146: Chlorine + Bath Additives w/ Christa Biegler, RD

Today's episode is all about bath additives. Bleach baths, chlorine baths, colloidal oatmeal baths, Epsom salt baths…my guest and I cover all this and more!


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My guest today is Christa Biegler, host of the Less Stressed Life podcast and has an integrative nutrition private practice focusing on skin, digestive, autoimmune and allergy issues.

She started The Less Stressed Life as a play on words for anti-inflammatory life. She lives with her unicycling husband and kids in the rural Midwest.

Join us as we talk about the different kinds of additives in a bath that may help with skin irritation and inflammation.

Have baths with different additives helped your skin rashes? Let me know in the comments!

In this episode:

  • Why do bleach baths sometimes work?
  • Christa's personal story with eczema
  • Other bath additives that you probably haven't thought of
  • Why oatmeal can be helpful and soothing
  • Can hard water be an eczema trigger?
  • Eczema Relief Diet


“The whole point of detergent is to pull oils off of the skin, which are going to compromise that skin barrier in someone who's already compromised.” [10:59]

“[Colloidal oatmeal is] an anti-inflammatory, it's got some flavonoids in it and some alkaloids and some sterols that have this anti-inflammatory and barrier repairing effect.” [13:30]


Find Christa online

The Eczema Relief Diet: Short-Term Plans to Identify Triggers and Soothe Flareups 

Christa's free online training

Christa's guide of things not to do if you have a child with eczema

Healthy Skin Show ep. 042: How Sulfur Can Trigger Skin Rashes w/ Christa Biegler

Healthy Show ep. 128: Eczema Sleep Problems w/ Christa Biegler, RD

Healthy Skin Show ep. 116: Can Chlorine In Water Harm Your Skin? w/ Lara Adler

Jennifer's appearance on the Less Stressed Life podcast: Why you shouldn't use coconut oil on your skin

Follow Christa on Facebook ǀ Instagram

146: Chlorine + Bath Additives w/ Christa Biegler, RD FULL TRANSCRIPT

Jennifer: Hey everyone. Welcome back. Today I've got a recurring guest, her name is Christa Biegler. She was on this show a couple months ago, I believe, and she's been on the show even before that. I love that I'm able to have her back talking about a bunch of different topics, specifically geared toward people struggling with eczema, especially given that she's got a really great book out. If you guys don't have it, you need to get it. But, if you have not heard Christa on the podcast before, she is the host of The Less Stressed Life Podcast and she also has an integrative nutrition practice.

Jennifer: It's a private online practice that focuses on eczema, digestive, autoimmune hormone and allergy issues. She started The Less Stressed Life Podcast as a play on words for the anti-inflammatory lifestyle, which by the way guys, I've been a guest on. We'll link that up in the show notes. She lives with her unicycling husband and kids in the Midwest. And she also tries to feed different things to her chickens, which is interesting, love to watch that on Instagram. And you can find all of her resources for eczema, her practice, her podcast over at thelessstressedlife.com. Christa, thank you so much for being back with us.

Christa: Thanks so much for letting me come back and keep talking about all the many aspects we can talk about with skin.

Jennifer: I know. Today I figured we'd talk about this, because I've never really had a conversation about this before, is bath additives. When you're really dealing with skin flares, rashes, et cetera. I also kind of wonder too if these may be helpful for people dealing with some other types of rashes as well. The most common type that tends to get recommended in a dermatologist's office are chlorine baths, which take some people back. They're like what? Chlorine? Bleach baths, what? But, you have some personal experience with this. I think that would be a great place to start.

Christa: Yeah, because you just heat it up. I'm going to talk for a moment about why bleach baths sometimes work. You don't have to use bleach, you can use something that works like it. Eczema is really hallmarked by an overgrowth, or one of the main thoughts is that hey, this is a staphylococcus, a type of bacteria, staphylococcus aureus overgrowth on the skin. We recognize that, we see that. Why don't we go ahead and wipe that away and we'll see how that works. That works in some people and in some people it does not work at all and I am one of those people. And I'm happy to tell you like what kind of skin seems to respond best to chlorine. It's usually bright red and angry, I think that's more infectious type staphylococcus aureus type skin.

