Oats have been used to treat skin disorders as far back as 2000 B.C. and the earliest evidence of oat grains were found in Egypt. In Roman medical literature, texts by Pliny and others mention the use of oatmeal flour as treatment for a variety of pruritive (itchy) skin care conditions but it wasn’t until 1945 that over-the-counter colloidal oatmeal was made available.
Scientific studies into the skin benefits of topically applied colloidal oatmeal in the 1950s reported a significant cosmetic improvement as assessed by the subjects, who said that their skin became ‘softer’ and ‘silkier.’ Widening popularity meant that many new products containing colloidal oatmeal were launched, and by the 1970s several bath preparations containing oat were commercially distributed.
In 2003 colloidal oatmeal was recognised as a skin protectant by FDA under the title “Skin protectant drug products for over-the-counter human use." The monograph defines a skin protectant as a "drug product that temporarily protects injured or exposed skin or mucous membrane surfaces from harmful or annoying stimuli, and may help provide relief to such surfaces."
Colloidal oatmeal, (Avena sativa L.) is the extremely fine powder obtained from grinding and processing whole oat grains. As a result of the small particle size and the dispersion in water, the fine particles deposit onto skin and form an occlusive barrier, important for protection from external irritants and for sustained therapeutic efficacy. When added to bathwater or skin care products, colloidal oatmeal is known to smooth and comfort itchy, scratchy, and dry skin. Colloidal oatmeal has also been shown to help restore the normal pH of the skin.
Oat differs from other cereals in its chemical and structural make-up, including its high level of total proteins, beta-glucans (moisturisers and immuno stimulants), lipids, unsaturated fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins (namely vitamin E), minerals and avenanthramides (anti-irritants). Oats also contain flavonoids with strong absorption of UVA in the 320 to 370 nm range, and avenacins, which have a soap-like action. Oat protein is a proven film former, and its enhanced capacity for water uptake and the ability to absorb larger quantities of oil, gives a silky soft texture and makes it an effective base for creams.
The skin care benefits of oats have been substantiated in several investigations. An investigation conducted in vivo studied the anti-inflammatory effect of oatmeal, using the Sodium Laurel Sulfate irritation model, and demonstrated a preventive effect of colloidal oatmeal on SLS-irritated skin.
In a separate study with 139 patients suffering from various pruritic skin conditions, colloidal oatmeal was used as a bath and regular cleanser for 3 months. Complete or marked itch relief was experienced by over 71% of the group. Another investigation involving 152 pediatric patients, mostly presenting with atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, fungous infections, or seborrheic dermatitis concluded that baths with colloidal oatmeal in an oil form were excellent adjuncts to therapy, with soothing and cleansing properties and lack of irritation.
Because of its long history of safe use and its many skin care benefits, colloidal oatmeal is widely used as a complimentary therapy in many skin conditions such as:
• Insect bites
• Chicken pox
• Other minor skin conditions
Colloidal oatmeal is different to regular oatmeal or breakfast oats, and should not be eaten.