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What is colloidal oatmeal & why is it in shampoo?

Written by Ross Goodhart

Oatmeal has a wholesome reputation when it comes to breakfast. But did you know it can help soothe your skin along with your morning munchies? 

Colloidal oatmeal is made by processing oats into a fine powder that can be mixed into water for a calming bath - or added to cleansing products like lotions, soaps, shampoos, and conditioners. It’s long been used in home remedies and commercial treatments for all kinds of skin irritants, from poison ivy rashes to bug bites to eczema. It’s also a popular bath treatment for babies because of its gentle, nourishing effects on infants’ delicate skin. 

Used in the right way, colloidal oatmeal can even help address the symptoms associated with dandruff. In this article, we’ll explain what makes colloidal oatmeal such a fantastic skin care ingredient and the best way to harness its benefits for the soothing scalp care you need.

But before we dive into the many benefits of oatmeal for your skin and scalp, a quick word on dandruff and what causes it.

What’s up with my itchy, flaking scalp? 

Dandruff can be a really frustrating condition, with its relentless itching and pesky white flakes. And though dandruff can’t be cured, it can be easily treated. Here’s how it works:

Dandruff’s causes

The little white skin flakes and chronic itching of dandruff are caused by your scalp becoming irritated.

What’s behind this irritation? That’s a surprisingly tricky question. There are actually many underlying factors that can play a role, by themselves or in combination with each other. Hormonal fluctuations at certain stages of life are known to make scalp irritation more likely. Cold and dry weather, air pollution, and allergens can also play a role, along with stress levels and diet. 

Scalp irritation and flaking can also involve certain underlying skin conditions and immune health issues, including psoriasis, dermatitis, eczema, and more. Genetics seem to be involved, too - sensitive skin may make some family trees more prone to dandruff than others. 

But whatever factors are leaving your scalp itchy and flaking, the key to managing dandruff is soothing that irritated scalp. And that’s where colloidal oatmeal might play a starring role.

Colloidal oatmeal is a natural skin soother

An oatmeal bath made with colloidal oatmeal powder is a time-tested way for parents to soothe a baby’s sensitive skin - a testament to both the gentleness and effectiveness of this natural ingredient. 

But if you’re wondering how colloidal oatmeal can help your scalp, consider some of these helpful properties:

Anti-inflammatory & anti-itch effects

Avena sativa - the oat plant - contains compounds known for its anti-inflammatory activity in the body and on the skin. These compounds include phenols and Vitamin E. Phenols are antioxidants, which can help the skin repair and heal itself. 

Oats are a uniquely potent source of a special type of phenolic compound called Avenanthramides. Clinical research shows that these compounds have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and can relieve itchy skin. They’re also behind oatmeal’s benefits for cardiovascular health, by reducing plaque buildup in the arteries. They may help reduce the risk of cancer, too. 

Skin protectant

Colloidal oatmeal is known to be an effective emollient, meaning it forms a protective barrier on the skin’s surface. When skin is damaged - as it is in conditions like dandruff - the natural protection normally provided by the outer layer of skin against the environment is weakened. This damage to the skin barrier can lead to irritation, increased risk of infection, and ultimately further damage. 

Colloidal oatmeal can help stop this harmful process by forming a protective layer on the skin’s surface, promoting healing.

Boosting hydration

Natural colloidal oatmeal helps keep skin moisturized. Its emollient properties help prevent transepidermal water loss - the loss of moisture through the skin’s surface when its outer layer is damaged. Oats also contain a lot of starch and naturally occurring plant sugars called beta glucans that are both known for soaking up moisture. A protective layer of colloidal oatmeal from bath soaks, lotion, soap, or scalp care products will help hold water against the skin.

Dry skin is often itchy and irritated, so boosting moisture content is a great way to soothe discomfort and promote healing.

Softening rough skin

Oatmeal’s emollient properties also help smooth scaly, rough skin. This helps create a softer, more supple surface. Many of the underlying skin conditions that cause scalp irritation and flaking such as psoriasis and eczema lead to scaly patches of skin, so using an emollient to soften the skin may calm affected areas. 

Natural, gentle cleansing

Oats are a rich source of saponins, natural plant compounds that make great cleansers because of the foam they generate. Colloidal oatmeal powder can also gently exfoliate the skin, aiding in removal of dead skin cells and sebum (natural oil) buildup on the scalp that often creates flakes. 

Fungus-fighting powers

Certain saponins in oatmeal called avenacins have antimicrobial properties. People with dandruff tend to have an imbalance in the microbiome of their scalp - specifically, too much of a fungus called Malassezia. The avenacins in oatmeal are known to fight fungal growth, which can help bring balance and health to the scalp’s natural microbiome.

Avena sativa - the oat plant - contains compounds known for its anti-inflammatory activity in the body and on the skin.

How to get the most out of colloidal oatmeal for scalp care

As you can see, colloidal oatmeal is a natural skin care workhorse. It can soothe skin irritation, reduce inflammation, gently cleanse, boost moisture, and address fungal growth - all obviously useful for someone fighting dandruff and healing a damaged scalp. 

So should you rush to the pantry for a scoop of rolled oats to help solve your dandruff woes? Is a DIY colloidal oatmeal bath or a homemade oat shampoo concoction the best approach? 

While oatmeal’s reputation for gentleness means home experimentation with this ingredient is unlikely to cause harm (unless you have an oat allergy), it also will not treat your dandruff effectively. That’s for a few reasons. First, colloidal oatmeal is a more specialized product than you’re likely to create in your kitchen, and it’s not the same thing as oat flour, either. 

Oat flour is produced without the plant’s bran, which is where you’ll find many of the beneficial compounds you need to get oatmeal’s skin care benefits. Grinding whole oats yourself might seem like a solution but it’s not as simple as it seems - the oats need to be ground to a specific size to produce the most effective colloidal oatmeal for skin treatments. After grinding, the oat powder is then boiled to extract the finished colloidal oatmeal product. 

And not all oats are created equal when it comes to skin care. Some varieties of the plant are cultivated specifically for skin care use, with higher concentrations of helpful natural compounds.

Finally - and most importantly - even the highest-quality colloidal oatmeal will not eliminate dandruff. You need Zinc Pyrithione, which countless clinical studies have shown as a highly reliable and effective dandruff-fighting agent. 

Seeking total hair & scalp care?

To permanently banish dandruff flakes and itching, you need professionally formulated, science-based products that work - and an elevated experience you love.

Try a dandruff shampoo formulated with Zinc Pyrithione to fight flakes, paired with scalp care products made from the best nourishing, ingredients like colloidal oatmeal, coconut oil, and rosemary for a healthy scalp and hair that looks, feels, and smells amazing.

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