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Bleach baths and other cheap eczema remedies

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Picture of Bleach baths and other cheap eczema remedies
Eczema sufferers are easy marks. When you are itching to crawl out of your skin a $100 bottle of snake oil seems like a bargain! Marketers promote exotic and expensive ingredients on the basis of the barest threads of scientific evidence. Creams containing extracts from the peel of the jabara fruit, for example, are touted because they grow only in regions where most people have no allergies (see New York Times article) -- yet even serious research on the subject of psoriasis can be confusing and contradictory. Lanolin, for example, is the main ingredient for many creams doctors recommend to relieve the itchy dry skin typical of eczema, yet often dermatologists warn against using it because some people are allergic.
I am as vulnerable to marketing as anyone else, and in my search for the perfect recipes I bought many useless expensive oils and ingredients just because the word "dermatitis" was printed nearby. My husband is the chronic psoriasis sufferer in the household, but despite his cracked hands and angry red itchy skin he's a very tough customer. The cream has to feel just right, it can't smell funny, and he doesn't like green hairy stuff to start growing in the jar after a few weeks. He was very suspicious of my homemade attempts to replace his familiar, dermatologist sanctioned products, even though the Cetaphil he used does not score very well on the safety scale set up by the Environmental Working Group Cosmetic Safety Database... but when he ran out of my home-made cream and had to resort to commercial products during a trip, he finally had to concede that even the worst of my experiments were far superior to anything he could buy... and much, MUCH cheaper.

This instructable was adapted from a book I'm working on, Make Anything, a Handbook for Saving Money, Living Green and Having Fun with Trash. If you like it, sign up to be on my mailing list. You won't be getting spam (I set this up a few months ago and have yet to send out a single newsletter....) but you will get a chance to win a free pop-up card template....

 
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Step 1: Prevention

Picture of Prevention
In this first and essential step I will be sharing my husband's strategies for coping -- but you can find excellent information on the National Eczema Association website. Vigilant prevention will make a big difference: once your skin is compromised it can be almost impossible not to scratch, even though you know scratching the rashes only makes things worse...

Water is both a villain and a hero. Hero because when you soak in water it moisturizes your skin. Villain, because once you stop soaking, unless you seal in the moisture it will evaporate and leave your skin even drier than it was to begin with.

What this means is that you need to avoid casual contact with water, especially hot water with detergents -- that's right, no more dishes! Well, actually, you still can do dishes, but NEVER without really good gloves. My husband also uses gloves in the shower, the clear, latex free variety, which he seals around his wrists with rubber bands. When he gets out he washes his hands in cold water and quickly covers himself with the cream described in step 2.

Gloves should also be used any time you are doing messy or dusty work, lifting cardboard boxes, gardening of course, but also handling a lot of paper which might dry out your skin. Wear cotton gloves at night too, after slathering on an inordinate amount of cream, to keep it from rubbing off on the sheets.

You probably already know what type of fabric you need to avoid: my husband can never wear any type of wool against his skin, even the softest cashmere, and he avoids synthetics but also silk. Cotton is pretty much his only choice.

Wash the clothes often with so called "fragrance free" detergents -- I actually make my own mix of sodium percarbonate, borax, washing soda and sodium lauryl sulfoacetate (a surfactant which comes in powder form) because commercial detergents, no matter what they say, always contain fragrance -- but for most people detergents marketed for babies should be OK. Don't use fabric softeners -- use a little distilled vinegar instead.

Use sunscreen generously, and favor the kind with titanium or zinc oxide -- these offer broad spectrum protection (i.e. they block both UVA and UVB beams), and the zinc has the added advantage of soothing the skin and reducing itchiness. Even better, make your own sunscreen! Your active ingredient can be 100% zinc and you can avoid the chemicals which might cause irritation (before I started making this my fair skinned husband had to choose between a sunburn and an itchy rash). The Neem oil in that sunscreen recipe is also great for eczema, although you might want to omit the essential oils.

