Bleach out your eczema

Researchers from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine have found that giving children with moderate to severe eczema diluted bleach baths over a period of three months was five times more effective in controlling their eczema than a placebo. (The study was published in Pediatrics in April.)

In the study the researchers treated 31 children (six months to 17 years old) who had eczema and a bacterial staphylococcus infection for 14 days with oral antibiotics. Half of the children received bleach in their bath water (half a cup per full standard tub), while the other half received a look-alike placebo. The children, or their parents, were also told to put a topical antibiotic ointment or placebo control into their nose (where the staphylococcus can also grow) for five sequential days of each month. They all soaked in the bleach bath for five to 10 minutes twice a week for three months.

The research team saw such rapid improvement in the kids taking the real bleach baths that they terminated the study early because they wanted the children getting the placebo to get the same relief.

‘The eczema kept getting better and better with the bleach baths and these baths prevented it from flaring again, which is an ongoing problem for these kids,’ said Dr Amy Paller, professor and chair of dermatology, and professor of paediatrics, at the Feinberg School. ‘We presume the bleach has antibacterial properties and decreased the number of bacteria on the skin, which is one of the drivers of flares.’ Moreover, bathing in the diluted bleach bath water was surprisingly odour-free because of the small amount of bleach added. None of the bathed children had that just-out-of-the-swimming-pool smell.

Northwestern researchers had launched the study to confirm their hunch about the potential of bleach baths since bleach has been used by hospitals in the past few years as a disinfectant to decrease MRSA.

Further evidence of the positive effect of the bleach was that the eczema on the children's bodies, arms and legs improved dramatically with the bleach baths, but their faces, which were not submerged in the bath, did not improve.

As a result of the study Dr Paller suggests that kids who have eczema on their face close their eyes and mouths and dunk under the water to help improve the lesions.

In her practice, patients have found that even daily bleach baths are well tolerated while the bleach baths may also be useful for individuals with frequent staphylococcus infection, whether related to eczema or not, and in adults with eczema and recurrent infections.

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Click here for a 'real life' story of how successful bleach baths were for a five month-old with bleeding eczema.

July 2008

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