Swot up on the how’s, the whys & the best ways to help manage it
How to spot it
Baby eczema can often appear in the first year, and shows itself as patches of dry, red, scaly skin that can feel quite rough. Not to be confused with cradle cap (which is much less red, and is primarily on the scalp), the most common eczema in toddlers and babies, known as atopic eczema, tends to flare up in areas such as the crook of the arm or behind the knees. “It can also appear in the fold of the neck where milk has settled, and the groin area where the baby’s nappy has irritated the skin,” says Dr Justine Hextall, dermatologist for La Roche Posay.
While cow’s milk allergies, certain fabrics, aerosols, cigarette smoke and irritants like soap, detergents and bubble bath can all be triggers of skin irritation leading to eczema, genetics can play a part, too. “Often those with atopic eczema have a parent who also suffers with eczema, asthma or hay fever,” explains Dr Hextall. “The structure of the outer layer of the skin and its ability to hold moisture can be dictated by genetics. If the skin is dry and less able to hold moisture, it can be more vulnerable to irritation, inflammation and allergy.”
What not to do
Wondering how to treat eczema in babies? Believe it or not, bathing babies or toddlers with eczema may not be as soothing for the skin as you might think. “Constant washing can damage vulnerable baby skin,” says Dr Hextall. But don’t let that put you off enjoying what might be your baby’s favourite time of day. “Lukewarm baths can be kinder and less drying to the skin, and always gently pat skin dry afterwards,” she says.
Avoid harsh soaps and heavily fragranced products, too. “I would never use a perfumed baby wipe on such vulnerable skin,” she adds. Avoid known triggers, try to keep your baby’s room (and the rest of the house) as cool as possible, and avoid direct sunlight, as heat and sweat can be triggers for eczema. Also, if you’ve been to the doctor and have been prescribed a topical steroid cream, ensure you apply it regularly and for as long as directed – you’ll need to keep using it alongside their normal moisturisation (if you’re using an emollient wait at least 30 minutes before applying the steroid cream). “It’s just as important to keep the skincare barrier hydrated during and post steroid treatment,” she says.
While most children grow out of their eczema, it’s worth maintaining a good bathtime skincare routine. “Helping to maintain a healthy skin barrier may well help to reduce the development of other atopic conditions and allergies,” warns Dr Hextall. For those that don’t grow out of it, the good news is there’s more ways to treat it than just using prescribed creams. “They are mainly for trying to reduce the inflammatory component of eczema. Finding the right cleansing and moisturising products will provide a more sustainable solution,” she explains.
Use a gentle hydrating cleanser and check that your baby’s moisturiser is unperfumed and suitable for sensitive skin – appropriate emollients are often recommended to help manage dry, itchy or flaking skin conditions. And finally, look for humectants – these are ingredients that lock moisture into skin such as honey, glycerin, sorbitol or urea.
Products to help care for eczema-prone skin
• La Roche Posay Baby Lipikar AP+ Lipid-Replenishing Balm, is immediately soothing on dry baby skin
• Childs Farm Baby Moisturiser, is super mild, with shea and cocoa butter, for all-over care for sensitive skin
• Aveeno Baby Dermexa Moisturising Wash, contains colloidal oatmeal, oat extract and ceramides, to gently cleanse very dry, itchy skin