Oatmeal: A Skin Solution from the Inside Out

A classic ‘heart-healthy’ food can also benefit the skin

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Anna Pleet
Edited By:
Dermveda Content Team ,

Oatmeal: a staple breakfast cereal that satisfies people of all ages. This simple food is known as ‘heart-healthy’ for its studied role in lowering risk factors for cardiovascular disease.[1] Let's look at how oatmeal can also benefit the skin.


Role in the Skin

Oat, otherwise known as Avena sativa, contains anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that make it effective for a variety of skin conditions.[2] Oatmeal is used topically, either alone or incorporated into skin cosmetic formulas. These products and lotions are often known for oat’s moisturizing and anti-itch properties. Oats may also provide skin protection against ultraviolet radiation.[2]

Many skin conditions in which the skin’s barrier function is damaged have been shown to benefit from topically applying oat.[3,4] Researchers sought to understand the mechanisms behind the improved skin barrier strength. In one study, colloidal oatmeal extracts were found to alter gene expression in the skin cells to improve its function as a barrier. This included changes in the genes for epidermal differentiation, tight junctions, skin lipid regulation, and pH buffering capacity of the skin.[3] Two different studies of healthy female subjects with bilateral, severely dry skin on the lower legs showed significant improvements in skin dryness and barrier integrity after treatment with colloidal oatmeal skin lotion.[3,4] 

While generally shown to be beneficial in decreasing inflammation of the skin, specific conditions have been studied for treatment with oats and oat products. Below, we discuss some of the most common skin conditions that have been studied. 



Skin Dryness

Otherwise known as xerosis, skin dryness is a common skin complaint, especially in colder seasons and certain climates. Researchers have looked at whether skin emollient (moisturizing) creams containing active colloidal oatmeal affect the skin differently than moisturizers that do not contain oatmeal.[5] The results of this clinical trial showed that skin moisturizers containing colloidal oatmeal showed significant improvements in skin dryness compared to controls.[5]

Eczema/Atopic Dermatitis

One review article collected results of many different research studies and concluded that colloidal oatmeal can be used as a treatment for atopic dermatitis, or eczema.[6] The authors of the review determined that the daily use of colloidal oatmeal-containing skincare products significantly improved various markers of atopic dermatitis-like itch, dryness, severity, and quality of life in patients of all ages.[6] In another study, researchers used a cream that had an extract from the leaves and stems of oat plants (known as oat plantlet extract) that they tested in children with moderate atopic dermatitis. They found that there was significant improvement after a 3-month trial of twice-daily topical application of the sterile oat-based emollient cream.[7]  The researchers found that the oat based cream improved the overall skin rash, decreased the number of flares of the skin rash, and decreased the need to use topical steroids. 

Skin Cancer

Oats contain a fiber called beta-glucan, which is being studied for its anti-cancer properties. In one study, researchers found that low molecular weight beta-glucan from oat induced antitumor activity when exposed to cancer cells in the laboratory but did not affect normal cells.[8] Another study that assessed beta-glucan’s role in human melanoma cancer cells in the laboratory found that oat extracts caused the cancer cells to die and eventually induced apoptosis.[9] This preliminary study begins to explore the apoptotic mechanisms of oat beta-glucan and provides perspectives of oat beta-glucan as a targeted anti-tumor agent. However, it is important to recall that showing positive effects in a petri dish is exciting but far from proving effectiveness in real humans. Oats should not be used to treat melanomas and more studies are needed. 


Oatmeal Skin Products

Researchers have tested products containing colloidal oatmeal to see how much they can irritate and the potential to cause allergic reactions in the skin.[10] In a study of repeat skin patch testing in 2291 subjects, researchers found that skin creams, cleansers, and lotions containing oatmeal had very low irritant potential and a very low allergenic sensitization potential.[10] The authors of this study concluded that colloidal oatmeal is a safe skin care product ingredient.[10]



Oat and oat-containing products induce anti-inflammatory effects on the skin. This points to oatmeal and its extracts being useful treatments in various skin conditions, such as dryness, eczema, and possibly even cancer (no human studies have been done for skin cancer). From the kitchen cupboard to the bathroom cabinet, the use of this natural product leaves the skin moisturized, strong, and healthy. How’s that for food as medicine?


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  1. Helnæs A, Kyrø C, Andersen I, et al. Intake of whole grains is associated with lower risk of myocardial infarction: the Danish Diet, Cancer and Health Cohort. Am J Clin Nutr.2016;103(4):999-1007; PMID: 26888710.
  2. Pazyar N, Yaghoobi R, Kazerouni A, et al. Oatmeal in dermatology: a brief review. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol.2012;78(2):142-145; PMID: 22421643.
  3. Ilnytska O, Kaur S, Chon S, et al. Colloidal Oatmeal (Avena Sativa) Improves Skin Barrier Through Multi-Therapy Activity. J Drugs Dermatol.2016;15(6):684-690; PMID: 27272074.
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  6. Fowler JF, Nebus J, Wallo W, et al. Colloidal oatmeal formulations as adjunct treatments in atopic dermatitis. J Drugs Dermatol.2012;11(7):804-807; PMID: 22777219.
  7. Mengeaud V, Phulpin C, Bacquey A, et al. An innovative oat-based sterile emollient cream in the maintenance therapy of childhood atopic dermatitis. Pediatr Dermatol.2015;32(2):208-215; PMID: 25529232.
  8. Choromanska A, Kulbacka J, Rembialkowska N, et al. Anticancer properties of low molecular weight oat beta-glucan – An in vitro study. Int J Biol Macromol.2015;80:23-28; PMID: 26092171.
  9. Parzonko A, Makarewicz-Wujec M, Jaszewska E, et al. Pro-apoptotic properties of (1,3)(1,4)-β-D-glucan from Avena sativa on human melanoma HTB-140 cells in vitro. Int J Biol Macromol.2015;72:757-763; PMID: 25285849.
  10. Criquet M, Roure R, Dayan L, et al. Safety and efficacy of personal care products containing colloidal oatmeal. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol.2012;5:183-193; PMID: 23204849.