Earlier this year, a study reported in Pediatrics found a relatively inexpensive but surprisingly successful solution for children suffering eczema – a dilute bleach bath. In fact, the results were so remarkable and so quick that the Northwestern University study was terminated early so that the placebo group could benefit. On the other hand, bleach can be hazardous. So if your child is suffering from eczema, should you try a bleach bath?
Well, that depends. The study involved 31 children, all of whom had moderate to severe eczema and all who were infected with staphylococcus. That is the fact about the study that was left out of much of the news media coverage. The bleach bath was successful in treating children with chronic eczema (atopic dermatitis) infected with Staphylococcus aureaus, and only those parts of the body covered by the bath water.
Staph infections frequently accompany eczema. Some research has reported that as many as 90% of people suffering from eczema have staph on their skin, as compared to 25% of the population without eczema. A staph infection can exacerbate eczema’s symptoms.
So the dilute bleach bath makes sense. Bleach’s antibacterial property can improve a child’s skin infection from staph bacteria. Studies have found a correlation between the number of bacteria on the skin and eczema’s severity. In the study, the group used 1/2 cup of chlorine bleach in a full standard tub. After three months, 67% of those using the bleach baths reported improvement of symptoms in the areas of the body that had been submerged compared with just 15% of those who bathed in normal water.
But is it worth it? Bleach can be hazardous. The fumes and the liquid can irritate the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, throat, airways and lungs. Chlorinated household cleaners can react with other cleaners and form compounds that are toxic and/or cancer causing. One study found that chlorinated household cleaners reacting with other household cleaners can result in the formation of carcinogens chloroform and carbon tetrachloride.
Also, a bleach bath doesn’t address the cause of eczema. So it may provide relief, but won’t solve the problem. Finding what triggers eczema is a more permanent solution. While the exact cause of eczema isn’t known, it is believed to be linked to an overactive response by a body’s immune system to unknown triggers. Some people who suffer from eczema also suffer from allergies.
Generally, eczema sufferers will look for food allergies and common triggers. But what is often overlooked are reactions to beauty products, such as shampoos or washes. For example, formaldehyde can trigger allergic responses, and formaldehyde donor preservatives are common in many baby and children’s body products. Formaldehyde can also be released from easy care clothing and sheets, particularly during the warm summer months since sweat can mobilize formaldehyde. Children may also show allergic reactions to parabens, which are common preservatives in many bath products.
If you do choose to use a dilute bleach bath, make sure you consult with your child’s pediatrician first. And always store any bleach products out of reach of children.