The Science of Colloidal Oatmeal in Skin Care

Written by: Dr. Leslie Baumann



Time to read 7 min

Colloidal oatmeal is a natural skin care ingredient with millennia of history supporting its use. This ingredient is loaded with beneficial compounds and is gentle on all skin types, but how does it work?

This blog will explore what colloidal oatmeal is, its unique composition, the distinct benefits it offers for skin health, and how it differs from regular oatmeal. We will also look into specific applications, such as colloidal oatmeal baths and creams. 

To find the perfect products for your skin type, take the Baumann Skin Type Quiz, which also gets you a bonus $5 credit on your first order!

What is colloidal oatmeal?

What is Colloidal Oatmeal?

Colloidal oatmeal is essentially oats that have been finely ground and then processed to retain all their skin-beneficial elements. 

This fine grinding ensures that when added to water or skincare products, the oatmeal spreads evenly and does not settle quickly. Colloidal oatmeal is used either on its own as a bath additive, or alongside other ingredients in products like sunscreens, moisturizers, and even acne products.

Here are some of the best colloidal oatmeal products:

What is Oatmeal Made of?

Colloidal oatmeal is rich in several beneficial components, each contributing uniquely to its versatility in skincare:

  • Polysaccharides (60-64%) : These complex carbohydrates form a hydrating gel on the skin, enhancing moisture retention and creating a protective barrier against environmental irritants.
  • Proteins (10-18%) : Essential for repairing and maintaining the skin barrier, these proteins also help soothe inflamed skin.
  • Lipids (3-9%) : Including linoleic acid, oleic acid, and ceramides, these fats are crucial for reinforcing the skin’s natural barrier, improving hydration, and preventing moisture loss.
  • Avenanthramides : Exclusive to oats, these compounds are notable for their anti-inflammatory and anti-itch properties, significantly soothing irritated skin.
Benefits of colloidal oatmeal

Benefits of oatmeal in skin care

Colloidal oatmeal offers a plethora of benefits for the skin, thanks to its rich composition:

  • Moisturizing : It helps lock in moisture and reduce transepidermal water loss.
  • Soothing : Especially beneficial for dry, itchy, or inflamed skin, colloidal oatmeal can calm symptoms of eczema and psoriasis.
  • Protecting : Forms a protective barrier against harsh environmental conditions.
  • Anti-Inflammatory : The presence of avenanthramides helps reduce inflammation and redness associated with sensitive skin conditions.

Because of its versatility, oatmeal is very common in skin care products. Here are some more of the best colloidal oatmeal products:

Is Oatmeal Safe for Skin?

Colloidal oatmeal is recognized by the FDA as safe and effective for use as a skin protectant. It is gentle enough for all skin types, including sensitive skin, making it a versatile ingredient in various dermatological formulations.

Other organizations including the Environmental Working Group (EWG) designate this ingredient as totally safe for use and sustainable for skin care.

It is important to note that though this ingredient has many uses and no major side-effects, it is still not a cure-all for skin care. It is not a potent enough ingredient to be a full regimen on its own, and is best used in formulations designed with multiple ingredients working together. Simply applying colloidal oatmeal to the skin and doing nothing else will not make a significant difference in your skin health.

Oatmeal vs Colloidal Oatmeal

While both derived from the same plant, their uses and processing differ significantly:

  • Regular Oatmeal : Typically consumed as food, consisting of whole or rolled oats.
  • Colloidal Oatmeal : Finely ground and processed specifically for topical application, making it easier for the skin to absorb.
Colloidal oatmeal baths

Colloidal Oatmeal Baths for Hives and Rashes

Colloidal oatmeal baths are popular for their skin benefits, particularly in soothing itchy and inflamed skin. Usually, these baths come as simple colloidal oatmeal powder that is meant to be added to bathwater. The resulting bathwater is still mostly water - you aren't really taking a bath in thick, goopy oatmeal.

Really, an oatmeal bath is more like "oatmeal tea," where many of the compounds in the oats are seeping into the water (and then your skin).

Colloidal oatmeal baths work by creating a milky, protective layer on the skin, which helps to calm conditions like hives, rashes, and eczema. The baths are also effective in maintaining skin hydration and reducing the symptoms of dry skin conditions. After your oatmeal bath, it is advised to shower to remove lingering oats from your skin.

Colloidal Oatmeal Creams

Colloidal oatmeal creams are a great way to hydrate, soothe, and protect the skin. These creams are effective for treating dryness, reducing irritation, and soothing conditions like eczema and flaking or itchiness. Some oatmeal creams even have SPF, making them a great choice for daily sunscreens.

Here are some of the best colloidal oatmeal creams:

Which Skin Types Can Use Colloidal Oatmeal?

Colloidal oatmeal is gentle, non-comedogenic, non-greasy, pollution stopping natural ingredient that is very popular in skin care. Because of all those factors, this ingredient is safe for all Baumann Skin Types.

This doesn't mean that all products with colloidal oatmeal are right for you, but that the ingredient itself is generally safe for all skin types.

