By Lauren Callahan, PharmD Student Cedarville University
You need not watch television long before an advertisement for an anti-aging product appears on the screen. Commercials boast of expensive creams, moisturizers, and other topical agents that can effectively reverse signs of aging. However, in a comprehensive review of all anti-aging compounds, it was concluded that these over-the-counter products alone will likely not produce the desired anti-aging effect. A dilemma is posed because the large market of users of anti-aging products are oftentimes unaware of this lacking evidence.1 However, there is hope for a cheap and evidence-based compound for anti-aging therapy: bleach.
On November 15th, The Huffington Post published an article entitled, “Study Suggests Bleach Can Reverse The Aging Process.” The article summarized research from Stanford University showing that diluted bleach may be used to treat skin aging and damage. According to the study, exposure to 0.005% diluted bleach in mice blocked the expression of NFkB proteins that play a critical role in the inflammation process. Without the inflammatory process, there is increased cell proliferation, leading to younger-looking skin. The treatment also offers hope for those suffering from inflammatory skin conditions like eczema, radiation dermatitis, and diabetic ulcers. 2
There is high-quality data supporting these conclusions. The primary source, the research article from Stanford University, demonstrated the benefits of utilizing diluted bleach in mice. The mechanism of bleach (HOCl) was studied in mouse tissues and was found to inhibit NFkB signaling in keratinocytes. This inhibition decreased the amount of cytokines released, thereby inhibiting the recruitment of inflammatory immune cells. This was evidenced in the results as the bleach ultimately induced epidermal hyperplasia, increased cell proliferation, and reversed aging-associated genes.
With this evidence at hand, I do agree with the idea that bleach could offer a safe and effective way to prevent aging. After my own review of the research from Stanford University, it became apparent that the focus of the study was not simply anti-aging; it focused more upon the use of bleach for a variety of other skin disease states. 3 Even though The Huffington Post briefly mentioned these other skin problems, the title and focus of the article is misleading as it promotes anti-aging therapy alone.
The use of diluted bleach for any skin condition differs from the standard of care. For skin aging, self-care recommendations include the application of alpha or beta hydroxy acids two times daily. Current standards of self-care treatment for eczema basically include avoidance of the irritant and application of topical corticosteroids. 4 The possibility of 0.005% diluted bleach as a skin aging therapy does not change my self-care recommendations for anti-aging products and will not change them until further studies have demonstrated a safe and effective diluted bleach regimen in humans. I would possibly allow my patients to use bleach treatment for atopic dermatitis (a form of eczema) colonized with a bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus under supervision from a doctor; diluted bleach has been tested in numerous studies, indicating its efficacy and safety in treatment of this condition. 5 Side effects that accompany bleach treatment include dry skin, rash, and nasal irritation.6 However, since diluted bleach has yet to be tested in humans for the indication of aging, the side effects may differ.Although the bleach therapy for atopic dermatitis colonized with Staphylococcus aureus works through the same NFkB inhibitor mechanism, I would remain hesitant to recommend this treatment for skin aging.
The glaringly obvious limitation of this article is that the bleach therapy has been tested in mice only. The bleach offers a theoretical solution to skin-aging and has yet to be proven in humans. Though I offer caution now, there may be a day in the near future in which my foremost recommendation for aging and inflammatory skin problems is diluted bleach. After all, diluted bleach treatment would be convenient, cost-effective, and evidence-based unlike the products on the market today.
With all of these desirable qualities, it may be difficult to dissuade a patient from experimentally utilizing bleach as an anti-aging treatment for skin. What would be your response to a patient that seeks counsel on bleach for anti-aging therapy? Would it be different if they were seeking to use bleach treatment for relief from an inflammatory skin condition?
1 Huang, C.K., & Miller, T.A. (2007). The truth about over-the-counter topical anti-aging products: a comprehensive review. Aesthetic Surgery Journal, 27(4), 402-412.
2 O’Connor, Lydia (2013). Study Suggests Bleach Can Reverse The Aging Process. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/15/bleach-skin-condition_n_4278058.html
3 Kim, S.K., Knox, S.J., Leung, T.H., Ning, S., Wang, J., & Zhang, L.F. (2013). Topical hypochlorite ameliorates NF-κB–mediated skin diseases in mice. The Journal of Clinical Investigation. doi:10.1172/JCI70895.
4 Berardi R.R., Kroon L.A., McDermott J.H. et al (2006). Handbook of nonprescription drugs, an interactive approach to self-care. APhA Publications.
5 Huang, J. T., Abrams, M., Tlougan, B., Rademaker, A., & Paller, A. S. (2009). Treatment of Staphylococcus aureus colonization in atopic dermatitis decreases disease severity. Pediatrics, 123(5), e808-e814.
6 Barnes, T. M., & Greive, K. A. (2013). Use of bleach baths for the treatment of infected atopic eczema. Australasian Journal of Dermatology.