Baths May Help Control Atopic Dermatitis
Treating atopic dermatitis (AD) by
adding bleach to your bathwater may sound like an old wives’ tale.
After all, dermatologists recommend gentle, fragrance-free products
for their patients with AD. Bleach hardly falls into this category.
A bleach bath, however, may be exactly what your dermatologist
Dermatologists have been prescribing dilute bleach baths for more
than 20 years to patients with AD who get frequent skin infections
caused by staph. These patients seem to benefit from soaking in a
bath that contains a very small amount of bleach — about 4 ounces of
bleach added to 40 gallons of water. Regular short soaks seem to
reduce staph infections. With fewer staph infections, these patients
appear to have less severe AD.
At least, this is what dermatologists have long suspected, but
studies never confirmed this belief. To collect scientific data
about this low-cost, easy-to-use treatment, dermatologists conducted
a 2-year study. This study looked at whether taking dilute bleach
baths could reduce staph infections in children with AD.
Study Finds Bleach Baths Effective
Between January 2006 and January 2008, 22 children aged 9 months to
17 years completed this study. These children had moderate to very
severe AD and a staph infection when they began.
To clear the staph infection, all children were given cephalexin (an
antibiotic) for 14 days. The children were then assigned to 1 of 2
groups. One group received mupirocin (an antibiotic) ointment and a
bottle of bleach. The other group received products that do not
typically treat infection — petroleum jelly and a bleach bottle that
contained only water.
Both groups of parents received the same instructions. Add a few
ounces of the liquid in the bleach bottle to the child’s bath twice
a week. Apply the ointment just inside the child’s nose for 5 days
in a row each month. These instructions were to be followed for 3
During this study, the children continued to receive the topical
(applied to the skin) medications and moisturizers they normally
used to treat their AD. This helped ensure that changes would be due
to the bleach baths and mupirocin.
The changes were significant. The children treated with the dilute
bleach baths and mupirocin ointment fared significantly better. At
the end of 3 months, they had fewer AD lesions, less skin affected
by AD, and the severity of their AD had decreased. The other group
did not have such favorable results. At the end of 3 months, most
(70%) did not have any change and some (15%) worsened.
This study showed that adding dilute bleach baths and mupirocin
ointment to a treatment plan can help control AD if a child gets
regular staph infections. This can be very beneficial for people who
have AD because staph can cause serious, repeat infections.
This study did not find out if dilute bleach baths and mupirocin
ointment are safe and effective when used for a long time. More
studies are needed to answer this.
Ask Your Dermatologist
Before trying this easy, cost-effective treatment, be sure to talk
with your dermatologist. This treatment is not meant for everyone
who has AD and should not be the only treatment for AD. If dilute
bleach baths are what the dermatologist orders, these baths would be
part of a complete treatment plan.
Huang JT, Abrams M, Tlougan B et al. Treatment of
Staphylococcus aureus colonization in atopic dermatitis
decreases disease severity. Pediatrics 2009; 123: e808-14.
Huang J, Paller A, Tlougan B et al. “Staphlycoccus aureus
suppression with sodium hypochlorite baths and intranasal mupirocin
decreases clinical severity of atopic dermatitis.” Presented as a
poster (P3026) at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of
Dermatology, March 2009; San Francisco.
All content solely
developed by the American Academy of Dermatology
Use Bleach Baths with Caution
Never apply bleach directly to AD lesions, such as these
on the backs of a child's knees, and always consult a
dermatologist before trying a dilute bleach bath.