Step 2: Basic Moisturizer

Picture of Basic Moisturizer
Many dermatologists believe eczema is related to allergies, and certainly anybody with sensitive skin knows they will react to a number of chemicals which don't irritate other people -- so a good approach to a moisturizer is one with as few ingredients as possible. The fewer ingredients, the less likely you are to develop a reaction. So called "natural" ingredients aren't the best either: pollen, nuts, dander.... these all-natural, organic products give many people violent allergic reactions, whereas petroleum jelly (aka Vaseline) does not.
You can therefore smother white petrolatum (yet another name for the stuff known as Vaseline) over your entire body, but it's not particularly pleasant and you'll be leaving greasy fingerprints all over. Petrolatum is not absorbed by the skin, it acts as a barrier, preventing moisture loss, nothing else, so it only really works well when it's applied right after soaking. Lotions, or oil in water emulsions feel softer and less greasy, but the National Eczema Association recommends using the more concentrated water in oil emulsions -- the water in the thin lotions evaporates, leaving your skin dryer than it was, whereas the water in thicker creams is absorbed then trapped in the skin.
This is why I developed the following recipe: it is thick and rich but is quickly absorbed by the skin and does not feel greasy. For more details on this cream read this instructable.

Equipment:
Stick blender or strong arm with a whisk
Container such as a 16 oz wide mouth jar, recycled honey bottle or similar container -- this cream is too thick for a pump.

Preparation:
Clean and sterilize your measuring cups, bowls, containers and tools. A dishwasher with hot water will do the job but be careful with PET containers: my recycled honey bears shrivel up in the heat of the dishwasher so after cleaning them by hand I put a little rubbing alcohol in them and swish it around then let it evaporate.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup grape seed oil
1/4 cup ewax
3/4 cup water

Optional additives:
1 tbsp glycerin (add this to the water)
1/4 tsp vitamin E
12-15 drops of lavender essential oil
1/8 tsp of Germall Plus (a preservative)


Instructions:
In a small container such as a stainless steel measuring cup, combine ewax and  grape seed oil. Heat over a pan of simmering water till the wax melts and stir till ingredients are thoroughly combined. In the same pot of simmering water, but in a separate container warm the water so the oil and water reach approximately the same temperature.
Slowly drip the oil mix into the hot water while blending with the stick blender till the oil and water are thoroughly emulsified.

After it cools down to 120°F (like a warm cup of tea) you can blend in the optional additives.

Pour into your container(s) before it gets a chance to thicken.

Use:
Moisturize all over within 3 minutes after getting out of a bath or shower. If you are using topical skin medication, first put on the medicine, then use this cream. Moisturize each time you come into contact with water (handwashing, etc) and whenever your skin feels dry and itchy.

Step 3: Extra special fancy moisturizer

Picture of Extra special fancy moisturizer
The basic moisturizer works really well for day to day use, to keep the eczema in check, but during a change of season, a period of stress or after wearing irritating clothes flare-ups can still occur. The following recipe is the result of my research into all the exotic ingredients which claim to cure skin ailments... It works quite well for my personal test subject, but I want to emphasize that everybody is sensitive to different chemicals. This cream helps my (extremely sensitive ) spouse, but it could make you break out into a rash -- so try a little first on a patch of healthy skin, and if after a few days of use you don't get a reaction you can see if it helps your angry red blotchy patches of skin... You can also replace some of the grape seed oil in the previous recipe with small amounts of these ingredients, trying them one at a time. That way you would be able to tell if you just need to avoid one of the ingredients listed here.
This is just the basic summary of the recipe... for more details click here.
To avoid the need for preservatives I like to make small quantities to be used up in a few days -- to speed things up I combine all the oils then use just a small amount of that mixture when I make cream. The leftover I refrigerate where it keeps indefinitely, because it contains no water.

Equipment:
Stick blender or strong arm with a whisk
2 wide mouth jars or similar container -- this cream is a little too thick for a pump. Containers should be able to hold about 1/2 cup each.

Preparation:
Clean and sterilize your measuring cups, bowls, containers and tools. A dishwasher with hot water will do the job but be careful with PET containers: my recycled honey bears shrivel up in the heat of the dishwasher so after cleaning them by hand I put a little rubbing alcohol in them and swish it around then let it evaporate.

