From sanitizing bathrooms to revitalizing dingy whites, most of us have relied on the potency of bleach at some point. But a November 2013 study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation suggests that the next place you may consider applying the DIY hero is on your face.
Dilute bleach baths have actually been used for decades to treat aggressive cases of eczema and recurrent abscesses. And the keyword is dilute—the prescription is typically a quarter to half cup of bleach in a full bathtub of water for a weekly 10-minute soak.
“Eczema patients commonly develop skin infections, and bleach baths can help reduce bacteria on the skin to minimize infection risk, as well as reduce itch,” explains Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Medical Center’s department of dermatology.
Scientists have previously attributed the medicinal effect to antimicrobial activity in bleach, but study senior author Seung Kim, M.D., Ph.D., and professor of developmental biology at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, had an intuition that bleach did more than just sterilize skin cells.
In the experiment, the researchers exposed both human and mouse skin cells to dilute concentrations of bleach, then evaluated the response of inflammatory pathways controlled by a molecule known as NF-kB. The bleach was shown to reduce NF-kB-related inflammation, which is associated with UV light exposure and can have premature aging implications.
Next, researchers tested the effect of a bleach solution on mice that had radiation dermatitis—a common sunburn-like side effect that cancer radiation patients can experience during treatment. These burns can be so painfully raw that therapy may be interrupted for skin to recover, which can impact the efficacy of treatment. Incredibly, mice that received daily 30-minute dilute bleach baths had less severe radiation dermatitis and better healing and hair regrowth than those bathed in just water.
Finally, the group tried the science on elderly mice. When bathed in the dilute bleach solution, the animals’ skin began to look younger, “from old and fragile to thicker, with increased cell proliferation,” describes Thomas Leung, the study's lead author. The effect wore off when the baths were stopped, implying that regular treatment is likely required to maintain the youthful results.
If shown to work similarly in humans, this cheap and widely available household chemical could provide a new way to treat skin damage, but until further study, all we ask is that you refrain from any sort of DIY bleach baths.
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