Bathing the skin in a variety of preparations in order to remove crusts, scales, and old medications or to relieve inflammation and itching is called a therapeutic bath.
Baths or soaks (balneotherapy) are an easy way to treat a variety of skin disorders involving large areas of the skin. They relieve general aches and pains and can ease dry or oily, inflamed or itchy skin. Hot baths are relaxing and stimulating; cool baths can reduce inflammation.
Therapeutic baths are useful for itchy skin, hives, sunburn, chafing, poison ivy and oak, eczema, skin irritation, and dry skin. They may also help to relieve emotional tension and stress. Brief therapeutic baths may be useful in preventing pressure ulcers and other skin problems in the elderly.
Many family care physicians recommend warm-water therapeutic baths as a way to relieve labor pains during childbirth without administering drugs.
The temperature of the water should be comfortable. The bath should not last longer than 20-30 minutes because of the tendency of these soaks to soften and wear away the skin.
A bath mat should be used, since medications may cause the floor of the tub to be slippery.
Eczema and other skin diseases can be treated with an ointment that contains a derivative of coal tar. Parts of the coal tar are volatile, so the bathroom should be well ventilated.
The tub should be filled half—full with water at a comfortable temperature. The water should not be allowed to cool too much. If an emollient action is needed, the patient should apply a lubricating agent to the skin after the bath, since this increases hydration.
Different types of therapeutic baths are used for different conditions:
- colloidal oatmeal (oatmeal that has been ground into a fine powder, e.g. Aveeno) coats, soothes, stops itch and doesn't dry out the skin
- potassium permanganate—a dark purple salt—makes a good disinfectant
- bath oils are used as an emollient to ease itchy skin and eczema
- cornstarch is a soothing, drying bath for itchy skin
- sodium bicarbonate can be cooling for hot, dry skin conditions
- saline (salt) water baths are used to treat lesions scattered over the body
Keep the room warm to minimize temperature fluctuations. This precaution is particularly important when bathing elderly patients.
After the bath, the skin should be blotted (not rubbed) carefully with a towel. The patient should wear loose, light clothing after the bath.
Pelletier, Dr. Kenneth R. The Best Alternative Medicine, Part I: Naturopathic Medicine. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002.
Hunter, S., J. Anderson, D. Hanson, et al. "Clinical Trial of a Prevention and Treatment Protocol for Skin Breakdown in Two Nursing Homes." Journal of Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Nursing 30 (September 2003): 250-258.
Keegan, L. "Therapies to Reduce Stress and Anxiety." Critical Care Nursing Clinics of North America 15 (September 2003): 321-327.
Leeman, L., P. Fontaine, V. King, et al. "The Nature and Management of Labor Pain: Part I. Nonpharmacologic Pain Relief." American Family Physician 68 (September 15, 2003): 1109-1112.
The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. 8201 Greensboro Drive, Suite 300, McLean, Virginia 22102. (206) 298-0126. http://naturopathic.org.
Canadian Naturopathic Association/Association canadienne de naturopathie. 1255 Sheppard Avenue East at Leslie, North York, ON M2K 1E2. (800) 551-4381 or (416) 496-8633. http://www.naturopathicassoc.ca.
Eczema — An inflammation of the skin that usually itches and sometimes forms scales or blisters.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.