Baby Eczema and how to relieve dry skin
Eczema is a chronic skin condition that can appear at any time of a child’s life. Eczema can form on any area of the body. Eczema causes the skin to become dry and inflamed in patches, leading to rough, itchy, and sometimes painful skin.
Baby eczema can be particularly troubling for parents as your child can be very itchy and uncomfortable.
Eczema is a prevalent condition in children, with at least 20% of kids having these dry patches of skin at some time in their lives. Kids are most likely to have eczema when they are babies, and the first year of life is the most common age.
Most children who suffer from eczema outgrow it over time, though some older children or adults have eczema life long. Eczema is more common in children who have parents or siblings who had or have the condition. Unfortunately, the very thing that keeps your hands clean and free of viruses and bacteria – water can irritate sensitive skin.
This is why some kids and adults have eczema more severely on their hands and wrists, as these areas are exposed more often to water, soap, hand sanitizer, and friction.
When I started practicing as a pediatrician, I noticed that I developed eczema on my hands and wrists. I suddenly understood why I see so many babies and children scratching till they bleed, and kids can’t even sleep at night due to discomfort. I noticed that my hands would become more irritated and inflamed in the winter, when the weather was more dry and cold, and when I was washing my hands more frequently in the viral season. I developed a newfound empathy for my itchy patients!
Learning what your child’s eczema triggers are can be very helpful. For my kids and me, bathing, friction, and dry air trigger. For this reason, we avoid long baths and lubricate our skin often to prevent dryness. We have the humidity in our home cranked up and even use humidifiers in each room to prevent the air from being too dry.
Here are some other tricks to ward off eczema:
Keep hands warm
This may sound obvious but wear gloves or mitts when you are outside in the cold. I am not consistent in doing this. It might be -20 degrees, but I often grab my car keys and dash to the car without gloves. My hands get far drier and chapped. Not a smart move. Ensure your hands are covered when it is cold.
This one will sound counter-intuitive. You may think, Dr. Dina, eczema is dry skin. If you make it wet, it will be less dry. This may sound correct, but think about what happens when you lick your lips. It doesn’t make them lubricated. It makes them drier. When we wet our skin, it then evaporates, taking more moisture with it. We want the skin to be dry but LUBRICATED.
Use a barrier
Many people apply lotions to dry skin, and this can help some people. When you put a cream on your skin, that lotion absorbs quickly, which we prefer as we don’t want to be greasy. However, we also wish to a barrier on our skin to prevent moisture loss and protect from the elements. For this reason, I prefer using lubrication, such as Petroleum-free jelly or Vaseline. I think the greasier, the better.
Identify and avoid irritants
There are so many things in the environment that can irritate our skin.
Soaps and hand sanitizers are common irritants that can wreak havoc on our skin. Of course, we need to wash our hands. Pay attention to products that irritate your skin or the skin of your child. Note them down in a journal. They try new products and continue to use products that don’t cause the skin to become itchy and dry.
Some trial and error are required, but you will be much more comfortable once you figure it out.
Products with fragrance and essential oils can be very irritating for some people with dry skin. In general, I recommend using products that are unscented and as natural as possible. If there are 50 ingredients in the cream, it may sound fancy, but it is more likely to irritate than calm in my experience.
Many families think certain foods lead to eczema flair-ups in their children. I have heard this hundreds of times. However, when families try to limit these offending foods, eczema rarely improves. I suggest you keep a journal of products and foods you think to trigger eczema, and one at a time, remove these.
If there is an improvement, then you can add it back into your routine, one at a time, to see if flairs happen again. This close monitoring, one product or food at a time, can lead to a much better understanding of what may lead to worsening eczema and what has no implication. Restricting your child’s diet has potentially negative consequences, so it is best to discuss this with your child’s doctor before limiting foods.
As mentioned above, friction can irritate eczema. Many kids and adults will have increased irritation in areas that rub on clothing. Many babies will have flair ups on the skin that rubs on the diaper or on the chest and neck areas that rub on clothing.
Older kids sometimes have eczema on the abdomen or back when pant waistbands rub. By being mindful of irritation areas, you can ensure clothing isn’t rubbing in the wrong spots.
Lubricate inside gloves (and socks)
One of my favorite tips for decreasing inflammation from hand and foot eczema is to put cream or lotion on generously, followed by gloves or socks. When the skin heats up from the warmth, it will absorb the moisturizer more quickly. This can help heal the skin.
While sun exposure provides vitamin D, and vitamin D can help eczema heal, when the skin is hot, it can sweat, and we now know that when the skin is wet, eczema can cause flair. Of course, we want our kids to play outside for their physical and mental health, but we want to be mindful of what happens to their skin when they do.
If your child sweats a lot, dry them off from time to time, and apply more lubrication. And wear sunscreen to prevent sun damage.
Though many people see improvements in their skin over time, eczema is a condition that waxes and wanes. There is no known cure, so you will have to remain diligent and continue treating it when it is present.
Don’t despair. Most kids outgrow it in due time.