Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune condition that affects the skin, scalp, nails, and sometimes, the joints (called psoriatic arthritis). The condition causes skin cells to grow excessively, adding patches of silvery, itchy skin on top of healthy skin. These patches can sometimes crack and bleed. Symptoms come and go, triggered by a variety of factors including stress, alcohol use, and more. Patch size and location can change with each outbreak, and vary from person to person.
Psoriasis is caused by the immune system attacking itself. Common causes of flare-ups include:
- drinking too much alcohol (over one drink per day for women, and two for men)
- skin irritants, like sunburn or a poison ivy rash
- infections that weaken the immune system
Psoriasis runs in families, and can be worse in smokers and people who are overweight. People who suffer from it can become depressed over the condition of their skin and how hard it is to treat. That can affect their daily function and quality of life.
Although a number of treatments and therapies can lessen symptoms, there is no cure for psoriasis. Some prescription medicines change the immune system’s response, while others reduce inflammation and slow skin cell growth. Moisturizing the skin can reduce discomfort. Medicines that you can apply directly to the skin patches include salicylic acid, which removes skin layers, and corticosteroids, to aid healing. Ultraviolet light therapy and vitamin D are also used by some people to help with symptoms.
Unfortunately, while these can and often do help with symptoms, what works for one flare-up may not necessarily work for another.
Where Oatmeal Comes In
Oatmeal has long been known to soothe irritated skin — not when you eat it, but when you apply it to the skin. There are many over-the-counter oatmeal bath mixes, lotions, and soaps, but you don’t need anything but plain ground oats and a bathtub to get the helpful effects!
The first thing you need to know is you’ll want to use colloidal oatmeal. What’s that? It’s just very finely ground oatmeal that dissolves in hot water. You can buy it, but you can also make it yourself, and it won’t clog up your drain.
To make your own colloidal oatmeal: Grind whole oats in a blender or any kind of food processor until the texture is just a little grittier than regular flour. To see if you’ve ground it fine enough, mix a tablespoon in hot water. It should blend and stay suspended, with very little settling in the bottom.
Oatmeal has been scientifically proven to reduce skin swelling and itching. It contains fats that are healthy for your skin, including omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Preparing Your Bath
Oatmeal is very gentle on the skin, and has no known history of skin allergy. To reduce the possibility of any irritants, consider using organically grown oats for your bath. Definitely do not use instant oatmeal.
If you’re using home ground oatmeal to make your bath, experiment with how much is right for the water volume of your tub (the only downside of using too much is that you’re wasting oats).
It’s best to start with 1/2 cup (4 ounces) and work up to as much 1 1/2 cups (12 ounces).
Infuse with Lavender
An oatmeal bath should make your psoriasis (or just about any skin discomfort) feel better, but it is kind of slimy. To counteract that effect, add some sweet-smelling lavender essential oil.
Lavender has a long traditional use calming skin conditions including psoriasis. It also reduces blood pressure and heart rate, which can lower stress, a common psoriasis trigger. Add a few drops of lavender essential oil as you run your bath. There’s really no right amount, just add a drop or two at a time. Don’t apply essential oils directly to your skin.
After Your Bath
Use extra caution getting in and out of the tub, as oatmeal can make the surface slippery. Pat your skin gently with a towel when you get out, and avoid harsh rubbing as you dry.
Other Oatmeal Options
You don’t have to get in a bath full of oatmeal to help your skin. In fact, you don’t even have to grind the oats. Make an oatmeal solution you can apply to bandages for your skin, or dab on with a cloth or cotton ball.
To do this, make oatmeal on your stovetop just as you would for breakfast, but doubling the amount of water in the directions. When the oatmeal has been cooked for the proper length of time, strain the oats off and save the liquid. When it cools, apply it to bandages to soak the skin.