Christa: If it's dry, really dry and flaky already, I don't think that really works, personally. I think that would make it worse. I have research to back that up, 2014 Journal of Dermatology. Chlorine in bathing water, which chlorine and bleach are pretty much the same thing, I'm not a chemist. But, basically they're essentially kind of the same thing. Chlorine's a natural element in nature, while bleach is a solution of many elements including chlorine. I feel like when we see chlorine in water, like in pools and other places, I don't know if it's pure chlorine or not, I don't know enough about that. However, we've got chlorine, bleach, I use them interchangeably, honestly. Anyway, 2014 Journal of Dermatology, chlorine and bathing water, if it hangs out on you, reduces how your skin holds water in the top layer.

Christa: That's actually what a lot of dermatologists say is maybe causing an eczema [inaudible 00:03:49] also. It's a reduction of water holding capacity in that top layer, stratum corneum. We see this in dry skin in the wintertime. There's this dry air, no humidity in the air, so we think that the stratum corneum, the top layer of the skin is dried out. And we know that chlorine dries it out. Actually, even though dermatologist recommend bleach baths, I've been told by this lovely integrative dermatologist, who I believe you had on the show as well, I think it's Raja Sivamani.

Jennifer: Yes.

Christa: Well, maybe it was Dr. Peter Lio. Either way, they said, oh that's more of like a dunk, it's more like a bleach dunk. And then you rinse that off and then in order to seal in moisture, usually you cover the skin right away, to seal in moisture.

Christa: Anyway, I want to mention that. There's actually several studies, all within the last 10 years. 2012 journal Environmental Research. They took 350 little kids and showed that exposure to hard water and swimming could increase eczema as well. This could be because it's also compromising that barrier. Well that we just talked about that really.

Christa: But, the thought process with the hard water thing is they think maybe minerals or detergents or something there in hard water is compromising the layer. That doesn't make sense to me, that detergents are in hard water. But again, I don't know. I've had people change. I wouldn't go crazy on this fact, but I think it's interesting to see what works for different people.

Christa: I had a kiddo whose skin got better just by changing the water. I think the parents ended up, they didn't even use a filter. They, I think, boiled the water, let it cool, which will take chlorine out and use that and made a big difference. You think about this, you consume all this water, your body is 60% water but yet it's the silent carrier of stuff. And sometimes that's impacting us. I'll go back to my story.

Christa: I had some signs that chlorine was not working earlier in time. From my sense of smell, I was sensitive to it, if I was around too. Much and people can probably resonate with this, if I'm around too strong a chlorine, it irritates a lot of people. Their eyes get red and it's a struggle. This is the worst offenders of this, are those hotels swimming pools where people don't probably [inaudible 00:06:03], they're just out there dumping in the additives in the pool instead of really following directions probably. Because you can tell because you get those steamy rooms and everyone's eyes are watering, it's not good.

Christa: Anyway, my eczema took a bad turn for the worst. I always had this subclinical, got worse sometimes of the year. I just thought it was part of my life for many, many years as many people do. And then, not until it really got awful did I really start digging into it really deeply. I was taking my kids to swimming lessons, every day of the week, for a full week at a new swimming pool, which may have been a little overzealous with their treatment as well. I'm not sure, it's a possibility. But anyways, I was there every day. And at the end of that week, my eczema flared with this hell vengeance. It was horrible. And it was that awful eczema where it rides with you for a long time. And you know how eczema is like, what is wrong with your face? And it hurts and it's like oozing. It's not good.

Christa: It presents in certain places. It was dry. There was redness, when it's really inflamed and then you could get it calmed down. Largely mine was more typical of dry and flaky. Why wasn't this obvious to me at home? Many, many years ago when I moved to the middle of nowhere, we got a well. And so I didn't really deal with chlorine anymore. 90% of the time I wasn't drinking any chlorine in my water and I wasn't bathing it, because I had this lovely water in my well and I didn't realize. That's why I really built up this whole thing and had this flare.

Christa: Why did that happen? I can have my own opinions about my own story and what helped. What helped it helps me know what the causes were. A lot of liver support, but also that can really disrupt your skin microbiome. Chlorine or bleach in the same way, it's killing that staphylococcus aureus. We have this skin microbiome or this, well all this bacteria and what on our skin that we totally don't understand very well yet. I really think we're at the very beginning of our understanding of that and that can really disrupt it, as well.