Oil mix:
2 tsp dimethicone
2 1/2 tsp tamanu oil
5 tsp jojoba oil
4 1/2 tsp castor oil
4 tsp shea butter
1/4 cup ewax

Melt together in a small double boiler. When all ingredients are combined remove from heat and allow to cool for 3 minutes, then stir in:

2 tsp black seed oil
1 tsp pure vitamin E (check the ingredients when you get it -- it should have the consistency of nail polish)

In a separate container, warm up:

8 tsp distilled water (or tap water, that's OK)
1/2 tsp glycerin

Using your stick blender, slowly drip 2 tbsp of the oil mix into your hot water and glycerin till the cream is well emulsified. Add a few optional drops of soy lecithin.

Pour the cream into one of your containers, and the remaining oil mix into the other. Store in the refrigerator. When you use up your cream use some of the left-over oil mix to make more cream in just a few minutes.



Step 4: Supplements

Picture of Supplements
 Even though I know nutrition is key to all health, including the health of the skin, I'm not a big fan of nutritional supplements: I'd rather drink water (OK, seltzer...), and eat well-balanced meals cooked from scratch using fresh vegetables, fruit and grains accompanied by moderate amounts of fish, meat or poultry. Snacking on salty chips or chicken wings dipped in rich sauce makes me feel ill, and popping pills to compensate for poor nutrition doesn't cut it. That said, a friend told me that taking wheat grass oil supplement cleared out her eczema like nothing else had -- so I thought I'd pass on the information, in case it helps someone else.
I still think that the better approach is good general nutrition: no soda, ever. Reduce caffeine and alcohol, reduce meat and sweets, eat more fruit and vegetables, avoid anything with high fructose corn syrup and prepared, processed food of any type. It's not just your skin which will feel better.
I do acknowledge that this takes a bit more money (a full home-cooked meal with fresh ingredients will cost more than a $1 box of instant cheese macaroni), but it doesn't have to take more time, just more planning. If you make a habit of going to the farmer's market and cooking large quantities on the week end you can spend most of the week eating left-overs.

Step 5: Bleach bath

Picture of Bleach bath
This seems to fly in the face of everything dermatologists always say about eczema: avoid all contact with water, nothing harsh on the skin... but with further consideration it does make sense. Bleach is very harsh at full concentration but here (about 0.08%) all it does is kill the staphylococcus aureus bacteria which 90% of eczema sufferers have on their skin. And although evaporation after a bath does tend to dry out the skin, if the water is lukewarm, rather than hot, that effect is minimized. This water not only controls the bacteria it hydrates the skin so long as the moisture gets locked in by applying cream immediately after the bath. As an added bonus any medicated cream applied will be absorbed much more efficiently.

Ingredients:
40 gallons of lukewarm water (full bathtub)
1/2 cup bleach

Instructions:
Pour bleach into tub as it is running to ensure that it is well dispersed. Fill the tub to the brim with warm (not hot) water.

Directions:
For a severe eczema outbreak take 20 minute lukewarm baths, twice a day for a week, trying to be as fully immersed as possible. Moisturize skin immediately after soaking.

This treatment is also safe for children.

See also New York Times article and a 2009 article in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

This instructable was adapted from a book I'm working on, Make Anything, a Handbook for Saving Money, Living Green and Having Fun with Trash. If you liked it, sign up to be on my mailing list. You won't be getting spam (I set this up a few months ago and have yet to send out a single newsletter....) but you will get a chance to win a free pop-up card template....

soniapeddy2 months ago
I don't know if I have eczema but my face has itchy, flaky and now wrinkling skin. It started as a small white, dry patch and spread. It never goes away. I've tried all kinds of lotions for itch, athlete's foot or even oils. I can't even put on make up because it shows more. I'm going to try the bleach bath but how to treat my face, I don't know how this will work. Thanks for all the tips.
belsey (author)  soniapeddy2 months ago
Hope it helps... (you can use a washcloth to clean your face with the bathwater) -- but make sure you don't put too much bleach in the water! If you can smell the bleach in the bathwater then it's too strong a concentration.
The most important tip would be to go see a dermatologist -- chances are he/she would be able to help! You might need prescription steroid cream.
soniapeddy belsey2 months ago

Thank you so much!

I would go see a dermatologist but I do not have insurance. I went before and paid $75 for a cream prescription that did not work. I work part-time so that $75 was a lot for me. :(

God bless and keep you.

