Although colloidal oatmeal sounds like something off the menu at your local cafe, it really belongs on your beauty shelf and not on your breakfast plate. Chances are, if you ever picked up a skincare product to soothe itchy, dry skin, it probably contained colloidal oatmeal. “Oatmeal has been used for centuries as a soothing agent to relieve itch and irritation associated with various dry skin conditions,” says Hadley King, MD, a New York-based dermatologist. From soothing dry, inflamed skin to locking in moisture for long-lasting results, colloidal oatmeal is the skin savior you never knew you needed.
Still not entirely sure what colloidal oatmeal is? Let us break it down for you. Colloidal oatmeal is a multifunctional skin protectant derived from oat grains that’s found in countless moisturizing creams, cleansers, ointments, body washes, and shampoos. “The oats are ground down to a fine powder in an effort to allow them to disperse more easily in water, creams and lotions for use in cosmetic products,” says Caren Campbell, MD, a San Francisco-based dermatologist. A combination of lipids, proteins, peptides, and starches serve up major nourishment and moisturization, making colloidal oatmeal a great go-to for treating a variety of skin conditions, from itchy, dry skin to sunburn and even eczema relief.
From cleansing and moisturizing to anti-inflammatory properties, there are a bevy of benefits of incorporating colloidal oatmeal into your routine.
Whenever someone hears oatmeal and cleanser in the same sentence it’s only natural to assume it’s an exfoliating scrub, but not when colloidal oatmeal is involved. Colloidal oatmeal contains saponins, which are compounds that create a soap-like foam when you add water–they’re basically like nature’s very own soap. The cleansing properties in saponins make colloidal oatmeal a gentle yet effective cleanser that can wash away dirt without disturbing the pH of your skin, all while serving up soothing moisture. “The starches and beta-glucans in colloidal oatmeal attract water and help to prevent water loss, while the saponins and phenols act to maintain the pH of skin and calm inflammation and itching,” says Jessie Cheung, MD, dermatologist at Cheung Aesthetics and Wellness in Chicago.
Whether you’re suffering from a chronic skin condition like eczema (atopic dermatitis), rosacea, or simply dealing with a painful sunburn, colloidal oatmeal could offer soothing relief, thanks to a combination of factors at work within the oats. For starters, colloidal oatmeal contains phenols and vitamin E, both of which are anti-inflammatory. The cellulose and fiber from the oats also play an important part–especially if you have itchy skin. “These make a skin-softening emollient that is effective against irritation and redness that comes from conditions such as eczema,” says Dr. King.
Colloidal oatmeal doesn’t just soothe sensitive, irritated skin, but it also goes a step further and creates a protective barrier on the surface that locks in moisture and keeps environmental and external factors at bay. “Colloidal oatmeal contains water binding polysaccharides, (a form of sugar), and compounds called hydrocolloids,” says Tamila Deveny, a licensed esthetician at MDCS in New York City. “These compounds create a protective barrier to keep the skin from losing water.”
This is especially true for patients who suffer from skin conditions where their ability to lock in moisture is compromised. “In patients with atopic dermatitis, the proteins that normally lock moisture into the skin and keep the environment out are mutated,” says Dr. Campbell. A hydrophilic moisturizer, like colloidal oatmeal, can pull water back to the surface and restore your skin barrier.
Think of colloidal oatmeal as an invisible, moisturizing band-aid. ‘“Colloidal oatmeal's emollient properties create a thin film on top of the skin to help lock in moisture and reduce transepidermal water loss,” says Ali Tobias, licensed senior esthetician at Just Ageless in New York City. Transepidermal water loss (TWEL) is when water from the skin’s surface is evaporated into the environment. “Our skin's major function as a barrier is to limit the loss of water while preventing chemicals from getting through our skin.” says Dr. Cheung.
The easiest way to reap the benefits of colloidal oatmeal is by adding a product (like a moisturizing lotion or cleanser), that already contains the ingredient to your routine. Most derms recommend using it twice daily to achieve best results.
For a full-body approach, your best bet is a soothing colloidal oatmeal bath. “Dermatologists recommended using colloidal oatmeal topically or in a bath for eczema, rosacea, seborrheic dermatitis, and psoriasis,” says Dr. Cheung. If you wind up with a painful sunburn, this bath soak can also work wonders and help calm red, puffy skin.
If you prefer a DIY approach, you’re in luck. “I like to make a homemade colloidal oatmeal face mask,” says Tobias. To recreate her recipe at home, combine 3 tablespoons of colloidal oatmeal powder with 1 tablespoon of Manuka honey. Add rosewater to emulsify until you’ve created a paste-like texture and apply to a clean face. If you don’t have rosewater, substitute with bottled or filtered water.
The reason colloidal oatmeal stands out against other ingredients is because it’s gentle enough for even the most sensitive skin and can easily be combined with other products if you want to take a targeted approach to your skincare routine. “It can be used in conjunction with ingredients that can be irritating to the skin, such as alpha and beta hydroxy acids and retinoids, to help minimize irritation and disruption of the skin barrier,” says Dr. King.
If you suffer from oat allergies, however, you should probably hold off on indulging in a bath soak containing the grain anytime soon. “Avoid using oatmeal if you have an oat allergy,” says Dr. Cheung. “Although oats are free of gluten, they are often grown or processed with wheat, so be careful if you have a wheat allergy.”
This sulfate-free, soap-free formula employs colloidal oatmeal, collagen, hyaluronic acid, and a ceramide complex for a nourishing cleanse that’s gentle enough for all skin types but strong enough to remove makeup. “Leaves your skin so soft without drying it out,” raves one Ipster.
Want to revive your complexion? All you need is 10 minutes with this mask, which kicks dryness to the curb and keeps redness at bay. “This has colloidal oatmeal and shea butter to help provide instant relief and long-term hydration,” says Tobias.
Finding the right exfoliator for dry, sensitive skin is no simple task, but a winning combination of oatmeal and apricot seeds will remove dead cells without further stripping your skin in the process.
The secret to baby-soft skin? Colloidal oatmeal. This natural ingredient is like a magic elixir that deeply hydrates below the skin’s surface and creates a protective barrier above to lock in moisture. Even if you don’t suffer from dry spots, the idea of a soothing colloidal oatmeal bath probably sounds pretty tempting right about now. Have you incorporated colloidal oatmeal in your routine? If so, let us know if it worked wonders for your skin.
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