Christa: It's great if you have a staphylococcus aureus overgrowth. If you do not have a staphylococcus aureus overgrowth, if that is not the cause of your eczema, which by the way, I still think when it's showing up on the outside, there's still other stuff that can be going too, I just felt really strongly about that. If you don't have this red angry staph overgrowth, I really feel that's how they usually look. And that's why I'm directing it that way. It doesn't mean that if that's not how your eczema looks, that might not help, but that's just my personal opinion from what I see, because I pay a ton of attention to what eczema looks like. And there's, there's patterns here.

Christa: If it's more dry, flaky, I just really don't think a bleach bath is going to work. Now, I mentioned earlier, bleach is just something that just wipes away all stuff. It levels the playing field, just kills everything. There's other things that can kind of do that as well.

Christa: I don't need to really hesitate to say this, but this can be really corrosive if done improperly, especially if we're thinking about a child. I'll usually put half a cup to a cup of hydrogen peroxide in a bathtub of water. Really no different than bleach in the dilution, that's with the same dilution that they recommend for bleach baths. And by the way, that can evaporate if it sits there for too long. But, I would just test that and make sure it's fine as an adult, anytime you do anything for a child. Someone called me just yesterday and said, can I give this to a family member? And I was like, well try it on yourself first and see, make sure it doesn't burn. Because, you don't know how it's going to be if their skin is a little more inflamed.

Christa: I've been okay with that. If you use a more dilute option, that'll really clear stuff out as well. And I don't think about it as being as corrosive. Now, hydrogen peroxide is really corrosive if you just, or skin to skin contact, as is bleach. The big, big takeaway here is that it's diluted in a bunch of water and it would act, I think it acts similarly.

Christa: Sometimes I'll use baking soda, not really the same exact thing, but it's kind of a calming [inaudible 00:10:17] thing.

Jennifer: What are some of the other options that you tend to use at home that people might not even think of to add to the bath?

Christa: Yeah. I don't know where I learned this, but one school of thought is to kind of rotate different types of baths. There are antimicrobial baths, like the bleach bath for example, where you're trying to wipe away overgrowth of staph aureus. There are healing baths, let's talk about that in a moment. And cleansing baths.

Christa: Let's just talk about cleansing baths, because that's what most people are used to every day. But, we do know that a lot of excess, I know you've talked about this a bunch on your podcast, excess detergent use can disrupt that skin microbiome as well. And detergents really change. And the whole point of detergent is to pull oils off of the skin which are going to compromise that skin barrier in someone who's already compromised. Being aware and careful of how you're doing your cleansing baths, there's different things.

Christa: I'm not an expert in like, you should use this. I let people decide what they want to use. Pick a really good quality, non-abrasive irritant. There's probably lots of people have different resources. National Eczema Association does have a list of like, hey, we approve these products type thing, but you can get pretty simple. You don't have to look too far to find some basic stuff. That's cleansing baths, which really in a way, if you're doing an antimicrobial breath in a way it's kind of a cleansing bath, kind of, but different. We got our antimicrobial baths, which we just talked about. Cleansing baths, which I feel you have to choose your own soap or soap thing and just wash maybe the really dirty parts and maybe not the other parts.

Christa: And then the other one is healing baths. Now there is a little bit of research about this. I use this a lot in practice. I tend to stick to dead sea salt or sea salt baths, sometimes having a little magnesium in there. You absorb that magnesium topically and there's no harm in that. Magnesium is important for 300 different enzyme processes in the body. Helps with nervous system calming.

Christa: If you've got a kid that's hyper and you just need a break, you stick them in one of those baths and be like, all right, we're having a spa day now and you're just going to relax in this bath. But, we do know that dead sea salt solution does seem to indirectly reduce inflammation and doesn't irritate the skin. That is good for dermatitis clients. I tend to do this a few times a week and sometimes I'll just do a specific area, like hands.

Christa: There are some other options as well. Colloidal oatmeal, which I don't necessarily recommend and I think this really varies by the person. Either this goes okay or it doesn't. I think if it's not working, don't feel like you have to continue that because you read that it was good. Colloidal oatmeal powder, it means mostly oat starch in a little protein, a little oil. It improved 20 to 30% of active lesions in some kiddos. And that happened after one to three weeks of these baths. That's a possibility. It's an anti-inflammatory, it's got some flavonoids in it and some alkaloids and some sterols that have this anti-inflammatory and barrier repairing effect.

Christa: Again, I don't necessarily use them. You see oats stuff out there for skin a lot, right?

