Colloidal Oatmeal In Skin Care: 5 Reasons Derms Love It For Dry, Itchy Skin
Oats are nothing short of a household staple—they make a filling breakfast, a creamy milk alternative, even a DIY face mask. But there's a reason slathering oatmeal on your face is such a quintessential activity during the average sleepover; it actually carries some weight in the beauty sphere—oatmeal, particularly colloidal oatmeal, has pretty significant benefits for your skin, from protecting against UV damage to soothing conditions like eczema and psoriasis. Your overnight oats just got a whole lot more versatile.
First, what is colloidal oatmeal?
It's a little different from regular oats, which have the ability to decrease inflammation1 in their own right. Oats contain different types of phenols that have their own antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, says board-certified dermatologist Zenovia Gabriel, M.D., FAAD.
But when you finely grind and boil oats, you can extract colloidal material; this gel-like substance has a rather high lipid content (30%, to be exact). "These are the same moisture-trapping molecules that are plentiful in prepubescent skin," says board-certified dermatologist Loretta Ciraldo M.D., FAAD. In other words, colloidal oats aren't just regular oats—they have significant antioxidant properties that are unique to their makeup.
Here, we break down the benefits of using colloidal oatmeal in skin care:
Protects the skin barrier.
Due to its high antioxidant content, colloidal oatmeal can help protect the skin barrier2 and even protect against oxidative stress. Colloidal oatmeal has a host of antioxidants, but some to note are vitamin E, avenanthramides (an active in oats that has major anti-inflammatory benefits), and ferulic acid.
"There are polysaccharides (long sugars) that bind water to the skin surface, making colloidal oatmeal a humectant. It has lipids, which reinforce the skin's barrier, and saponins, which are like natural soaps and anti-infective. It also contains the antioxidants ferulic acid, caffeic acid, and coumaric acid," says holistic board-certified dermatologist Cybele Fishman, M.D.
Chemical jargon aside, colloidal oats have quite the antioxidant content. Because of these antioxidants, Ciraldo mentions that the FDA even approved colloidal oatmeal as an over-the-counter drug, specifically as a skin protectant.
Oatmeal is frequently touted as an age-old remedy to soothe inflamed skin, allergies, and rashes. Those avenanthramides we mentioned are particularly effective in reducing itch and inflammation, making colloidal oat lotion an excellent option the next time you're suffering from atopic dermatitis3, rashes, or itch.
Slather on the creamy formula, and feel your skin soothe. "Extracts of colloidal oatmeal have been shown to lessen inflammatory mediators in the skin, giving significant clinical improvements in skin dryness, scaling, roughness, and itch intensity," adds Ciraldo.
Soothes sun damage.
Because colloidal oatmeal can help soothe skin inflammation, it's a great natural sunburn reliever. But soothing properties aside, colloidal oats actually have the ability to absorb UV rays, due to the natural flavonoids they contain; flavonoids, says Gabriel, have a natural ability to provide photoprotection4, as they act as catalysts during the light phase of photosynthesis.
That's not to say you should use colloidal oatmeal in place of proper sunscreen (it's not an active SPF ingredient, says Ciraldo), but its UV-absorbing ability makes it a valuable addition to formulas.
Due to their high concentration of starches and beta-glucans, says Gabriel, colloidal oats can have water-absorbing properties that can help moisturize the skin. That's because it's a known humectant, which means it has the ability to draw moisture from the environment and seep it into your skin. However, the lipids in colloidal oats also have emollient properties (meaning, it has the ability to sit in between skin cells and fill in any micro-cracks, softening irritated skin). With these two moisturizing properties working in tandem, colloidal oats become quite the superfood for skin care.
If you're experiencing dry skin, you also might want to consider your water: Many people live in areas of "hard water," where heavy minerals can dry and irritate your skin. "If you live in an area of hard water, you should consider using an oatmeal body wash or lotion to mitigate the drying effects," says Ciraldo, which is why colloidal oats are a star ingredient in many body washes and lotions.
Helps calm eczema and psoriasis.
As mentioned, colloidal oatmeal can help soothe dry, itchy, inflamed skin—and it does so by helping the skin retain moisture. "Moisturizing and protecting the barrier of the skin is paramount in dry skin conditions like eczema (atopic dermatitis) and psoriasis," says Gabriel.
And there's research to back it up, too: Clinical trials have shown that a 1% colloidal oatmeal cream alone was enough to calm symptoms of atopic dermatitis5.
How do you use it?
Both Ciraldo and Gabriel are partial to colloidal oat lotions (whether post-shower or as a sunburn soother). The soothing and hydrating agents make it a great, creamy moisturizer, especially if you suffer from inflammatory skin conditions.
However, Ciraldo also notes that colloidal oatmeal can be an effective cleanser, especially for people with sensitive skin: "I love colloidal oatmeal cleansers for babies," she says. "They are safe and effective if your baby seems to be showing dry skin or redness or if you have a family history of rashes like atopic dermatitis." Colloidal oats contain saponins, which act as a natural soap and can help give it that foamy lather—a perfect gentle cleanser for inflamed skin or to dab on your T-zone in the mornings.
Who shouldn't use it?
According to Gabriel, there's little to no risk of using colloidal oat topically. The only thing to be mindful of is, of course, if you have an allergy to oats, oat-based products, or bran, as you could suffer an allergic reaction when applying colloidal oat topically.
If you're going to use commercial products, just make sure to take a peek at the ingredient list to make sure there are no harsh irritants in the formula. "Avoid using any that have artificial fragrance or sulfates (listed as sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate)," says Ciraldo.
If you're looking for a powerhouse moisturizer, consider colloidal oatmeal your new best friend. Of course, if you have an oat allergy or sensitive skin, it's best to steer clear or chat with your derm before applying any new topicals. The good news is, many hydrating commercial products use colloidal oats in their formulas already; so check your labels—chances are, your favorite body lotion contains this natural star ingredient. If it doesn't, you may want to think about adding it to your repertoire post-shower.
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in New York City.