Is it time to put away your fancy skin creams and moisturizers? A study published today in the Journal of Clinical Investigation by Stanford pediatric dermatologist Thomas Leung, MD, PhD, and developmental biologist Seung Kim, MD, PhD, suggests that a dilute solution of sodium hypochlorite (you'll know it better as the bleach you use for cleaning and disinfecting), inhibits an inflammatory pathway involved in skin damage and aging.
The researchers conducted their studies in mice, but it's been known for decades that dilute bleach baths (roughly 0.005 percent, or one-fourth to one-half cup bleach in a bathtub of water) are an effective and inexpensive way to combat moderate to severe forms of eczema in human patients.
According to our release:
Leung and his colleagues knew that many skin disorders, including eczema and radiation dermatitis, have an inflammatory component. When the skin is damaged, immune cells rush to the site of the injury to protect against infection. Because inflammation itself can be harmful if it spirals out of control, the researchers wondered if the bleach (sodium hypochlorite) solution somehow played a role in blocking this response.
The researchers found that the bleach solution blocks the activation of a molecule called NF-kappaB, or NF-kB, that is involved in inflammation and aging. They collaborated with radiation oncologist Susan Knox, MD, to investigate potential clinical applications. From our release:
Radiation dermatitis is a common side effect of radiation therapy for cancer. While radiation therapy is directed at cancer cells inside the body, the normal skin in the radiation therapy field is also affected. Radiation therapy often causes a sunburn-like skin reaction. In some cases, these reactions can be quite painful and can require interrupting the radiation therapy course to allow the skin to heal before resuming treatment. However, prolonged treatment interruptions are undesirable.
"An effective way to prevent and treat radiation dermatitis would be of tremendous benefit to many patients receiving radiation therapy," said Susan Knox, MD, PhD, associate professor of radiation oncology and study co-author.
The researchers tested the effect of daily, 30-minute bleach baths on laboratory mice with radiation dermatitis, and on healthy, but older mice. They found that animals bathed in the bleach experienced less severe skin damage and better healing and hair regrowth after radiation, and the fragile skin of older animals grew thicker than control animals bathed in water. But don't ditch the contents of your medicine cabinet just yet-- mice aren't exactly tiny people, and more research needs to be done.
The researchers are now considering clinical trials in humans, and they are also looking at other diseases that could be treated by dilute-bleach baths. "It's possible that, in addition to being beneficial to radiation dermatitis, it could also aid in healing wounds like diabetic ulcers," Leung said. "This is exciting because there are so few side effects to dilute bleach. We may have identified other ways to use hypochlorite to really help patients. It could be easy, safe and inexpensive."