While it may appear just about anywhere on a baby’s body, eczema most often occurs on a baby’s cheeks and at the joints of their arms and legs.
Infant eczema can be easily confused with cradle cap, another significantly less red, scaly rash of infancy. Cradle cap generally clears up by age 8 months, and usually appears on the scalp, sides of the nose, eyelids and eyebrows and behind the ears.
Part of the problem with atopic dermatitis is the lack of ceramide on the skin. Ceramides are a family of waxy fat molecules which help provide the barrier protection to the skin. If you don’t have enough of them, the skin will lose water and become very dry.
Genetics play a role in whether an infant gets eczema. If either parent has eczema, a baby is a more likely to develop it, too. Specific defects in the skin barrier or skin allowing moisture out and germs in, could also be a factor.
The good news is that most children outgrow the itchy irritation of eczema before school age. A small number of kids will have eczema into adulthood. Remissions do happen and can last for years, though the tendency to have dry skin often lingers.
Eczema triggers differ from child to child; however there are some common eczema triggers to avoid such as:
- Dry skin. This is often caused by low humidity, especially during winter when homes are well-heated and the air is dry. Dry skin can make a baby’s eczema itchier.
- Skin Contact. Think scratchy wool clothes, polyester, perfumes, body soaps, and laundry soaps. These can all trigger a baby’s eczema flares.
- Stress. Children with baby eczema may react to stress by flushing, which leads to itchy, irritated skin and eczema symptoms.
- Heat and sweat.Both heat and sweat can make the itch of infant eczema worse.
- Food Allergies. Although food allergy is more common in children who have eczema, they are separate conditions. Food allergy does not normally cause eczema, but having eczema may increase the chance that a food allergy develops.
- A good moisturizer, such as a fragrance-free cream, or ointment such as petroleum jelly, can have a dramatic impact on eczema, particularly when applied over damp skin (such as soon after a lukewarm bath. This helps hydrate and cool the skin and may lessen itching. Speak with your doctor or allergist about using an antihistamine to help your baby’s itchiness.
- Topical steroids. Over-the-counter steroids like hydrocortisone creams and ointments can help lessen the redness and inflammation of a baby’s eczema, when used as directed. Though these creams are safe, they can lead to thinned skin and other issues if applied for too many days to certain parts of the body.
- Other topical treatments are available by prescription to ease inflammation. Speak with your pediatrician or pediatric allergist.
One of the keys to treating infant eczema is to prevent your baby from scratching. Scratching can make the rash worse, lead to infection, and cause the irritated skin to get thicker and more leathery.
Be sure your baby’s nails are trimmed often, and then take the edge off of them with a file if you can. Some parents also slip “scratch mittens” onto their little one’s hands. Others try long socks, tucked in under a long-sleeved shirt, so they’re harder for a baby to remove.
Other things you can do to treat your baby’s eczema at home include:
- Bathe your baby for up to 10-15 minutes in warm water. Hot water can strip skin of its natural, protective oils.
- Use mild, unscented body cleansers and laundry soaps. Perfumed, deodorant, and anti-bacterial soaps can be rough on a baby’s sensitive skin.
- Use soap only where your baby may be dirty, such as the genitals, and hands and Simply rinse off the rest of your baby’s body.
- Pat your baby’s skin dry; do not rub.
- Apply a moisturizer while your baby’s skin is wet.
- To minimize the irritation of clothing rubbing on the skin, dress your baby in loose clothes made of cotton. Always wash new clothes before putting them on your baby.
- Use a mild, fragrance-free detergent to wash your baby’s clothes. Consider adding an extra rinse cycle as well.
- Avoid putting too many blankets on your baby or overdressing your little one. This can make your baby hot and sweaty, triggering an eczema flare.
- When possible, dress your baby in long pajamas to help prevent scratching of the skin at night.