If you are looking for the perfect colloidal oatmeal product for your skin care regimen, knowing your Baumann Skin Type is still important. All products are made with multiple ingredients, and not all of them are right for everybody. That's where we come in - when you take our quiz, every product on the website that is right for your skin type will be marked with your skin type octagon.

Take the Baumann Skin Type Quiz by clicking the button below for free personalized recommendations and $5 in credit on our website!


Colloidal oatmeal is loaded with a rich composition including compounds like avenanthramides, lipids, and polysaccharides. These components make it a valuable ally against various skin concerns from dryness, to eczema, and psoriasis. While this ingredient is itself safe for all skin types, finding the right product is a different story. It is important to know your skin type when buying any skin care product!

By incorporating colloidal oatmeal into your skincare routine, and understanding your Baumann Skin Type, you can take control of your skin health and see scientifically proven results in just a few months.

Level up your skin care knowledge with medical advice from dermatologists

Are Oatmeal Baths Safe for Babies?

Oatmeal is a gentle skin care ingredient that is safe for use on babies. The only concern with colloidal oatmeal baths for babies is to make sure you attend to them closely, and keep the oatmeal away from their nostrils (so they don't accidentally inhale the thick liquid). If performed safely, an oatmeal bath can help babies with rashes, hives, allergies, and other sensitivities including eczema. If your baby is still too small to take a regular bath for fear of drowning, they're also probably too small for an oatmeal bath

Are oatmeal baths good for eczema?

Eczema treatments always include products to strengthen the skin barrier and lock moisture into the skin. Oatmeal is great at barrier repair because it contains multiple kinds of beneficial lipids for the skin barrier such as ceramides and linoleic fatty acid. An oatmeal bath can be a great addition to your eczema skin care routine.

Best References and Scientific Publications on Oatmeal in Skin Care

  1. Baumann L. Anti-inflammatory Agents in Ch. 38 of Baumann's Cosmetic Dermatology Ed 3. (McGraw Hill 2022)
  2. Sompayrac LM, Ross C. Colloidal oatmeal in atopic dermatitis of the young. J Fla Med Assoc. 1959;45(12):1411-2.
  3. Allais B, Friedman A. ARTICLE: Colloidal Oatmeal Part I: History, Basic Science, Mechanism of Action, and Clinical Efficacy in the Treatment of Atopic Dermatitis. J Drugs Dermatol. 2020;19(10):s4-s7.
  4. Grais ML. Role of colloidal oatmeal in dermatologic treatment of the aged. AMA Arch Derm Syphilol. 1953;68(4):402-7.
  5. US Food and Drug Administration. Title 21: Food and Drugs, Chapter 1: Food and Drug Administration Department of Health and Humans Services, Subchapter D: Drugs for human use, Part 347: Skin protectant drug products for over-the-counter human use. US Dept of Health and Human Services, FDA;21 CFR347. April 1, 2007.
  6. Smith GC. The treatment of various dermatoses associated with dry skin. J S C Med Assoc. 1958;54(8):282-3.
  7. Dick LA. Colloidal emollient baths in pediatric dermatoses. Skin (Los Angeles). 1962;1:89-91.
  8. Allais B, Friedman A. ARTICLE: Colloidal Oatmeal Part II: Atopic Dermatitis in Special Populations and Clinical Efficacy and Tolerance Beyond Eczema. J Drugs Dermatol. 2020;19(10):s8-s11.
  9. Vié K, Cours-Darne S, Vienne MP, Boyer F, Fabre B, Dupuy P. Modulating effects of oatmeal extracts in the sodium lauryl sulfate skin irritancy model. Skin Pharmacol Appl Skin Physiol. 2002;15(2):120-4.
  10. Matheson JD, Clayton J, Muller MJ. The reduction of itch during burn wound healing. J Burn Care Rehabil. 2001;22(1):76-81.
  11. Boisnic S, Branchet-Gumila MC, Coutanceau C. Inhibitory effect of oatmeal extract oligomer on vasoactive intestinal peptide-induced inflammation in surviving human skin. Int J Tissue React. 2003;25(2):41-6.
  12. Ilnytska O, Kaur S, Chon S, Reynertson KA, Nebus J, Garay M, et al. Colloidal Oatmeal (Avena Sativa) Improves Skin Barrier Through Multi-Therapy Activity. J Drugs Dermatol. 2016;15(6):684-90.
  13. Reynertson KA, Garay M, Nebus J, Chon S, Kaur S, Mahmood K, et al. Anti-inflammatory activities of colloidal oatmeal (Avena sativa) contribute to the effectiveness of oats in treatment of itch associated with dry, irritated skin. J Drugs Dermatol. 2015;14(1):43-8.
  14. Mehrpooya M. The Efficacy of Colloidal Oatmeal Cream 1% as Add-on Therapy in the Management of Chronic Irritant Hand Eczema: A Double-Blind Study. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2020;13:241-251.
  15. Lisante TA, Nunez C, Zhang P, Mathes BM. A 1% Colloidal Oatmeal Cream Alone is Effective in Reducing Symptoms of Mild to Moderate Atopic Dermatitis: Results from Two Clinical Studies. J Drugs Dermatol. 2017;16(7):671-676.