JoanC26 months ago

I have had eczema on my hands since I was a teenager. No prescription cream has ever helped. Last year, I read a blog about the Lady Soma Skin & Nail Cream which has cocoa butter and kokoa butter - and it keeps the eczema under control better than anything I ever used. I take it on every flight and to every destination (dry or humid). I've had it seized from me in several airports because I forgot that its a large 4oz. But anyway, yeah - you should try it - I don't know what I would do without it!

sunshiine2 years ago
I love your pictures and this instructable! Thanks for sharing!
sunshiine
abath2 years ago
For those suffering from MRSA or eczema, there are very effective and natural alternatives to bleach bathing available. A garlic extract, called Allicin, is a natural antimicrobial and it kills methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and all forms of staph, 100%. Staphylococcus aureus bacterium is found in 95 per cent of simple eczema cases. Protect yourself. http://www.garlicbath.com
belsey (author)  abath2 years ago
I checked out your website: I'm sorry to say that I have to disagree with the "toxic regardless of concentration" claim -- because in fact the dose or concentration of ANY given chemical is how toxicity is defined. "Toxic at any dose" cannot be true, it's an oxymoron. A chemical (like table salt, for example) is toxic at a certain dose, but still a necessity of life at a lower dose. I love garlic, but I'm sure if I ate two pounds of it in one sitting I'd get really sick (in addition to being really smelly...). At a high enough dose the chemical you use, allicin, is toxic too.
Your website claim that a bleach bath such as this one would destroy all skin bacteria, though I'm not sure if it is true, has a little more merit -- but the thing is if you want to destroy the staph then you probably can't avoid a little collateral damage. If the expensive garlic bath product you're selling is in fact destroying staph then chances are it's also killing beneficial bacteria too. I'm not saying your product doesn't work! Maybe it does, and for some people, maybe it's worth the high cost... I'm just saying that the bleach bath has been proven to be effective and it is dirt cheap.
MsJan2 years ago
I use baking soda for many cleaning projects. I buy white vinegar and cider vinegar by the gallons since I use them also for my cleaning and of course cooking. I NEVER use perfumes or essential oils since they can be very toxic to humans. We need to stay away from these things. Remember: "A Healthy Home Has No Smell". Open your windows and do not add fragrances to your home to mask odors.
xmedic3 years ago
Petroleum jelly (white petrolatum) is the only thing that works for my eczema. I start every day after my shower looking like Burt Reynolds in "Striptease". (Well, except for the part about looking like Burt Reynolds :-) )

I've aklso found that the cheaper petroleum jelly from our local 99 Cents Only store seems to work better than the more expensive stuff from regular stores. It does seem to "soak in" more because it's a little bit more "liquid", if that makes sense.

Thanks for the ideas! I will try some of them.
MsJan xmedic2 years ago
I have read that petroleum is very toxic to humans. So do not put it on your body. Guess it can cause cancer or other illnesses. Maybe that is why it is so cheap. I have not found to much safe at the Dollar Store. They sell so much cheap stuff but much of it is toxic to humans. Never buy anything metal from there since it can cause cancer. Wish the other states would make the products state that it causes cancer like California does.
misformiche5 years ago
i didnt read through all the comments... but just plain unrefinded coconut oil has worked for me.
me to for my eczema, but the psoriasis is more stubborn. it improves but doesn't go away.
belsey (author)  KittyF4 years ago
Yes, that's the sad and depressing part. It always comes back. You can keep it at bay, and keep it from becoming horrible, but at this point in medical history it can't be cured....
shifafa5 years ago
Eczema sufferer here. Thanks so much for sharing your research and trial/error with your husband. It is a complete surprise to me that most eczema patients have staph on their skin! What a revelation.

My eczema is mostly on my face, which makes me extra motivated to find a solution other than the Elidel I can't really afford. (Too bad I can't try the bleach bath -- at least not around my eyes and mouth.) Currently I'm having mixed results from oat flour paste applied as a mask. Any experience with oats or oatmeal?
KittyF shifafa4 years ago
I just sat and did the math because i also have eczema and psoriasis on my face.

