Eczema is a chronic condition that is characterized by unpredictable, intermittent, itchiness of the skin, followed by visible redness, swelling, and bumps, or red/raised blotches. These areas can remain irritated for days or weeks, and punctuated with unrelenting itchiness, stinging or tingling sensations. This leads back to scratching and further exacerbation of the redness, swelling, etc. As this itch/scratch cycle persists, permanent damage to the skin barrier will occur.
So, while waiting to pick up a prescription one day, I happened to look over at a nearby shelf. A large squeezy tube (hair-styling gel sized) of Gold Bond cream touting “Eczema Relief” caught my eye. The active ingredient was “2% colloidal oatmeal.” Having never tried oatmeal in this capacity (LOVE to eat it), I picked it up.
PRIOR to discovering colloidal oatmeal, I used myself to experiment, and tried not use anything BUT over-the-counter (OTC) ointments to control my eczema. I never know when and what will trigger it, but after a bad flare-up one morning, I took the opportunity to gather my first data point. I began slathering my face with OTC stuff, going from one to the next to the next. Whenever I started to feel those uncomfortable itchy/stingy/tingly sensations, I’d put something else on. But it got so bad at one point that I used Benadryl at night to keep the itching from waking me up, for it was persistent enough to do so and, to keep me up. Every day I hoped it would finally calm down. After about 10 days, I broke down and used my steroid lotion, which successfully calmed the inflammation. Then I went back to using my non-steroidal daily ointment.
Despite this, I still wanted to experiment with OTC creams, lotions and ointments, because you never know what may work or why.
Enter colloidal oatmeal. The “colloidal” part means that the oatmeal is in suspension, or rather, a homogeneous mixture. The oats of oatmeal have been finely ground and then thoroughly and “permanently” mixed into some type of base. Think mayonnaise and not natural peanut butter.
The mechanism of action understood about colloidal oatmeal is described in the graphic. The itch-scratch cycle can be “broken,” or at least interrupted by a chemical contained in oatmeal called Avenanthramide. This chemical interferes with Nuclear Factor kappa B (NFkB), which allows for a gene to ultimately produce the cytokines IL-6, IL-8 and MCP-1. These cytokines further stimulate the inflammatory response, so if they are inhibited by colloidal oatmeal's interference with NFkB, then the inflammatory response can be subdued. Ultimately, the itching that leads to scratching which then leads to more itching can be interrupted.
So, what’s the verdict? I think colloidal oatmeal has been effective, having now used it for a couple of months. It controls itching sensations for prolonged periods; I need only use it twice daily. I have also gone to using my maintenance ointment once every 4 days! I still get unpredictable flare-ups, for which only my steroid lotion will work, but for everyday maintenance, I am cautiously optimistic about this one!