Baby Eczema: Causes and Triggers

What causes baby eczema? What are the most common triggers that can make baby eczema worse? We answer these questions for families.

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a skin condition that affects 10 to 20% of babies and children. Atopic dermatitis most often first appears between the age of 2 to 6 months, and can be found on the scalp, face (cheeks, chin), neck, trunk, between the elbows, behind the knees, on the wrists, ankles, and feet. Eczema is red, rough itchy skin and it needs to be treated properly in order to improve. Every child’s eczema looks different--cases can be mild, moderate, or severe.

What causes baby eczema?

Currently, we do not know the underlying cause of eczema. However, there are studies that show eczema is related to both genetic factors and environmental influences. There are some theories that suggest it has to do with a malfunction in the immune system that causes skin barrier breakdown. Research also finds that children who have asthma or hay fever have a 30% to 50% chance of having eczema. Eczema is not contagious (a person cannot give another person eczema).

One form of eczema, contact dermatitis, is caused by direct contact with a substance, such as an irritant or allergen. Irritants cause up to 80% of the reactions and 20% are usually caused by allergens. Irritants include:

  • Soaps
  • Detergents
  • Perfumes
  • Spit
  • Lotions

Common Baby Eczema Triggers

While we do not know the specific causes of eczema, we do know there are common triggers that make eczema worse. As a parent of a baby with eczema, it is important to be aware of the triggers that we can control to make our children as comfortable as possible. Here are some environmental factors to be aware of:

  1. Pollen: Pollen is found in flowers, grass, trees, and weeds. Changes in the seasons cause high pollen count. Keeping track of pollen levels can help you manage spending less time outside on days when the count is particularly high, especially in springtime.
  2. Soaps, shampoos, laundry detergents, lotions, sunscreens: Make sure to use products for sensitive skin, without fragrances or perfumes, such as products from this list.
  3. Temperature: Make sure that the temperature for your child is consistent. It’s best not to have it be either too hot or too cold. When babies start to sweat this can also increase eczema on their skin.
  4. Humidity: Keep the relative humidity in your home less than 50%.
  5. Clothing: itchy clothing can make eczema worse. Have children wear cotton clothing and cover exposed, sensitive parts of the skin, i.e. long sleeves and socks.
  6. Pet hair, fur or feathers: pets can make eczema worse for babies and children so keep pets out of the bedroom
  7. Chemicals: Be extra cautious of chemicals from the pool, or from the glue, paint, carpet, paint, or plastic chairs that may be found at home or in the daycare or preschool class.
  8. Metals: Avoid nickel, chrome, and mercury that can be found on costume jewelry, belt buckles, zippers, snaps, etc.
  9. Medicine: Neomycin (an ingredient in Neosporin) may also cause contact dermatitis
  10. Dust: frequently wash sheets and clean carpets to remove dust
  11. Stress: Eczema can get worse after temper tantrums or times of uncontrollable stress in a baby’s life (teething, viral illness, sleepiness)

There is no long term cure for eczema but there are ways to help babies reduce eczema flares.

Eczema and Food Allergies

Research shows that babies with eczema are at highest risk of developing food allergies. New guidelines from the NIH on baby food allergen introduction are specifically focused on infants with eczema as this risk group needs food allergen introduction, and in turn, early allergen introduction the most.

Introduce Allergens Safely and Easily with Ready. Set. Food!

All health-related content on this website is for informational purposes only and does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the advice of your own pediatrician in connection with any questions regarding your baby’s health.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.  If your infant has severe eczema, check with your infant’s healthcare provider before feeding foods containing ground peanuts.