How to Make an Oatmeal Bath for Dry, Itchy Skin

Natural Ingredients for Homemade Body Face Scrub Oat
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Overview
  • Working Time: 5 minutes
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $1

Oatmeal has been applauded for its skin-soothing properties for centuries and still, despite the sophistication of today's skin care, an old-fashioned oatmeal bath remains the go-to fix for dryness and irritation.

The humble oat has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It's an emollient brimming with beneficial fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Applied topically, colloidal oatmeal (oats that have been ground into a fine powder) cleans the skin, moisturizes it, and forms a protective barrier.

What Is an Emollient?

An emollient is any substance that softens, soothes, and increases moisture in the skin. Natural emollients include oils, beeswax, butters, and colloidal oatmeal.

Here's how to make a milky, skin-soothing oatmeal bath, plus some optional ingredients you can add to elevate the basic recipe.

What You'll Need

Equipment/Tools

  • Bathtub
  • Washcloth, bath brush, or all-natural sponge (optional)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole oats or store-bought oat powder
  • Warm water
  • Optional additions, such as essential oils or milk and honey
  • Fragrance-free moisturizer

Instructions

  1. Prepare Your Oats

    If you're starting with whole rolled oats, make sure to pulverize them in a blender or food processor first to prevent lumps from forming in the bath. You should aim for a particle size smaller than your average ground oats but slightly larger than oat flour. (Note that oat flour is able to be ground so finely only because it doesn't include bran, and regular oatmeal does.)

    The perfect bath-ready consistency can be difficult to achieve at home, which is why some choose to skip this step entirely and buy colloidal oatmeal instead.

  2. Run a Bath

    Besides the main (and potentially only) ingredient, the temperature of your oatmeal bath will largely determine its success.

    Hot water can exacerbate dryness and irritation, so turn the tap to warm—about 100 degrees Fahrenheit—and sprinkle in your colloidal oatmeal slowly while the tub fills up.

    Stir the water constantly to break up any clumps and prevent oats from settling on the bottom. 

  3. Soak

    Soak in your warm oatmeal bath for only about 15 minutes or less. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology Association generally recommends that those suffering from itchy skin limit their bath and shower time to just 10 minutes.

    Prolonged exposure to water could strip the skin of its natural oils, causing it to dry out and itch even more.

  4. Pat Dry

    Skin is particularly vulnerable after a bath or shower, so avoid rubbing dry with a towel. Instead, pat your skin gently when you're finished soaking, making sure to leave a thin layer of the colloidal oatmeal on your skin. 

    Warning

    Colloidal oatmeal can make surfaces especially slippery, so take extra care when getting out of the bath. 

  5. Moisturize Immediately

    Moisturizing after a bath is a step you simply can't afford to skip. Your skin would benefit from the trusty "Soak and Seal" method, in which a gentle, fragrance-free moisturizer is applied generously to skin while it's still damp, within three minutes of bathing.

  6. Repeat as Needed

    You can take an oatmeal bath as often as twice daily, or even more frequently, for as long as needed or advised by your care provider.

    Your unused colloidal oats can be stored in a sealed container for up to a year.

Optional Additions

Flat lay of various bath ingredients in bowls

Jelena Irikova / Getty Images

This tried-and-true method is the most basic iteration of oatmeal bathing, but you can make the recipe as complex and customized as you wish. There are countless ingredients you could add to your soak to pamper your dry, irritated, and itchy skin. Here are some common oat bath accompaniments.

Milk and Honey

The copious proteins, fat, and amino acids present in milk help to soothe and hydrate skin, while honey acts as a gentle antibacterial and antiseptic. The latter is also packed with nutrients and enzymes that plump, nourish, and moisturize skin.

Add 2 cups of milk and 1/2 a cup of honey to your oatmeal bath for extra calming power.

Essential Oils

Essential oils are another beloved bath addition, although some can perpetuate skin problems rather than improve them. Lavender essential oil, being antifungal and anti-inflammatory, is generally beneficial. Tea tree, peppermint, and chamomile essential oils can be used, too.

Always perform a patch test first to make sure your skin doesn't react poorly; if it doesn't, add up to 30 drops of your preferred essential oils to the oatmeal bath soak.

Epsom Salt

Epsom salt, a magnesium-rich compound, is widely believed to relieve itchiness. Add about 1/2 a cup to your bath for an even more comforting soak. 

Baking Soda

The antifungal properties of baking soda can relieve itching caused by a range of skin conditions, according to the National Eczema Association. The organization recommends adding a 1/4 cup to a warm bath for extra itch relief.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil contains saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids that help soothe and moisturize dry skin. Just a couple teaspoons added to your oatmeal bath should suffice.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • What's the difference between colloidal oatmeal and oat flour?

    While oat flour is made just from the oats themselves, colloidal oatmeal contains both oats and bran. Therefore, the particle size of colloidal oatmeal is slightly larger (yet still smaller than most can achieve with a home food processor).

  • Can oatmeal clog your drain?

    Bathing in regular rolled oats could definitely clog your drain. Oats can get slimy and stick to the inside of pipes or form clumps in septic systems. The smaller the particle size, the less likely you are to have plumbing problems as a result of oatmeal bathing.

View Article Sources
  1. Reynertson, Kurt A., et al. "Anti-Inflammatory Activities of Colloidal Oatmeal (Avena sativa) Contribute to the Effectiveness of Oats in Treatment of Itch Associated with Dry, Irritated Skin." Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, vol. 14, no. 1, 2015, pp. 43-48.

  2. Ilnytska, Olha, et al. "Colloidal Oatmeal (Avena sativa) Improves Skin Barrier Through Multi-Therapy Activity." Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, vol. 15, no. 6, 2016, pp. 684-690.

  3. "How to Relieve Itchy Skin." American Academy of Dermatology Association.

  4. "Bathing and Eczema." National Eczema Association.