Learn more about how to care for babies with eczema and the important link between baby eczema and food allergies.
Eczema affects up to 20% of children, and 70% of all cases begin in children before the age of five. In addition, 67% of babies with severe eczema will develop a food allergy. Learn more about how to care for babies with eczema and the important link between baby eczema and food allergies.
For more information on how to care for your baby's eczema, watch this video from Board Certified Dermatologist Dr. Latanya Benjamin and Mustela:
Here are four important steps to caring for your baby with eczema: Identify the eczema, treat it, prevent flare-ups, and take steps to introduce food allergens early, since eczema babies are more likely to develop a food allergy.
First, identify baby eczema.
Eczema (or dermatitis) is a general term for a group of inflammatory skin conditions.
Sam Casselman, Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, program director for the Severe Eczema Clinic and Eczema school at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, and recognized “Ecz-pert” for the National Eczema Association, explains eczema like this: At a skin level, skin without eczema has an intact skin barrier, so it’s like a strong brick wall. Meanwhile, eczema skin has a compromised skin barrier, so it’s like a brick wall with “missing mortar.” An eczema baby’s skin barrier is not as strong, so allergens and bacteria can easily get through. This causes irritation, or flares, beneath the skin.
Atopic dermatitis, the most common type of eczema, causes red, dry, and itchy skin. In babies, this form of eczema usually affects the face, scalp, and skin creases, but can also involve other areas of the body.
How does eczema differ from cradle cap?
Cradle cap is a dandruff-like rash with scaly patches. It’s not as red as eczema.
How does eczema differ from the hives that food allergies cause?
The hives that food allergies cause are red, raised bumps. Meanwhile, eczema rash is a red, scaly and itchy rash. For more on the differences between food allergy hives and eczema flare-ups, be sure to read our linked article.
Next, treat the eczema.
Every baby is different, so what works to treat one baby’s eczema may not work as well for another baby. However, moisturizing your baby’s skin is the cornerstone of effective baby eczema treatment.
Can I give my baby or little one a bath when they have eczema?
Sam Casselman recommends using the “soak and seal” method: bathe your baby once per day in warm water for at least 10-15 minutes, then moisturize immediately after the bath to seal the moisture into your baby’s skin.
In addition, the following is recommended for bathing babies with eczema:
- Do not use soaps. Use unscented, mild liquid body wash for baby's bath. Why is it important to wash with liquid cleansers, and not soaps? Liquid cleansers clean, but don’t mess with the PH of your baby’s skin, and so don’t dry out their skin.
- Don’t scrub your baby’s eczema areas too vigorously. Rather, gently wash the affected areas.
- If your baby has cradle cap, though, scrub the scalp with a bit more vigor to remove the scales.
- After bath time, only partially dry baby. Patting them lightly with a towel is best. Keeping some moisture on the skin will help the moisturizers to sink in.
- Add moisture. Remember the three-minute rule: moisturize within 3 minutes after the bath. The moisturizer is the crucial “sealing” of the skin in the “soak and seal” method. Here are three types of recommended moisturizers:
- Coconut oil: Coconut oil can help hold in moisture, ease swelling and redness and even keep certain bacteria from growing. Virgin cold-pressed coconut oil works especially well because it is not heat processed, so it keeps more of its germ-fighting powers.
- Moisturizer with ceramides: Ceramides are lipids or fats of the skin. Moisturizers with ceramides often indicate they are "for eczema" on the front label.
- Ointments: When it comes to moisturizers, ointments are usually better than creams that have alcohol. Ointments usually contain no alcohol, but creams that have alcohol can sting and burn your baby’s skin.
Flare prevention tips, as shared by Sam Casselman, the American Academy of Dermatology, and the National Eczema Association, include:
- Use dye-free and perfume-free detergent for laundry. Don't use fabric softeners for laundry.
- Use mild and unscented body wash when bathing your baby. Be sure to bathe them daily, and use a moisturizing routine when bathing.
- Remember that regular moisturizing is crucial to controlling flares. Moisturizing seals water into the skin, so it fights dryness. It also helps lock out the irritants that can make flares worse. So, moisturize your baby whenever their skin looks itchy or feels dry (after spritzing them with water.)
- Add a humidifier to their sleeping environment 1 or 2 nights per week.
- Keep your little one cool. Heat can exacerbate the rash.
- Think about using soothing cold packs if your baby starts to flare up. Cold packs can help your baby relieve itch and distract from the uncomfortable feeling of a flare.
- Store moisturizers in the fridge for another way to soothe and cool your baby. (Do not do this with prescribed treatments, though, unless your doctor says it’s safe to do so.)
- Dress your little one loosely in natural cottons. Avoid rough and itchy fabrics, as well as tight clothing.
- Don’t put fingers in your baby’s skin care products. Dirty fingers could contaminate the products with bacteria or other flare triggers. Use a pump or squeeze tube of moisturizer instead.
- Use no-scratch mitts on your baby, especially while they sleep, to discourage scratching. If your baby starts a cycle of itching and scratching, this can lead to worse flares.
- If your doctor prescribes a treatment for your baby’s eczema (such as a prescription moisturizer), use it on the skin right away! Delaying the treatment will only make your baby’s eczema worse.
- Always follow your doctor’s instructions for applying prescription moisturizer, so you apply enough to treat your baby’s flares, but not too much.
- Consider using a dilute bleach bath to treat your baby’s flare-up. Research shows it may calm down inflammation and could help with infection.
- Never apply bleach directly to baby eczema; rather, measure out the recommended amount of bleach in a measuring cup or spoon, and then mix it with the bath water as the tub is filling up.
- According to the American Academy of Dermatology, when bathing your baby in a baby/toddler bathtub, you should use one teaspoon of bleach per gallon of water.
- Too little bleach may not help your baby’s eczema, but too much bleach could further irritate baby’s skin.
- Please always consult your dermatologist before starting a bleach bath; ask them how long your baby should soak in a bleach bath, and how much bleach they recommend using.
4. I’ve heard that babies with eczema can have a higher risk of food allergies. What should I do?
While food allergies develop from a combination of genetic and environmental factors (such as changes in lifestyle and diet), eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is the most important risk factor to consider. That’s because research shows that babies with eczema are at the highest risk for developing food allergies. In fact, up to 67% of babies with severe eczema and 25% of babies with mild eczema will develop a food allergy. (However, food allergy does not cause eczema.)
About Sarah Shoemaker: Sarah is passionate about removing the stress from the tiny moments in parenting. Trained in child development from top Harvard child development experts such as Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, an on staff parenting expert Dr. Maureen O’Brien, and a consumer insights process while working in a juvenile product career, Sarah’s passion and understanding of infant development and what parents and babies are capable of is front and center. She went on to start her own companies, and is currently focused on removing stress from baby’s bath. Sign up to open the door to Hummingbird Infant’s Baby Buzz – snackable insights for new parents -- to help you bring your best parenting self forward. Plus, a free guide, How to Give a Happy Baby Bath and printable My First Bath and My First Big Kid Bath signs.
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