Why top dermatologists swear by colloidal oatmeal for dry, irritated skin

What can you use when your skin is red, itchy, inflamed, dry, and sensitive and it seems like every product out there is just too much? Products containing colloidal oatmeal might be a good choice in desperate times like these.

Colloidal oatmeal is made from ground oats, Evan Rieder, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and psychiatrist at NYU Langone Health, tells SELF, that are boiled to create an extract. When the ground oats are combined with water or other liquids, the mixture creates a protective film on the surface of the skin, he explains.

That’s especially helpful for people with sensitive skin, dry skin, or skin conditions like eczema, because it essentially “helps replace the skin barrier in some conditions where the skin can’t maintain it,” Shilpi Khetarpal, M.D., dermatologist at Cleveland Clinic, tells SELF.

Although there isn’t a huge wealth of research about the effectiveness of colloidal oatmeal for managing these issues, Dr. Rieder says it’s a “tried-and-true” at-home treatment option—and, crucially, one that doesn’t require a prescription. Here’s what experts want you to know about this holy grail ingredient for dry, sensitive skin.

Colloidal oatmeal creates a protective film over sensitive skin.
The outer layer of skin—the stratum corneum—functions as the skin’s main protective barrier. It keeps potential pathogens and irritants out and seals water in. But issues like dry or sensitive skin or conditions like eczema stem from an issue with the skin’s barrier. In one way or another, it’s letting too much hydration out or too many irritants in.

That’s where colloidal oatmeal steps in. In fact, colloidal oatmeal is such an effective skin protectant that the FDA regulates it as an active ingredient, meaning that colloidal oatmeal products must contain a specific amount of the ingredient and it needs to be formulated in a certain way. However, note that not all products containing colloidal oatmeal are regulated in this way; only those with colloidal oatmeal broken out in a drug facts box are regulated like a drug.

That protective barrier also helps prevent water loss. When the stratum corneum isn’t functioning properly, it lets water escape from the skin in a process called transepidermal water loss (TEWL). By replacing the barrier with a product containing colloidal oatmeal, you can help prevent some of that TEWL, which helps keep the skin hydrated and calm, Dr. Khetarpal says. When the skin is properly hydrated, it’s also less itchy.

Colloidal oatmeal may also help fight skin inflammation.
There is research to suggest that compounds such as phenols and the vitamin E in oatmeal can have anti-inflammatory effects. Those, in addition to the moisturising and protective benefits of colloidal oatmeal, could also help soothe irritated skin, Dr. Rieder explains.

In fact, there is even some evidence that compounds in colloidal oatmeal can help absorb and protect your skin from UVA rays, Dr. Khetarpal says. Obviously that doesn’t mean you can use your oatmeal cream as a sunscreen, but it does hint that colloidal oatmeal has protective effects beyond just the physical barrier it creates.

Bonus: It can also be an effective cleanser.

Depending on the vehicle—the liquid, cream, or gel the colloidal oatmeal is put into—this ingredient can have different effects, Dr. Rieder says. You’re most likely to see it in thicker moisturising creams, lotions, and balms, but because it contains compounds called saponins, which naturally create foam, it can also be an effective cleansing ingredient.


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