Does bleach cure eczema?

Q: My baby boy has a bad case of eczema. My pediatrician recommended a gentle bleach bath! Is this actually a thing?

A: Eczema is a common, chronic skin condition in which skin is red, itchy and often irritated. For babies, eczema is often on the face with some scattered spots on the rest of the body. As kids get older, patches of eczema are more often found at the creases behind the knees, in the crooks of the arms and at the wrists. 

The best treatments for eczema are 1) not scratching it 2) removing anything that comes into contact with the skin and irritates it (such as scented lotions) and 3) frequently moisturizing with hypoallergenic creams. Skin that’s very irritated may need a prescription steroid cream to calm the redness and inflammation. 

When itchy skin is scratched often, the skin’s natural barrier may be disrupted and an infection of the deeper tissue may occur from the normal bacteria found on the surface of skin. Bathing with bleach may help kill some of this bacteria and reduce or prevent infection of the eczematous skin. 

When skin is deeply infected, topical antibacterial creams or oral antibiotics may be needed. 

So though bleach bathing doesn’t fix eczema, it may reduce or prevent infections which can worsen eczema. 

A gentle bleach bath is made with ¼ cup of non-concentrated, regular bleach in one full bathtub of warm (not hot) water. Allow children to soak in the tub for 10 to 15 minutes, then rinse the skin to remove any residual bleach water, pat dry and immediately moisturize the skin with a thick cream. Although adding bleach may sound somewhat scary, a gentle bleach bath is similar to a chlorinated pool. 

Mosquito bite

Q: My 2-year-old is having terrible reactions to mosquito bites! What can we use to soothe the itching/pain?

A: Toddlers often develop large skin reactions to mosquito bites. The saliva introduced by mosquitoes during the bite is a foreign substance that can stimulate a localized immune response. The results are telltale lesions, which can be warm, raised, swollen and red (occasionally pale/fluid-filled) and sometimes inches in diameter. 

Of course, the best strategy is prevention. Long-sleeved clothing, use of DEET repellents, avoiding scents/perfume and limiting outdoor activities at dusk and dawn can all help prevent mosquito bites. 

If you aren’t able to avoid the bites, over-the-counter medications that reduce inflammation include 1) topical anti-inflammatory products such as calamine lotions 2) steroid creams such as hydrocortisone or 3) oral anti-histamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl). 

Cold-water compresses also can decrease inflammation, while homemade pastes, such as baking soda combined with water, oatmeal and water or even plain old white toothpaste can decrease itching when applied to a bite. 

Some natural substances have anti-itch properties: Honey, aloe vera (direct from the plant or over-the-counter) or even basil leaves (chopped or infused into water) can decrease itching when applied topically as a treatment for mosquito bites. 

If significant swelling is noted, however, or if swelling and redness are increasing with each passing day, I recommend you pay a visit to the doctor or pediatrician. 

Dr. Gigi Chawla is a board-certified pediatrician and the chief of general pediatrics at Children’s Minnesota.