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Oats – it doesn’t get less sexy than that. Oats are the basic breakfast you eat when eating healthy is what you want to focus on and the only way to make it a little less boring is to add a ton of fruits.
And here I am, ready to tell you about why oats not only belong in your breakfast bowl, but also in your skincare, especially if you suffer from an impaired skin barrier.
Well, not your kitchen cupboard oats obviously, you eat them and don’t smear them all over your face.
What is colloidal oatmeal?
Colloidal Oatmeal is basically the extremely fine milled dehulled grain. To be used in skincare, it has to be processed in a special way so you get a product with defined particle size.
It has been used since 1945 and is manufactured by firstly grinding the grain and then boiling the fine granules to extract the colloidal material – a colloid is basically a substance microscopically dispersed evenly throughout another substance.
Sorry to break it to you, but no matter what Pinterest says, you will not be able to achieve that in your kitchen.
What does colloidal oatmeal do for the skin
Oats are rich in minerals like copper, manganese and iron as well as B-Vitamins and beta-glucan, which is a soluble fibre that acts as probiotic in the gut. (I talk more about the effects of probiotics in this blogpost)
They are also rich in Omega 3 fatty acid, Omega 6 fatty acid and linoleic acid, all of which are beneficial not only in nutrition, but also for the skin and contain antioxidants like Ferulic Acids.
If you consider all the goodness oats contain, it comes as no surprise that colloidal oatmeal is nourishing for the skin.
If we look at the beta-glucan in particular though, which is responsible for the colloid film formed when dispensed in liquid, it helps understand why colloidal oatmeal has a long track record of being used in conditions that come with an impaired skin barrier function like atopic dermatitis. Similar to hydrocolloid patches that increase wound healing by creating a moist environment (I talk more about that in my post on the different kinds of acne patches here), the film formed reduces TransEpidermal Water Loss (TEWL) while at the same time preventing irritants from penetrating the skin. To support that, the Avenanthramides (polyphenolic compounds) inhibit proinflammatory mediators .
Other phenolic esters, the so called Avenacins, are also present in oats and structurally belong to the saponins, meaning they have soap-like or cleansing action while being gentle and, as oats make a great buffer, skin pH friendly.
The probiotic effect of beta-glucan seems to be present in the skin as well as using a moisturizer with colloidal oatmeal increased microbial diversity in atopic dermatitis lesions .
Skin conditions that benefit from colloidal oatmeal
Any skin condition with impaired barrier function, increased TEWL and an irritation component can benefit from this ingredient, and in fact it has been approved by the FDA as an Over-the-counter drug for the treatment of atopic dermatitis and eczema in 2003. (read more here about the role inflammation has in the skin)
It is often used as bath addition for children that suffer from these conditions or in moisturizers used for prevention and during flare-ups to reduce the need of corticosteroids.
Other conditions it might be useful in is very dry skin, for example on the legs during the colder months (there even is a medical term for that, winter xerosis), and acne, due to its probiotic and antiinflammatory component and the lipids it contains.
Do you need colloidal oatmeal in your skincare routine?
As it is often the case with skincare ingredients, most studies have been done on people with a pre-existing skin condition, in this case mostly atopic dermatitis or other xerotic (meaning extremely dry/ cracked) or pruritic (meaning itchy) skin conditions. You can’t just take these findings and transfer them to perfectly healthy people, but … well, I don’t know about you, but I have wrecked my skin barrier numerous times throughout these last years, so if I find an ingredient that will help heal and prevent further problems or, if there are no problems, will just nourish and soothe my skin, I am here for it.
As colloidal oatmeal is often used in conditions linked to allergies it could be established that its own irritating potential is very low, although anyone can of course react to anything.
Can I get the same benefits from a DIY oats face mask?
If you are lucky, you will get some of the soothing and film-forming benefits, but to get the full potential you need the processed version. And quite frankly, colloidal oatmeal is not a very expensive ingredient, so I personally would not risk having to clean porridge drippings from my chest for the sake of DIY face masks. What might work is if you take a colloidal oatmeal bath and soak a sheet mask in it.
If you shop for products, the concentration of colloidal oatmeal usually recommended is between 1 and 2%.
My favorite products with colloidal oatmeal
If you have been around here for a while, it won’t surprise you to see The Inkey List Oat Cleansing Balm (read my full review here) mentioned. It has been a favorite of mine for years now and does everything I would expect from an oatmeal product: It feels nourishing, is soothing before my Tretinoin, yet still cleanses my face efficiently. Some people have mentioned their dislike for the slightly grainy texture, but for me the pros outweigh the cons by far.
Another brand that is known for colloidal oatmeal products is Aveeno. They started with baby products, but right now offer a lot of different options for all age groups at a low price point. I only used their baby products with my children, so if you have tried anything from their grown-up line, feel free to share your experiences..