The bleach bath breaks down to one cc to 40 oz of water. comes to about a large drop of bleach to 40 oz of water. not very strong.

sounds like it would be less than the amount that our water company uses in the spring and fall to deal with run off.
belsey (author)  shifafa5 years ago
 I don't have much personal experience with oatmeal, but I do know that it comes highly recommended for soothing itchy skin... It won't cure anything, but it should help temporarily. One thing you can try is to wipe your face with a (very) dilute solution on bleach on a cotton ball. You won't get the soaking hydration effect, but it might help. Good luck!
KittyF4 years ago
or avoid common allergens to determine if any of them are contributing to your eczema.
Mine is at least 50% related to a dairy allergy.

My sister's is related to celiac, Gluten allergy.
dakellymon4 years ago
I thought I would pipe in again. On the advice of a Asian psychiatrist named Moon Ja Kim, I started taking vitamine D3, one in the morning one at night, 2000 IU, I also take fish oil but not as regular. After 7+ years of out of control hand/foot eczema, my hands and feet are vastly improved. It is not completely gone, but i see a 90% improvement after a couple of weeks. If you suffer with eczema I highly recommend trying vitamine D3, I have not done a scientific study, I can't prove that it was the vitamine D that cured it. All I know is I started a few week ago and it looks like the eczema may be going away and I'm a happy man.
My grandaughter suffers from eczema, and it seems to always to be behind a joint, either her elbows or behind her knees, we have found after trying dozens of different creams and so on that what really works is cling film the clear plastic film used for cooking wrapped around the affected area,after putting Fucibet cream on the the area first,we do this before she goes to bed and the next morning like magic there is hardly a trace of it.
This may not work for everyone, but if like her she scratches until she bleeds then its worth a try.I HOPE THIS MAY HELP SOMEONE
msw100@yahoo.co.uk
belsey (author)  msw1004 years ago
Thanks for sharing your tip!
archerj5 years ago
Thanks a bunch!
 So do you actually have excema?..I notice you say your husband has psorasis yet you are using him as a test subject for excema?
belsey (author)  artist without a medium5 years ago
Sorry, I use all those terms interchangeably although technically I know there are differences -- I believe what my husband has been diagnosed for is "atopic dermatitis" but eczema is much easier to say and write, especially since I finally figured out how to spell it! In common speech the term "eczema" is often used to describe a bunch of different skin problems linked by dry itchy symptoms. My skin is fine though, beside the fact that it is fair and tends to burn...
remo5145 years ago
Just remember when you kill all the bacteria off your skin you open the door for the bad bacteria. some bacteria on the skin actually protects you from bad stuff like staff infection and the MSR bacteria. I really think you should try acupuncture I know it sounds crazy but a good acupuncturists can balance out your body and may fix your problem.
belsey (author)  remo5145 years ago
 No, that doesn't sound crazy at all -- eczema is not a problem which has a single solution. I have just never tried acupuncture (or known someone who did), so I didn't feel like I could write about it. And yes, as a rule I try to avoid anti-bacterial soap for the reasons you give, but the studies I read about did seem to show a real benefit in the bleach bath treatment. Of course if you're part of that 10% who DON'T have the bacteria the treatment won't help much, other than just to moisturize... Could my reply be any more wishy washy?
Ninzerbean5 years ago
I commend you for being so proactive in helping your husband. Thank you for sharing.
belsey (author)  Ninzerbean5 years ago
 Thanks! Next time he complains about one of my many housecleaning failings I'll show him your comment!
rimar20005 years ago
Your work is very commendable. I wish you success with your book, and can help many people. It's sad how most big companies profit at the expense of human suffering. I suffered from cold sores for many years, and spent money on absolutely useless remedies.
belsey (author)  rimar20005 years ago
 Thanks!
Truehart5 years ago

Is it ok to take a regular shower after the bleach bath?  Example:  I take my showers at night, helps me relax, so, I was thinking I'd do the bleach soak before my shower, take my shower, and then moisturize.

belsey (author)  Truehart5 years ago
 It should be just fine, so long as you don't take a hot shower which makes all the water in your skin evaporate. The bacteria should be killed off already so there's no harm in rinsing. You should know, however, that the bleach bath doesn't feel any different from a regular one. It's not like the pool water, where you can smell the chlorine forever. The concentration of bleach is so low you can't smell or feel it.