Healthbeat Report: Soothing Skin

November 5, 2009 Eczema is a chronic itchy skin condition that can be uncomfortable and even debilitating for some children at times keeping them up all night. But bleach, a product you use at home to disinfect, may be helpful in stopping the itch and giving patients and families some desperately needed relief.

You wouldn't necessarily know by looking at her today that 5-year-old Meha suffered from eczema so badly that the constant itching, oozing, pain, and unsightly scars on her skin left her questioning her very existence.

"She tells me Mommy, it would be good if I wasn't born," said Parul Tanna, mother.

Meha has had the skin condition atopic dermatitis or eczema since she was an infant.

The family spent many sleepless nights trying to ease her pain. Creams, antibiotics and steroids didn't do the job. And then they discovered an unlikely treatment: bleach.

"I take a bleach bath everyday and before I used to not and my skin used to get itchy a lot," said Meha.

"The moment I started the bleach bath I saw, it's wonderful," said Tanna.

Meha's family was part of a study by Northwestern University dermatologist Amy Paller.

Paller found adding a small amount of household bleach to a child's bath about a half a cup for a full tub of water dramatically reduces the rashes of eczema and kills the infection.

"The bleach baths worked fantastically," said Dr. Paller, Dermatologist, NU Feinberg School of Medicine.

Dr. Paller says the bacterium called staph aureus sits on the surface of the skin and can be the driving force behind eczema causing the itching, inflammation and infections.

So, the bleach you use to kill the bacteria in your home can do the same thing for eczema in prescribed diluted amounts in bath water.

"There was a lot of push back from parents of the idea of submerging your children in bleach but when we reassured parents about how dilute this solution was and that we have seen no adverse affects…they felt reassured," said Dr. Paller.

Dr. Paller isn't the only dermatologist who recommends bleach. For years other doctors have also been trying this technique on both children and adult patients. But the research was confirmation.

"This sounds like voodoo medicine but there is now some fantastic science to back it up," said Dr. Stephanie Mehils , dermatologist, North Shore University Health System.

"Now that we have the science it helps me reassure parents and patients that it's very safe and effective," said Dr. Steven Deliduka, dermatologist, Elmhurst Memorial Hospital.

Four-year-old Abigail's mom has been using the bleach treatments with success. She says it took about three to four weeks to see results.

"It's not much bleach less than going to a swimming pool or something like that and I don't even know how it's working but it's working," said Nancy Van Blarcom .

Doctors emphasize never apply bleach directly to the skin. Only use basic bleach with nothing else added. Know that the bleach bath works best in conjunction with other eczema remedies. Above all, talk to a doctor first before trying this treatment.

For the Mallu family, it's not only given them back a quality of life but also helped them cut back on some powerful prescription medications Meha had been taking for years.

"She sleeps through the night her eczema doesn't come back," said Tanna.

Doctors say bleach baths can safely be used up to seven days a week depending on the severity of the eczema. And most patients do have to follow the bath with a moisturizer to keep the skin hydrated. But, again bleach baths should only be used under the supervision of a doctor.

Dr. Amy Paller
Department of Dermatology
Patient Care Offices
Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine
Phone: (312) 695-8106 / Fax: (312) 695-0537
676 North St. Clair Street, Suite 1600
Chicago, IL 60611

Dr. Stephanie Mehlis
NorthShore University HealthSystem
Old Orchard Dermatology
9933 Woods Drive
2nd Fl
Skokie IL 60077
This location is wheelchair accessible.

Dr. Steven Deliduka
Dermatologist, Elmhurst Memorial Healthcare

Elmhurst Clinic
172 Schiller Street
Elmhurst, IL 60126

Elm. Mem. Lombard Health Center
130 S. Main Street
Suite 302
Lombard, IL 60148
630 652-4200

American Academy of Pediatrics

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