Jennifer: Yep.

Christa: What else is used? There's actually, and I think this is more in other areas of the world, rice baths are used. Also, they have some fatty acids and things in that rice kernel. That's something that some people use, but the studies are really small. In a small study of 13 people using a rice bath twice daily for four days, reduced lesions after two and four days.

Jennifer: Wait. Is this cooked rice or raw rice? It's puree, powdered?

Christa: Great question.

Jennifer: I'm thinking a rice bath, what is this?

Christa: Rice starch bath is what it's called, rice starch bath. That's not something I feel you really see on the shelf where we live. What else? There's a bunch of large words here about fibroblasts growth, et cetera. But rice starch, I don't even see that and it talks about, it's in more Japanese culture, typically. And the research isn't even in the US, actually.

Jennifer: And questions for you. What are your feelings on Epsom salt? Do you think that Epsom salt is worth trying, or do you think there's a better option?

Christa: Totally.

Jennifer: Okay.

Christa: Yeah. Epsom salt all has natural magnesium in it. You can get different salts with different additives. I like some with other skin healing additives like MSM and silica. I think the more skin healing additives I can get through the skin, the better. I really like that. What else? And then there's bath oils. And I think we kind of know this, using oils afterwards to lock in moisture seems to work well. As in all eczema research, this works for some people and in some people you might have an allergic reaction, i.e. in lanolin. I actually am totally fine. I've never had a client with an issue with lanolin, but they talk about how using mineral oil and lanolin 10 times a day can really reduce visually dry skin. Using something with olive oil in the moisturizer was significantly better than using just a moisturizer by itself without an oil in it. Things like that. What else?

Christa: Magnesium, what else was I going to say about magnesium? I know it's really absorbed well topically. What other additives are there? I personally just use, yes, either Epsom salt baths or Epsom salt baths, fancy ones that are more added to them. I might just be not bath salt smart, but I don't really see a giant difference between Epsom salt and dead sea salt. There probably is something, so don't throw tomatoes at me, but at the end of the day they feel really similar to me because they're both the type of salt. I could be wrong, but they feel really similar. Now, that's what's in research.

Christa: I've seen clients use different things. I've had clients living in different parts of the world and they've brought me back things. This may or may not be useful for someone oozing eczema. I had a little baby once and go live with some grandparents and mom in another country. And it was really common there to do stinging nettle baths, which I think is interesting because stinging nettle is an herb used pretty widely in the US to help with allergic or histamine type reactions. Tricky part about stinging nettle is that it does sting at first. It's a quick sting and then it's better. People use compresses and baths and all types of things for that, which I thought was interesting. They use plantain leaves and plantain oils, which I think is interesting. I'm really boring. I use salts and baking soda because I think it's fine and wonderful. And I'll do some occasionally, if I think someone's got a staph aureus, we work with the dermatologist and to do an antimicrobial bath.

Christa: And then lastly just to talk about bleach in general. I have a lot of feelings about bleach and there's some research out there, but there's not a ton. You can use filters that are supposed to filter bleach and I just don't know about their efficacy but you see things. I'm just telling you there are some interesting products out there like vitamin C filters, they're supposed to neutralize chlorine. There are things that people put on before you go into the pool, the that are sold out there. There are charcoal filters that are supposed to be good for it. I don't need these at home because I don't have chlorine, I haven't really tested them a bunch. But, I give people that information and they do with it as they please, typically.

Jennifer: I want to mention two things. Number one. If people heard you say plantain, they might think plantains that are a cousin of the banana, not that type of plantain. It's a plantain leaf. It's an herb that actually grows in my backyard. It's considered a weed, it's not the same thing at all. And number two, oh gosh, what the heck was I going to say? I totally forget. We were talking about plantain leaves and yeah, I guess that's all I have.

Christa: Stinging nettle.

Jennifer: Stinging nettle. Yeah, that's always a good option.

Christa: We talked about vitamin C filters.

Jennifer: Oh yeah. The one cool thing, and I'll link up Lara Adler's podcast. She had shared with me that if you want to know if there's chlorine in your water, is to look at your water report. Go to the water company's website, and you can easily pull a report and it'll tell you what additives are put into your water. Sometimes it's chlorine, sometimes it's chloramines, which are a totally different beast. And she had shared, do not get filtered out with those filters you can buy online or at the grocery store or wherever, unfortunately.

