staph bacteria on the skin makes people with eczema more susceptible to secondary infections which can worsen the condition. What’s worse, the bacteria can secrete substances that promote inflammation. In other words, the staph can worsen eczema without the person even being “infected”!
Bleach, at the dilution used in the study (about the same level of chlorine found in a public swimming pool), is able to safely kill the bacteria on the skin without creating dangerous resistance, like antibiotics can do. Luckily, the treatment did not produce discomfort, burning or irritation for the kids in the study. Now, one important thing to note is that only kids with signs of bacterial skin infection (weeping, crusting, and/or pustules) were included in the study. If you or a loved one has eczema accompanied by these symptoms of infection, a bleach bath regimen could be highly effective.
So how do you do a bleach bath? It’s important to talk to your doctor before trying this treatment to see if it’s right for you. Here’s how to do it:
- Use regular bleach. It’s important that it contains 6% sodium hypochlorite (bleach), and has no other active ingredients. DO NOT use concentrated bleach (greater than 6%).
- Measure out 1/2 cup of bleach and add it to a full bathtub (40 gallons) of warm water. This will produce a 0.005% solution of bleach, the same used in the study.
- Soak for 5-10 minutes in the bath, and then immediately rinse off with regular water.
- Repeat twice per week for 3 months.
You should not increase the amount of bleach or number of baths per week, even if the treatment does not appear to be working. If the treatment works for you, you should see noticeable results by one month (8 baths), and the improvements should continue over the next few months.
By reducing the amount of staph bacteria living on your skin, the idea is that you can eliminate some of the inflammation contributing to your eczema. This, in turn, could improve your symptoms and allow for your other treatments to work more effectively.