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Diluted bleach baths help treat 4-year-old’s severe eczema

Pam Johnstone had tried nearly everything to treat her son’s severe eczema. Pediatric Dermatologist Sheilagh Maguiness, MD, gave them a plan that cleared it up in weeks.
4-year-old Walter suffered from severe eczema. His mother, Pamela Johnstone, sought help from Pediatric Dermatologist Sheilagh Maguiness, MD.

Pam Johnstone tried nearly everything to treat her son Walter’s eczema.

So, when Pediatric Dermatologist Sheilagh Maguiness, MD, told her the answer was giving her 4-year-old son bleach baths and wrapping him in wet pajamas at night, she didn’t bat an eye.

“I said, ‘Why not? I’ve tried everything else,” Pam recalled. “People have thrown all sorts of ointments at him and nothing kept it away—until now.”

After two weeks of diluted bleach baths, steroid ointments, Vaseline and wet pajamas, Walter’s condition—which left him with dry, itchy skin and open sores—is finally under control. The treatment helps to restore moisture, fight off excess bacteria and repair skin damaged by eczema.

“Parents would shield their children from Walter because they thought he was contagious. It broke my heart,” Johnstone said. “Maguiness’ recommendations changed that. It really is a miracle cure.”

Maguiness, a member of the University of Minnesota Health pediatric dermatology team, has been prescribing diluted beach baths for years to treat common cases of eczema, or atopic dermatitis. Eczema is often incorrectly thought to be caused by food allergies, Maguiness said. For that reason, many pediatricians and parents restrict a child’s diet instead of simply working to repair the skin.

“By using these techniques and focusing on restoring the skin barrier, we are successful about 99 percent of the time,” she said. “The start of eczema care is repairing the skin barrier, not avoiding foods.”

Although many parents are initially apprehensive about using bleach, Maguiness said it’s a highly diluted amount and very safe for kids. This treatment—in conjunction with steroid ointment and Vaseline—can actually boost the skin’s natural healing process.

Learn more about University of Minnesota Health pediatric dermatology care.

“The bleach baths are a general anti-microbial treatment,” Maguiness said. “They have about the same bleach concentration as a swimming pool.” It’s important to use plain bleach, not scented or “splash-less” variants, Maguiness notes. And the wet pajamas? Dampening a child’s pajamas before bedtime helps the skin retain moisture, Maguiness said.

For many parents, it can be frustrating trying to find a way to treat their child’s skin condition. Maguiness recommends first seeing a pediatrician or dermatologist instead of turning to the Internet for answers.

“If the condition is severe enough that the child has red inflamed patches and they’re not sleeping well, we recommend setting up an appointment,” she said. “Unfortunately, there is so much misinformation online. Many people turn to essential oils and other unproven methods—even raw beef tallow—to address skin problems.”

Walter’s eczema had a significant effect on his day-to-day life, Pam said. Once while they were biking, she counted and found that he had to stop 50 times to itch himself.

“He felt like this thing controlled his life,” she said. “This condition affected his ability to fully enjoy being a little boy every single day. The treatment plan changed his life.”