What It Is, How It Works, Uses, Types

Colloidal Oatmeal helps treat myriad skin problems, including dry skin, itching, rashes, and eczema (atopic dermatitis).

It’s been used for centuries and has been studied for medical uses since the 1950s. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officially lists colloidal oatmeal as a skin protector.

This article explains what colloidal oatmeal is, how it works, its uses and types, its risks and benefits, and how it’s made.

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What Is Colloidal Oatmeal?

Colloidal oatmeal is finely ground oats (Avena sativa) mixed into lotions, creams, other skin care products, or bathwater. It’s an emollient, which means it softens and soothes the skin.

A wide variety of commercially available products contain colloidal oatmeal. You can also make your own colloidal oatmeal.

What Is “Colloidal”?

The term “colloidal” refers to fine, noncrystalline particles mixed into another substance that do not settle or separate from the second substance, even after filtering.

How It Works

Oatmeal is an effective topical treatment (as well as a healthy food) because it contains:

  • Fats
  • Protein
  • Skin-benefiting nutrients
  • Antioxidants (antiaging and disease-fighting substances)

It also has anti-inflammatory properties due to its effect on cells in the immune system called cytokines.

Oxidative Stress

Oxidative stress is linked to inflammation and illness, including:

Uses

Your skin is vital to your health. It keeps germs, chemicals, and other hazards out of your body while performing functions such as keeping your body temperature and water content within balance.

The top layer of skin is called the skin barrier. Research suggests colloidal oatmeal can significantly improve the health and strength of the skin barrier.

Studies have also suggested that colloidal oatmeal:

  • Improves the microbiome (bacterial ecosystem) of the skin, which includes lowering the level of Staphylococcus bacteria (the cause of staph infection)
  • Eases dryness, scaling, roughness, and itchiness, likely through antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions
  • Helps heal chronic hand eczema caused by irritants
  • Helps skin retain moisture and eases the itch of allergy-induced (atopic) dermatitis, and leads to fewer flare-ups.
  • May prevent atopic dermatitis in babies at high risk for developing it
  • Is as safe and effective as prescription barrier creams for treating atopic dermatitis in children
  • Improves irritant-induced and allergic eczema in people with dark skin, which can be challenging to heal

Colloidal oatmeal is considered so effective for atopic dermatitis that the FDA requires it as an ingredient in any moisturizer claiming to treat the condition.

Cancer Treatment Side Effects

Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and targeted therapies can be hard on the skin, leaving behind toxins that cause rashes, discomfort, pain, and hair loss, which can lead to emotional distress.

Research suggests colloidal oatmeal can improve skin side effects safely. That can mean less discomfort during treatment and a better likelihood of patients completing their cancer treatment regimens.

Risks

The risks of using colloidal oatmeal are quite low. One study found that in patch testing of 2,565 people, only 23 people had an adverse reaction. Research has shown that it’s:

  • Safe in multiple forms
  • Rarely irritating, even to people with sensitive skin
  • Highly unlikely to cause an allergic reaction

Oat Allergies

If you have a food allergy to oats, you may react with a rash to skin care products containing colloidal oatmeal. Symptoms of this food allergy include:

  • Hives
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Tight throat/trouble swallowing
  • Stomachache/nausea
  • Vomiting

Although it is rare, you may also have a reaction to colloidal oatmeal if you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity. That’s because oats contain a protein called avenin, similar to gluten. Cross-contamination when oats are grown next to wheat, barley, or rye, which are high in gluten, is a more prominent reason.

If you react to oats or grains, talk to your healthcare provider before using colloidal oatmeal. Be cautious with these products and watch for reactions if exposed to them.

Types

You can buy colloidal oatmeal itself or find it in many types of products, such as:

  • Lotions, creams, and body butters
  • Balms
  • Soaps and body washes
  • Roll-on liquids
  • Bath additives (eg, soaks, bubble baths)

Because these products contain other ingredients that may irritate your skin, be sure to check the ingredients list for anything you know can cause a reaction. Your dermatologist or other healthcare provider may be able to help you find a product that will work for you.

How to Make Your Own

You can make colloidal oatmeal with any oats. Just blend them up until you have a fine powder. Then, mix the powder into skin care products or use them in an oatmeal bath. For a bath:

  • Sprinkle 1 cup of colloidal oatmeal into your bathwater while it’s running.
  • Use lukewarm water so it doesn’t irritate your skin.
  • Soak for about 15 minutes (longer baths can dry your skin and aggravate eczema and itching).
  • Pat your skin dry.
  • Moisturize right away.

Follow the manufacturer’s directions if you buy a commercial colloidal oatmeal bath product.

Summary

Colloidal oatmeal is a safe and effective treatment for skin problems, including eczema, rashes, dryness, itching, irritation, and infection. It can also help with skin irritation due to cancer treatments. You can make colloidal oatmeal by grinding oats to a powder in a blender. It’s also available in myriad skin care products. Side effects and allergies are rare. However, if you have an oat allergy or sensitivity, you may not tolerate the topical use of colloidal oatmeal.

A Word From Verywell

Skin problems can significantly impact your health and quality of life. Few complementary and alternative treatments have been studied as much as colloidal oatmeal, so it’s one most people can use without worry. Ask your dermatologist or other healthcare provider about commercial products before using them to ensure all ingredients are safe for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is colloidal oatmeal the same as oatmeal?

    Yes, colloidal oatmeal and oatmeal are basically the same. The word “colloidal” means that it’s finely ground. Colloidal oatmeal also grinds up some parts of the oat that may be removed for food products, such as the bran and germ.

  • Can I make colloidal oatmeal from Quaker oats?

    Yes, you can make colloidal oatmeal from oats you buy at the grocery store. Just make sure it’s plain oats, not flavored oatmeal with added ingredients.

  • Can I use colloidal oatmeal daily?

    Yes, you can use it every day. In fact, for atopic dermatitis (eczema), it’s usually recommended twice a day.

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