Published in May 2009 Pediatrics Journal was the findings of a bleach bath study conducted on 31 children, aged 6 to 17 months, with moderate to severe eczema. The children had staph (see this post to learn about staph), which is a very resilient bacteria on the skin that can cause infection. Half the children were soaked 5 to 10 minutes in a bleach bath twice a week, while the other half in a placebo bath. The children who were soaked in the bleach bath showed decreased severity of eczema within 3 months. The diluted bleach bath act like a antiseptic, which can remove the bacteria. Before trying this on your own, do check with your baby’s doctor and also note the following:
1. Dilute the bleach and don’t apply bleach directly onto skin. Bleach is an irritant to the skin, so do check with your doctor on the preparation of the bath. For the above study, it’s ¼ cup bleach diluted with 40 gallons of lukewarm water. The concentration of sodium hydrochlorite in the bleach should not be more than 6%. Learn more about bleach bath and its effect on skin pH in interview with dermatologist Cheryl Lee MD
3. The neck and head was not in the water for the study. It was published online though that the doctor of this study, Dr Amy Paller, suggested closing eyes and submerging head into the bath to clear the bacteria. I’m not sure about this as my baby Marcie keeps drinking her current oatmeal bath!
4. A 14-day oral antibiotic was given at the same time during the study, and moisturizing too. This meant that bleach bath is not a standalone treatment (in fact, bleach can dry/irritate the skin, so do dilute and moisturize a lot).
5. Bleach bath should not be used for cracked skin, and consult your doctor first (I know my baby’s doctor recommended swimming and octenisan (2018 update: a more moisturizing antiseptic wash alternative
chlorhexidine), which also serve to remove the staph bacteria).
2014 update: Read my interview with Dr Cheryl Lee on eczema skin and pH (including a Q&A on bleach bath)
2015 update: Read my interview with Dr Lawrence F Eichenfield (in collaboration with American Academy of Dermatology) on eczema bleach bath
My take is I don’t dare and won’t try bleach bath, since chlorhexidine (antiseptic) had worked for my baby. Swimming had also worked for her, even when we only brought her weekly (as opposed to her doctor’s advice to bring her 3 times/week). Do you dare to try the bleach bath on your child? If you have, do let us know how it went, thanks!