Allergy to Oatmeal Skin Moisturizers

Concerns range from beauty products to diaper lotions

A number of popular, over-the-counter moisturizers – including those from Aveeno, Nature's Gate, St. Ives, and Oil of Olay – contain oat proteins commonly referred to as colloidal (finely milled) oatmeal. These substances are popularly marketed as an effective treatment for skin inflammation, dryness, and irritation.

However, people with an allergy to oats may have just the opposite effect. In these individuals, oat-based moisturizers can sometimes lead to adverse skin reactions such as eczema (atopic dermatitis) and rash (contact dermatitis). The effect can even extend to infants and smaller children.

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Oat-Associated Allergic Dermatitis in Children

While the allergies of oat-based moisturizers are typically milder in adults, they may be problematic in children exposed to such products as Johnson's Vanilla Oatmeal Baby Lotion or Babyganics Eczema Care Skin Protectant Cream. Both are regularly used to treat diaper rash

In a small study of 302 children with atopic dermatitis, researchers found that nearly 15% showed evidence of contact sensitization to oats. Even more concerning, this percentage was even higher at 32% when looking only at children who previously had been exposed to an oat-based moisturizer. Children under two years of age were most likely to have positive patch testing, with nearly 50% of them testing positive to oat. Some experts have questioned whether all children (or children with other allergies) need to avoid oatmeal exposure in moisturizers, and many healthcare providers support use in patients who have no known oat sensitivity.

Dermatological Symptoms of Oat Allergy

People with an oat allergy will typically experience red, blotchy spots on the skin. In some cases, areas of the outbreak may occur if a person accidentally touches oats and then other parts of the body.

Depending on the severity of the reaction, outbreaks may be mild and transient or result in crusted red and/or flaky skin around the eyes and lips that takes days to resolve. Blisters have also been known to occur. If oats are eaten, the symptoms can pop up in a number of different places, including the eyes and throat, as they make their way through the digestive tract.

Other Symptoms of Oat Allergy

Typically speaking, people with an oat allergy will experience a wider range of symptoms when eating oats as compared to using an oat-based moisturizer. Among the more common symptoms:

  • Cough
  • Sneezing
  • Nasal congestion
  • Watery, itchy eyes
  • Stomach ache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Toddlers can also develop food-protein induced enterocolitis syndrome to oats that can include severe vomiting and lethargy.

Severe Symptoms

In rare instances, a person may experience a potentially dangerous, all-body reaction called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis often starts with swelling of the lips and tongue and a pronounced itching of the throat, eyes, and ears.

These symptoms may soon be followed by severe hives, wheezing, breathing difficulty, facial swelling, rapid or slow heartbeat, chest pains, and the development of bluish lips or fingers (cyanosis). People experiencing anaphylaxis will often describe an overwhelming feeling of impending doom.

If any of the symptoms of anaphylaxis develop, whether you have been knowingly exposed to oats or not, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. If treatment is delayed, the condition can worsen and lead to anaphylactic shock and even death.

Treating Allergic Dermatitis

If you or your child develop a rash or eczema after using an oat-based moisturizer, you should wash the skin right way with cool water and a mild soap. If the rash is mild and only covers a small area, an over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream may be applied to help relieve swelling and itching.

An oral antihistamine can also sometimes help. For children, an over-the-counter product like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) can usually do the trick. Non-sedating antihistamines include Claritin or Alavert (loratadine) and Zyrtec (cetirizine). If your child is under two, speak with your pediatrician or other healthcare provider before using any anti-allergy or anti-inflammatory product.

However, if the rash is severe or blisters begin to develop, call your healthcare provider immediately or visit the nearest emergency room.

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Article Sources
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  • Boussault, P.; Léauté-Labrèze, C.; Saubusse, E. et al. "Oat Sensitization in Children with Atopic Dermatitis: Prevalence, Risks, and Associated Factors." Allergy. 2007; 62(11):1251-6.
  • Criquet, M.; Roure, R.; Dayan, L. et al. "Safety and efficacy of personal care products containing colloidal oatmeal." Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2012; 5:183-93.