Medical trial claims bath additives used to treat child eczema are ineffective

A new study has found bath additives used to treat eczema 'don't work' and could be wasting money within the NHS.

The trial, published in the British Medical Journal, found ‘no evidence of clinical benefit’ when bath oils were used alongside leave-on emollients and soap substitutes to treat eczema and baby eczema.

Emollient bath additives are one of the most commonly prescribed treatments for eczema.

For the BATHE study, the BMJ randomly assigned 482 children aged one to 11 from England and Wales who suffer from the inflammatory skin condition.

Separated into two groups, half received the bath emollient whereas the other group of children did not. All of the participants continued their normal eczema care routine.

Although symptoms improved in both groups, the trial found no evidence of clinical benefit from including emollient bath additives in the standard management of eczema in children.

‘We don’t need to tell people to put the bath additives in the water anymore,’ explained Dr Miriam Santer, a GP and associate professor at Southampton University in primary care research, who led the study.

‘That will save trouble for families, knowing how best to treat the eczema and which treatments really help, and will also save the NHS money.

‘The bath additives don’t work – basically you’re pouring stuff down the plughole,’ she added.

Dr Santer said parents should continue to use leave-on emollients and soap substitutes on their children’s skin.

However, the trial did not look at how effective the bath oils could be when used in isolation, but Dr Martin Ward Platt – a consultant paediatrician in neonatal at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle – said it’s ‘very unlikely’ they would work well on their own.

“That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be available on sale for people who want to give them a try or use them out of personal preference, but the notion that one should prescribe them and spend public money on them is heavily undermined,” he stated.

“There’s a good case now to not have these on prescription and use the money elsewhere.”

It’s estimated that emollient bath additives make up a third of the cost of treating eczema in the UK.

Words by Kirsty McCormack