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Baby eczema

Written by Healthwords's team of doctors and pharmacists based in UK | Updated: 27.02.2023 | 3 min read

It’s common for babies to suffer from dry skin and eczema, and it can first emerge before or around 6 months. The exact cause of eczema is unknown. Genetics are thought to play a big role - so it’s more common if someone in your family has eczema, allergies, or asthma, or if they have light skin and hair. Or it could be due to environmental factors.

The good news is that even though children may develop eczema in childhood, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will have it forever; most grow out of it by 5 years of age. And with the right attention to triggers, moisturizing routine, and recognizing flare-ups, it can be reduced more quickly.

What does eczema actually look like?

Eczema looks slightly different if you’re used to seeing it on yourself or much older children. In babies under 6 months, it tends to appear more widespread. It typically occurs on the face and scalp but can also spread to other areas. In younger babies, the skin can appear more red and wet looking.

After 6 months, it tends to start occurring around the elbows and knees, and by the age of 2, it typically affects the wrists, hands, ankles, and perhaps the eyelids. Skin looks and feels dry and scaly, possibly thickened with deep lines. It can be quite itchy and cause them a lot of discomfort as they continue to scratch it, so you might see scratch marks and even broken skin in places.

What are common triggers?

A baby’s skin is delicate and developing, and the surface area is large for their body mass, compared to adults, so they have a basic tendency towards moisture loss. Certain environmental factors can increase the risk of irritation and threaten the skin barrier.

Many of these revolve around bath time: too long in the bath, especially if you live in a hard water area, if the bath is too hot, if you use bubble bath or lathering soap on them, if you don’t dry them thoroughly afterward.

Any lotions you use may have irritants, such as fragrances or certain preservatives. Any skin infection will make eczema worse, and vice versa. And there are common allergens that may be irritating, such as house dust mites, pollen, and animal dander, if they have sensitivities.

What can I try at home?

It is important to look at a good combination of bathing and moisturizing. Eczema treatment is often a trial and error, so what works for others may not work for your child, and it requires a lot of persistence and patience to get the winning combination.

Treatment is aimed at locking in moisture to the skin to combat the dryness and prevent inflammation. The moisture also creates a barrier to prevent irritants or allergens from penetrating.

It is important to use a gentle moisturizing cleanser or a soap substitute like Dermol 500 in the bath and avoid those with SLS or other foaming agents. Afterward, lock in the moisture with a good nourishing moisturizer. If your baby’s having a flare-up, you can increase the moisturizer from once to twice or even thrice daily use.

Regular bathing and moisturizing are important. Keep the baths fairly short if your baby is prone to eczema - no longer than 10 minutes - and the water should be tepid rather than too warm.

It is also important to dress them in cotton clothing, avoid overheating as this can dry out the skin and worsen symptoms and be mindful of the detergent that you use to wash clothes - a baby-friendly hypoallergenic detergent is best.

Can I take my baby swimming?

Your baby or your young child shouldn't miss out on the wonders of swimming, but the chlorine used to keep the pool clean can be irritating. So put the moisturizer on 2 hours before swimming to let it soak in, then wash them immediately after their swim and reapply the moisturizer. This should keep their skin nice and protected.

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