October is Eczema Awareness Month. Here at Ready. Set. Food!, we're dedicating the month to answering common questions about eczema and sharing eczema care tips.
Today, we're breaking down whether coconut oil is a helpful moisturizer for your baby's eczema.
Eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis) causes a child's skin to become dry, itchy, and rough when their skin is exposed to certain irritants. Children with eczema have a compromised skin barrier, which makes it easier for irritants to pass through and moisture to escape.
So, when your baby has eczema, regularly moisturizing their skin is key. This doesn't just add moisture to the skin --- it "seals" the skin so it's harder for moisture to escape (and irritants to pass through).
One type of natural moisturizer you might have heard of is coconut oil. Coconut oil is touted as an effective eczema treatment with antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. But does it really help soothe eczema based on research? Or does it fail to live up to the hype? Find your answer here.
Does coconut oil work to soothe eczema?
First off, it's important to emphasize that there's no cure for eczema. So, applying coconut oil won't make your little one's eczema disappear. There's no way to make eczema go away completely.
But based on research, coconut oil is an effective eczema treatment --- a way to help soothe eczema and make living with eczema more bearable.
Coconut oil is a natural moisturizer. It hydrates the skin quickly and efficiently. And like other eczema moisturizers, it helps the skin hold in moisture as well.
The benefits of coconut oil don't stop there, though.
Coconut oil also has several properties that set it apart from other eczema moisturizers.
Its anti-inflammatory properties help ease the itchiness, swelling, flaring, and rashes that eczema causes.
And its antimicrobial properties can even help keep certain bacteria from growing on baby's skin.
This is important because open eczema areas are especially prone to bacterial infection.
Why does coconut oil help with eczema?
The fatty acids in coconut oil help the skin hold in moisture. These fatty acids mimic the lipids (fats) found in someone's natural skin barrier. So, they help supplement and support the compromised skin barrier of children who have eczema.
And coconut oil's bacteria-fighting properties are thanks to lauric acid, one of the fatty acids that also appears in breastmilk. Approximately half of coconut oil is made up of lauric acid.
Lauric acid naturally keeps bacteria from growing on baby's skin. It also helps fight against certain viruses, yeasts, fungi, and other pathogens.
Lauric acid gives coconut oil its anti-inflammatory benefits as well!
Studies on coconut oil and eczema
Many other natural moisturizers don't have any scientific studies to back them up.
But more scientific studies show the effectiveness of coconut oil than any other natural eczema treatment.
One significant clinical trial proved that coconut oil can soothe children's eczema symptoms.
Results of this 2013 randomized, double-blind clinical trial showed that applying virgin coconut oil to children's skin for eight weeks helped ease their eczema symptoms and moisturize their skin. And coconut oil was significantly more effective for these purposes than mineral oil.
Other studies have proven that coconut oil has beneficial properties for the skin, although these studies didn't focus on eczema.
One 2018 study's results demonstrated coconut oil's inflammatory properties.
And a 2014 scientific review supported that coconut oil can reduce the numbers of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that are present on the skin, because of lauric acid.
Are some types of coconut oil better than others?
If you decide to use coconut oil as an eczema moisturizer, read the labels carefully and select an option where coconut oil is the only ingredient.
This way, you won't risk applying coconut oil with additives that could cancel out its benefits (or that could even irritate the skin and make your child's eczema worse.).
Compared to other coconut oils, virgin cold-pressed coconut oil is the best choice for soothing baby eczema. Since it is not heat processed, it has the maximum moisturizing, bacteria-fighting, and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Virgin cold-pressed coconut oil also doesn't contain any irritating chemicals that could make eczema flare up.
In the clinical study mentioned earlier, which showed that applying coconut oil helped moisturize the skin and soothed eczema symptoms, the researchers used virgin cold-pressed coconut oil.
Learn more from Mama Natural about treating eczema for babies:
Is coconut oil safe for babies?
Coconut oil is a safe eczema treatment for infants, toddlers, and children of all ages.
However, you need to consult your allergist before starting to use coconut oil as an eczema moisturizer.
Always ask your allergist before starting to use coconut oil (or any natural moisturizer) on your baby's or child's skin.
If your allergist has given the okay, select coconut oil that doesn't contain other ingredients. (After all, some coconut oil mixtures may contain irritating or unsafe chemical additives.)
And be sure to keep the coconut oil away from baby's eyes when you apply it.
A note about coconut allergy
If your child has an allergy to coconut, applying coconut oil will likely make their eczema symptoms worse, not soothe them.
(Usually, babies with tree nut allergies will have no issues with coconut products, though. Tree nut and coconut allergies are not connected.)
If you're interested in trying coconut oil as an eczema moisturizer, always ask your allergist before starting to apply it on your baby's skin.
Using coconut oil for eczema care
Coconut oil is solid at room temperature, so you'll need to soften it a bit before applying it to baby's skin.
Wash your hands, and then rub a scoop of coconut oil between your clean fingertips. This will soften it enough to apply it.
(Don't use heat to soften the coconut oil, as this may lessen its powerful properties. Plus, there's the risk that you would soften it too much!)
After you soften it, use coconut oil just like any other eczema moisturizer.
Rub it on your baby's skin within 3 minutes after your baby's daily bath, to help seal the moisture of the bath into baby's skin.
Also, apply it intentionally and liberally throughout the day, after you spritz baby's skin with water. Pay special attention to the areas where baby's eczema is worst.
And if baby has an eczema flare-up, soothe the flare areas with coconut oil.
Will coconut oil help all babies with eczema?
Everyone's skin is unique. Different people with eczema will have different responses to certain treatments (just as they may have different irritants or eczema "triggers").
So, what works to treat one baby's eczema may not work for your own baby.
Coconut oil is no different. Even though coconut oil helps many people with eczema, it is not guaranteed to help your baby.
In some babies, it may have little to no effect, or even make eczema worse.
Best of luck as you continue on your baby's eczema management journey!
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