3 Ways to Create a Soothing Bath for Your Flaky, Itchy Skin

Forget scented bubbles and luxuriating for an hour in piping-hot water. If you have psoriasis, bathtime is a different story. In fact, the typical advice is to not to take regular baths. “I would shower—once a day—instead of bathing,” says board-certified dermatologist and American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) spokesperson Debra Jaliman, M.D., since overdoing baths could be drying to the skin. Still, Jaliman says baths with the right ingredients are okay to do occasionally—say, once or twice a week—and can even help relieve your dry, flaky, irritated skin by boosting hydration and reducing inflammation. Here are three types of baths to try to help ease those pesky psoriasis symptoms.

Dead Sea Salts Bath

Many people who’ve been able to soak in the Dead Sea, a salt lake between Jordan and Israel located 1,200 feet below sea level, claim their psoriasis symptoms benefited from its well-known therapeutic effects. The Dead Sea is 10 times as salty as the ocean and contains various minerals proven to improve skin health, including potassium, which helps with hydration, and powerful anti-inflammatory agents such as iodine, magnesium, zinc, and bromine.

In a 2005 study published in the International Journal of Dermatology, people with atopic dry skin submerged their arms in water containing five-percent Dead Sea salt for 15 minutes, periodically. After a six-week period, they reported improved skin hydration and reduced skin redness and inflammation.

Luckily, you don’t have to go to the Dead Sea to experience its positive skin effects. “A bath with Dead Sea salts can boost hydration to the skin, which helps with the redness and itch associated with psoriasis,” Jaliman says. “It can also help calm inflammation.”

You can buy Dead Sea salts from your local drugstore or health-food store, or pick them up online. Preparing the bath is simple: Dissolve around two pounds of the salts into a warm (not hot) bath and relax in the water for up to 20 minutes. After your bath, rinse your skin with fresh water to remove any residue.

Colloidal Oatmeal Bath

For centuries, people have used colloidal oatmeal—finely milled oatmeal, not the whole oats you eat for breakfast—to treat the symptoms of psoriasis and other dry or itchy skin conditions. “A colloidal oatmeal bath helps to reduce inflammation and soothe irritated skin,” Jaliman says. It binds to your skin, forming a protective barrier, and helps to lock in moisture.

According to a 2010 article published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, topical formulations of natural colloidal oatmeal should be considered an important part of therapy for psoriasis and other conditions, and may allow for reduced use of medications such as corticosteroids and calcineurin inhibitors.

There are a couple of ways to create a colloidal oatmeal bath. You can make your own by grinding uncooked, whole oats in a blender or food processor until you have a fine powder. Sprinkle one cup of the powder under running lukewarm water as you fill the bathtub and soak for around 15 minutes. You can also buy colloidal oatmeal products over-the-counter at the drugstore or online.

Coal Tar Bath

Dermatologists have been prescribing coal tar to people with psoriasis for more than 100 years, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Coal tar shampoo is a common treatment for scalp psoriasis, but products containing coal tar can also be added to bath water for whole-body relief. “Coal tar helps control the itching, scaling, inflammation and redness associated with psoriasis,” Jaliman says. She recommends Cutar Emulsion Coal Tar Solution, which contains 1.5-percent coal tar.

Note that the amount of coal tar a product contains isn’t always a measure of how effective it will be for psoriasis symptoms. In a 2004 study published in the Journal of Dermatological Treatment, patients using a lotion containing 1-percent coal tar experienced greater relief from their symptoms than patients using a lotion containing 5-percent coal tar. So, it’s best to ask your dermatologist, who knows your skin and your medical history, for a specific coal-tar product and dosage recommendation.

Also, the American Academy of Dermatology warns that some people should avoid coal tar, such as pregnant or nursing women or people who are sensitive to the sun or UV light for various reasons (including the medication they’re taking). If you’re not sure if that’s you, check with your dermatologist or primary care provider.

To create a coal-tar bath, simply pour six to 10 capfuls of the product into the bathtub and mix it well with lukewarm water; then, soak for up to 20 minutes.

Whatever type of bath you choose to treat your skin with, Jaliman has a few general bathing tips to keep discomfort to a minimum:

  • Use gentle, hydrating cleansers. “Avoid soap bars which typically have harsh ingredients and can dry your skin,” she says.
  • After your bath, gently pat your skin dry with a soft towel—don’t rub!
  • When your skin is almost dry, apply a moisture-rich cream all over your body. “This seals the skin to help stop water from escaping,” Jaliman says. “Steer clear of lightweight lotions—they don’t contain enough emollient for skin with psoriasis.”

Remember, stress is a common trigger for psoriasis. So, while you’re in your bath, try to relax. Read a favorite book, listen to music, or close your eyes and practice some deep breathing. Every little bit helps.

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