How to Try a DIY Milk Bath Soak to Soothe Dry, Itchy Skin

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We'll take any excuse for a bath we can find—especially if a plush soak not only calms our nerves but gives our skin a boost, too. And while colorful bath bombs and exotic bath recipes have gained immense popularity, there's something about a milk bath soak that feels extra enticing (and luxurious). Perhaps, with iconic devotees like Cleopatra herself, it's a milk bath's enduring allure in the beauty sphere that has us captivated—or maybe it's just the promise of soothing and moisturizing benefits that keeps us intrigued. Either way, we reached out to some dermatologists to learn more about milk baths—the benefits, drawbacks, directions, and all. Keep reading to find out what we learned, and for some easy directions on creating a milk bath soak at home.

Ahead, we've tapped some of the nation's top dermatologists to discuss the benefits of milk bath soaks for dry skin and how to DIY your own milk bath recipe.

Benefits of Milk Bath Soaks

According to Dr. Purvisha Patel, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Visha Skincare, "milk has been used for centuries in bath form for its beauty benefits. It is said that Nefertiti herself bathed in them regularly." According to Patel, the milk itself can help soothe poison ivy and sunburns, soften dead skin, smooth rough skin, and can even moisturize and soothe inflamed skin. Meanwhile, other ingredients like oats (which you can optionally add to your milk bath) have anti-inflammatory properties. It should be noted, however, that sensitive skin can be easily irritated by milk, according to Dr. Melanie Palm, a medical and cosmetic dermatologist at Art of Skin MD in San Diego, CA.

"Taking a bath compared to a shower can be more effective at hydrating the skin since there is better replenishment of water soaking in a tub than simply showering," adds Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, a board-certified dermatologist based in Miami, FL with over 40 years experience in dermatology. "When you add in certain types of milk—buttermilk especially or oat milk for the calming benefits of oat—you get greater calming and anti-itch benefits."

Ingredients for a Milk Bath Soak

  • 1-2 cups powdered milk (depending on the size of your tub)
  • Warm water
  • 1 cup oats
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • Essential oils
  • 1 cup Epsom salt

How to Have a Milk Bath Soak

As with any bath, your first step is going to be to fill your tub with water. Ciraldo recommends tepid, or lukewarm, water—both hot and cold water can have drying effects on the skin and are best avoided, she says.

Once you've drawn the bath, toss in one to two cups of the powdered milk of your choice for some much-needed moisturizing effects on your dry and irritated skin. Cow's milk and goat milk are some of the most common options. Many dermatologists recommend whole milk or buttermilk, which contains more lactic acid. The idea is that this may enhance its exfoliating and hydrating effects, leaving your skin feeling softer afterward: "Milk can make your skin feel softer and smoother because fats in the milk cling to the skin," says Dr. Dendy Engelman, a board-certified dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon, as well as a Byrdie Review Board member. "You'll notice a silky, (but not oily) feeling over your skin."

For people who don't use animal products, powdered soy milk, almond milk, or coconut milk can be a good alternative to dairy milk. Oat is another great option.

This step is completely optional, but oatmeal is a great addition to your milk bath as a way to soothe dry and itchy skin. Palm doesn't generally recommend milk baths to her patients because of the potential allergic reactions and skin irritations that could result if someone is sensitive to milk. Instead, she often recommends colloidal oatmeal baths to patients who are experiencing conditions like atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, and dry skin.

"Colloidal oatmeal is comprised of oat grains that have been ground into a fine powder," she says. "This finely textured powder is then combined with other ingredients to soothe skin. It most commonly comes as a packet that can be added to warm bath water to create a cloudy, soothing bath treatment."

Colloidal oatmeal works its magic on our skin in a few ways—it's anti-inflammatory, moisturizing, and may even provide a bit of UV protection. Many of these beneficial properties are due in part to phenolic compounds called avenanthramides that are found in oats, Palm explains. Meanwhile, "the moisturizing and soothing properties of colloidal oatmeal derive from oat sugars such as starch and beta-glucan," Palm says. "These provided a protective coating to the skin that reduces water loss from the skin."

This one is also totally optional, but for an extra moisturizing boost, you may want to toss in a bit of warmed coconut oil or another oil such as avocado, jojoba, or olive. As we all know, oils can get a bit slippery, so please remember to be careful if you decide to add an oil to your milk bath.

If you have Epsom salt around, don't be shy about tossing a half or whole cup of it into your milk bath. Epsom salt is a common home remedy for joint pain and relaxing muscles.

Key Ingredients

Epsom salts are composed of magnesium sulfate. Magnesium sulfate can help reduce inflammation and help with skin detoxification.

To add a nice scent, some people like to enhance their milk bath by adding a few drops of lavender essential oil or another skin-safe essential oil. But use caution here, especially if you have sensitive skin. "Essential oils can cause severe contact allergies in some patients and should be avoided unless there is a history of good tolerance," Palm says.

Before settling into your milk bath, use your hand to mix the water and ingredients around a bit. Then, settle in and relax. For the best results for dry skin, aim to soak for somewhere around 20 to 30 minutes.

Side Effects of a Milk Bath Soak

Any adverse side effect of a milk bath soak for dry skin would be resulting from a reaction to individual ingredients. Skin irritation or allergic reactions could result, for example, if someone has a sensitivity to milk. Similarly, the use of essential oils can be sensitizing to certain skin types. If the water is too hot it can disrupt the skin's natural moisture balance, thus exacerbating dryness, and may even cause inflammation, redness, peeling, or burns. If you have a history of skin sensitivity or reactivity, it's best to consult your physician before taking a milk bath.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Reynertson KA, Garay M, Nebus J, et al. Anti-inflammatory activities of colloidal oatmeal (Avena sativa) contribute to the effectiveness of oats in treatment of itch associated with dry, irritated skinJ Drugs Dermatol. 2015;14(1):43-48.

  2. Pazyar N, Yaghoobi R, Kazerouni A, Feily A. Oatmeal in dermatology: a brief reviewIndian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol. 2012;78(2):142-145. doi:10.4103/0378-6323.93629

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