Jennifer: You do want to know what's in your water and it's a really easy way. They have to tell you what's in your water. That might also be a good thing to consider.

Christa: Yeah, you bet. That's a great start. And that's the tricky thing. That's why that's a really hard topic. And she would be just the best resource, because how do you know if that filter actually works? Because I don't need to buy one, I'm like, well I'm not going to spend hours researching this.

Jennifer: The other thing to consider too is there's, even with my water here, I'm outside of Philadelphia, my water reeks of chlorine. Now whether it's chlorine or chloramine I don't remember, doesn't matter. We filter all of our drinking water so that it's palatable. But you have to also keep in mind that there are unfortunately drug contaminations in the water, because people dump their drugs down the toilet in the drain. There's all sorts of stuff in the water that you can't see smell, maybe taste, who knows? But, either way we think because the water is clear and because it's coming out of the faucet that it's going to be okay and it's not going to cause a problem. And it's not to make you afraid of your water. But I think we have to become more knowledgeable about the fact that there can be things, it's even like mold in the household. Just because you don't see black mold doesn't mean you don't have mold.

Jennifer: Just because your water looks okay, tastes okay, doesn't necessarily mean that it couldn't be causing an issue. And it's just an opportunity and invitation to dig a little bit deeper. And know that you're not trying to turn water specifically or any of these chemicals or any of these particular things. It might not work for you as like an enemy against you and your skin is just like saying, hey, this just doesn't work for me. But I think this is a really amazing resource. And you talk about these in your book, right, Christa?

Christa: I can't even remember if they're still in there, because I was so many words over. I had to cut some things, but anything I cut out is on the blog now. It's totally fine if it's not. I do talk about some of it, but again, when you're 10 000 words over, you got to make some cuts.

Jennifer: True.

Christa: Anyway, I thought I'll just move these to the blog and people can have them at any time.

Jennifer: Perfect they can go to lessstressedlife.com and get access to all of these resources and before this podcast comes out, I'll make sure to link to them in the show notes. That way it's super easy and you guys don't have to search for them. I think that's the best way to go. And the book also too, I want to just clarify for people, yes, it talks about a lot of different facets of eczema. But this is also providing a really practical dietary approach that you and I've talked a lot about. Over restriction is a major problem in the skin rash community, especially eczema. Can you share with us the name of the book and it is available everywhere you guys, but what's the book called so they can find it?

Christa: The book is called The Eczema Relief Diet, Short Term Meal Plans to Identify Triggers and Sooth Flare-Ups. And this is my analogy to this, is my sprained ankle theory, which is if you have a sprained or broken ankle and you sit on the couch, you will feel better for a little bit. But there's probably some other things to do like rap and cast and elevate, et cetera. Sometimes when people have a short term success with diet and it doesn't last or they try to do that for too long, it's sort of like sitting on the couch forever with the ankle. And there's probably a couple of facets there. Just a few extra things to bring in. And I try to go over all of that at least in some detail, but we go over the food piece in deep detail because people talk about it. But I don't think there's very clear, let's do this like this and then if you don't see a result, pivot this way. And if you do, still pivot, proceed on.

Jennifer: That's awesome. We need some new game plans at this point, because what we've been doing with diet, and I know we were talking about bath additives today, but everybody's question is what can I eat or what shouldn't I eat? And those are the two questions. And the problem is that a lot of the road maps we're essentially told to utilize, create fear of food, over restriction, nutrient deficiencies. At the end of the day, poor food diversity. It really causes a lot more problems than they serve oftentimes. Some people get help. But I'll tell you my experience, and I'm sure yours is the same with really chronic cases, food may oftentimes not be enough. And we have to look to these other pieces of the puzzle. And I love the fact that you're integrating all of that together.

Jennifer: It's such a great resource. And I hope that if anyone listening to this has not checked out your book, that they do so. We'll put a link to that in the show notes, that way you can grab a copy of Christa's book. And of course if you haven't yet, go follow Christa on all of her platforms and also tune into her podcast, Less Stressed Life. I was on there, it was a great episode. And I love having you on the show, Christa, and I'm sure you'll be back again.

Christa: Thanks so much, Jen.

Jennifer: But yeah, thank you. And this has been great.

Christa: Thanks.

“The whole point of detergent is to pull oils off of the skin, which are going to compromise that skin barrier in someone who's already compromised.” [10:59]