Types, Uses, Benefits, Side Effects

Types, Uses, Benefits, Side Effects

Oats have been used for centuries to treat skin conditions. Colloidal oatmeal is a finely ground oat-based skincare ingredient that treats dry skin, eczema, and skin irritation. As an over-the-counter (OTC) moisturizer, colloidal oatmeal acts as an emollient—a type of moisturizer that creates a barrier over the skin to retain moisture and protect dry or injured skin.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists colloidal oatmeal as a skin protectant. The FDA requires that all over-the-counter products that claim to treat atopic dermatitis include colloidal oatmeal or hydrocortisone (a steroid treating inflammation) as an ingredient. It can be used alone as a bath soak or added to moisturizers, soaps, and cleansers.

Colloidal oatmeal skincare products include moisturizers, soaps, cleansers, and bath soaks. When added to these products, colloidal oatmeal can help protect and relieve dryness and protect sensitive skin.

The epidermis (outer layer of your skin) naturally holds water to create a hydrating skin barrier to protect your skin. If you have dry skin, damaged skin, or eczema, your epidermis loses more water, causing itchiness, flakiness, and irritation. 

Compounds in colloidal oatmeal have anti-inflammatory properties effective for treating and managing atopic dermatitis, a type of eczema that causes scaly patches of red, purple, or gray skin. Allergies, irritants, or stress can trigger atopic dermatitis symptoms.


You can apply moisturizers containing colloidal oatmeal to your body or face as a lotion, cream, balm, or ointment. Many moisturizers may include other hydrating ingredients like lactic acid, urea, or glycerol.

Colloidal oatmeal moisturizers help hydrate and strengthen dry, injured skin by forming a protective barrier that heals damaged skin and helps the skin retain more water. These products also have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can help soothe irritation.

Colloidal oatmeal lotions also treat irritation and dryness caused by cancer radiation treatments.

Soaps and Cleansers

Adding colloidal oatmeal to bar soaps and liquid cleansers makes them more moisturizing and soothing for your skin. After cleansing, it is not uncommon for skin to dry out, especially for people with dry, sensitive skin. Colloidal oatmeal soaps and cleansers help restore moisture to damaged skin barriers.

Bath Soaks

A colloidal oatmeal bath can help soothe itchy skin caused by eczema, bug bites, and rashes. Many people take a colloidal oatmeal bath if they have an allergic reaction like a rash after coming into contact with poison ivy. Like other forms of colloidal oatmeal, these products help hydrate the skin and soothe dry, flaky patches. 

You can find bath soaks either made with 100% colloidal oatmeal or combined with other hydrating ingredients like mineral oil. Colloidal oatmeal bath soaks are often recommended by a dermatologist (a doctor specializing in skin, hair, and nail conditions) for children with eczema who can’t stop scratching their skin.

Your dermatologist may also recommend creating a wet compress (or wet dressing) with colloidal oatmeal soaks to help treat eczema.

Colloidal oatmeal soaps or cleansers can be used twice daily, typically with your morning and evening skincare routine. Gently lather the product onto your skin and rinse it away with lukewarm water.

Dermatologists also recommend using topical colloidal oatmeal creams, lotions, or ointments twice daily to manage and treat eczema and dry skin. Apply colloidal oatmeal moisturizers to slightly damp skin after cleansing.

Using colloidal oatmeal bath products can make baths slippery, so be careful when entering or exiting the tub. To use a colloidal oatmeal soak:

  1. Add about 1 cup of colloidal oatmeal (or the prepackaged treatment amount) as you fill the tub with lukewarm water (less for infant tubs)
  2. Soak in the bath for 10-30 minutes
  3. After exiting the bath, gently pat the skin with a towel until the skin is slightly damp
  4. Apply a moisturizer to damp skin within three minutes of your bath

If your dermatologist recommends a colloidal oatmeal compress to treat eczema, you can typically apply these as needed or directed. To create a colloidal oatmeal compress:

  1. Combine at least one-third of colloidal oatmeal with two-thirds warm water in a shallow container or bath
  2. Soak a clean, soft cloth in the mixture
  3. Apply the wet compress loosely to the area you are treating
  4. Leave the compress on for 15-30 minutes

Using colloidal oatmeal is generally safe for most people. Studies have found that creams, cleansers, and lotions that contain the ingredient rarely cause skin reactions–even in people with sensitive skin. Still, skin burning, rash, or stinging are possible. It’s always a good idea to patch-test a small area of skin with a colloidal oatmeal product before using it on your whole body.

However, people with an oats food allergy should avoid using colloidal oatmeal. Using colloidal oatmeal skincare or soaks can sometimes lead to allergic reactions like hives or rashes. In extreme cases, people with an oat allergy may experience side effects like:  

If you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, consult with a healthcare provider before trying colloidal oats. The oats can be cross-contaminated with gluten-containing wheat, barley, or rye. Oats also contain a protein called avenin, which can activate immune cells that react to gluten in some people with celiac disease.  

Picking the right colloidal oatmeal product will depend on your skincare needs. If you experience a lot of dryness and irritation, bath soaks may be ideal for reducing symptoms all over your body. To target specific areas, consider using a lotion or cream to treat dry skin patches or rashes on the body or face. Thick balms or ointments are even better for severely cracked or dry areas of skin. 

Most effective colloidal oatmeal products contain no less than 0.007% colloidal oatmeal. However, 0.5-1% colloidal oatmeal is often more effective for mild irritation and moisturizing sensitive, dry skin. People with eczema or itchy skin may need higher concentrations above 1%. For colloidal oatmeal bath soaks, products should contain between 50-100% colloidal oatmeal.  

If you have eczema, you may also want to consider choosing products with the National Eczema Association Seal of Acceptance. This seal indicates that a panel of dermatologists, allergists, and eczema experts has tested the product for its safety and effectiveness in treating eczema. The panel also ensures that products intended to treat eczema contain no harmful ingredients.

You also want to look for colloidal oatmeal products that do not contain alcohol or fragrance. These added ingredients can further irritate skin and strip it of natural oils that help moisturize it. When using colloidal oatmeal moisturizers or cleansers, look for products with other moisturizing ingredients like urea, ceramides, lactic acid, or glycerol. These ingredients can help heal the skin and restore a damaged skin barrier.

Colloidal oatmeal is a skincare ingredient made from finely ground oats that helps skin retain moisture and relieve itchiness. It is added to moisturizers, soaps, and cleansers to help soothe dry, irritated skin—including skin affected by eczema. Colloidal oatmeal can also be dissolved in a bath to help treat eczema or skin reactions to plants or bug bites.

Colloidal oatmeal is safe for most people, but people with oat allergies may have adverse reactions like hives or rashes. Before you try colloidal oatmeal products, always do a patch test and speak with your dermatologist if you have an existing skin condition like eczema. 

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