Can oatmeal help sensitive skin? | Oatmeal in skincare

Oats has long been praised for its calming effects on skin — making it a great active for sensitive skin types. That’s because it is an effective natural ingredient with minimal side effects. Colloidal oatmeal is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration as a skin protectant drug. One of its approved labelings is that it can “temporarily protect and help relieve minor skin irritation and itching due to eczema”.

What is colloidal oatmeal?

The type of oatmeal used in skincare is called “colloidal”. This term means that the oats are processed in such a way that enables them to form a natural “hydrocolloid”: an occlusive gel-like film on the top layer of the skin. To produce colloidal oatmeal, the grain grain is finely milled, so that the final particles are between 1 and 1000 nanometers in diameter – far smaller than what you can achieve with a kitchen blender. Because the particles are so small, they nicely disperse in water. Before the oats get milled, the top thick hull of the grain is removed, but otherwise colloidal oatmeal is made from the whole grain.

While the FDA recognizes colloidal oatmeal for its ability to soothe eczema, other forms of oat derivatives, including different oatmeal extracts, can be helpful for supporting skin barrier and calming down inflammation.

Why are oats good for skin?

Colloidal oatmeal pretty much works as a well-rounded moisturizer. Its colloidal properties allow it to form a protective layer on the skin that contain emollients such as linoleic acid, water-binding molecules like glucans, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds.

The oatmeal super power is in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds called avenanthramides. They are not found in other types of grain, but oats contain over 40 different types of those. These compounds are present in almost all kinds of oat extracts, especially those made from the grain. Both laboratory tests and studies with human volunteers show that avenanthramides can aid in fighting inflammation, skin itchiness and even photodamage. In theory, this property of avenanthramides can make them helpful in reducing skin inflammation in acne, but there are no high quality studies investigating this yet. The synthetic analogue of avenanthramides is even the foundation of a pharmaceutical antihistamine oral drug used in Japan and South Korea for treating asthma, atopic dermatitis and other allergic disorders.

Irritant or allergic reactions to oatmeal are very rare, but they are still possible. For most people with sensitive skin, colloidal oatmeal is a great ingredient that can help reduce sensitivity and strengthen the skin barrier. Still, it is important to watch your skin reaction closely and stop the product if you are getting signs of irritation.

What evidence is there that oats work for skin?

The dermatology community is positive that colloidal oatmeal is a helpful ingredient for to calming down inflammation in skin, as well as lending support to the skin barrier. This natural ingredient has been validated by the US FDA for use in medical dermatology. It is also used in pediatric dermatology.

Below are a few examples of clinical studies with human volunteers.

A controlled double-blind clinical study with 50 volunteers suffering from hand eczema was conducted to assess the efficacy of 1% colloidal oatmeal lotion in strengthening skin barrier and relieving the symptoms of eczema. For the first two weeks, all participants used a steroid cream. After that, one half of them continued using a placebo moisturizer while the other half switched to the 1% colloidal oatmeal lotion. After 4 weeks of 4x daily application, it was established that those who used the 1% colloidal oatmeal lotion achieved significantly better improvement than those using the placebo moisturizer.

A clinical study was run with 29 female volunteers with mild to moderate itch and dry skin on their lower legs. The study showed that twice daily application of a moisturizing lotion with colloidal oatmeal (Aveeno Skin Relief Moisturizing Lotion) for two weeks can improve the skin barrier and relief skin dryness, itchiness and cracking. Unfortunately, the study was not controlled - it didn’t compare the outcomes with using a moisturizing product without oatmeal.

A similar clinical study with 50 female volunteers with dry itchy skin on lower legs. The lotion used in the study is not specified, but most likely it is the same Aveeno Skin Relief Moisturizing Lotion. The lotion was effective in relieving the dry skin and strengthening the skin barrier after 3 weeks of twice-daily use. What is encouraging is that the improvement in skin barrier was maintained after 2 weeks of not using the product. Unfortunately, again, this study did not include a comparison to a moisturizer without oatmeal.

Recommended skincare products with oats

Great products with oatmeal extracts

First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Wild Oat Soothing Toner
Price: $20
US, Canada, Australia
Key ingredients
  • Colloidal oatmeal - 0.5-1%
  • Glycerin 4-6%
What we like about it:

This toner can be a good addition to a barrier-support routine. Use before a moisturizer or sunscreen.

Purito Oat-in Intense Cream
Price: $19.86
US, Canada, Australia, UK, EU and worldwide
Key ingredients
  • Oatmeal extracts - combined concentration over 5%
What we like about it:

A great colloidal oatmeal formulation for sensitive skin with minimal other ingredients

Aveeno Sensitive Skin Relief Moisturizing Lotion
Price: $9.64
US, Canada, UK, EU, Australia and worldwide
Key ingredients
  • Oatmeal extracts - about 2% combined
What we like about it:

The formulation that has been tested in a few publicly available clinical studies with good results for dry, sensitive skin

Aveeno Calm + Restore Triple Oat Serum
Price: $15.75
US, Canada, Australia, UK, EU and worldwide
Key ingredients
  • Glycerin - 4-5%
  • Colloidal oatmeal - about 1%
What we like about it:

An excellent serum for supporting skin barrier for sensitive skin


  • Efficacy and safety of an over-the-counter 1% colloidal oatmeal cream in the management of mild to moderate atopic dermatitis in children: a double-blind, randomized, active-controlled study

  • The Efficacy of Colloidal Oatmeal Cream 1% asAdd-on Therapy in the Management of ChronicIrritant Hand Eczema: A Double-Blind Study

  • Colloidal Oatmeal (Avena Sativa) Improves Skin Barrier Through Multi-Therapy Activity

  • Anti-Inflammatory Activities of Colloidal Oatmeal (Avena sativa) Contribute to the Effectiveness of Oats in Treatment of Itch Associated With Dry, Irritated Skin

  • Biological Activities, Health Benefits, and Therapeutic Properties of Avenanthramides: From Skin Protection to Prevention and Treatment of Cerebrovascular Diseases

  • Mechanism of action and clinical benefits of colloidal oatmeal for dermatologic practice.

  • Oatmeal in dermatology: A brief review

  • Tranilast: A review of its therapeutic applications