Within a couple of weeks of our littlest guy being born, his skin broke out in eczema combined with an atrocious case of cradle cap. The poor guy was a mess. It was a long road of doctors visits and specialist referrals before I got on a program that really helped him out.
I found navigating the world of skin disorders very difficult and had to push to be referred to both a pediatric dermatologist and an allergist, both of whom helped us tremendously. I want to share what I have learned because there are some things you can do to provide some relief to your little one and I know how distressing it can feel to be at as loss as to how to help your child.
How Do I Know If My Child Has Eczema?
If you’re reading this you likely already know what eczema is and what it looks like. But if you suspect your child might have it, it can be diagnosed by your pediatrician. Eczema can range in severity; my eldest had seasonal eczema that would flare up during the dry winters in two small patches on his legs. It was easily treatable with a heavy cream like Eucerin. Make sure you choose the tub version of the cream it works better to protect the skin, the pump is lotion and is watered down so is not as effective for treating this.
My youngest’s eczema was far more severe, it covered his entire body and required a more stringent protocol of treatment. This is what he looked like on his worst day when I was beside myself about how we were supposed to help him. I took him to the pediatrician that afternoon and asked for a referral to a pediatric dermatologist, who finally set us on the right path.
This picture was taken at 5 months. Poor little guy, never ever complained about it.
Treatments for Eczema
The main goal of all of the eczema treatments is keeping the skin calm. There is a popular belief among doctors that flared skin causes a child to develop food allergies and not the reverse, that eczema is a skin reaction to food allergies, as once believed.
Here are three high level things that worked for us that you can try to help alleviate some discomfort:
- Skin Care regimen (I called it our lotions and potions program)
- Vitamin D
- Every day for 10-15 minutes
- Water temperature should be lukewarm – the cooler the better while still being a comfortable bath temperature, hot water causes skin to become itchy
- avoid scrubbing with a washcloth, just soak
- Our dermatologist recommended Mustela Stelatopia Milky Bath Oil to use in the bath. Warning, if you use this your child becomes VERY SLIPPERY!
- For a body wash there are a number of mild brands that I have used and been happy with: Aquaphor Baby Gentle Wash & Shampoo (available in the US/not CAN); Cetaphil and CeraVe – anything that is free of perfumes or dyes works.
- Gently pat dry – apply lotions and potions before skin dries (within 3 minutes)
Skin Care Regimen
The key to making this work is sticking with it and working with your dermatologist (or pediatrician) to find the right base product for your child that will keep the skin from flaring up. It might not make the eczema totally disappear, but it will keep it from being painful and itchy.
When our son’s skin was at its worst we put 3-4 different lotions on him twice every day. Once in the morning before dressing him and once after his bath at night. We use a topical steroid when the flare-ups are really bad and experimented with a few different base layers for the times when his skin is calmer, both prescription and over the counter. The one he responded to best is a homeopathic remedy called Florasone Cream. We follow this up with a layer of an oil that our dermatologist sold in his office that is a mixture of sunflower oil and coconut oil. Then to seal it all in we use a final layer of Cetaphil (tub version).
Cliff notes version:
- Base layer
- topical steroid (prescription) where the skin is severe (red, itchy)
- or Florasone Cream where the skin is better, still eczema but not red and itchy
- Nourishing Skin Oil
- I don’t know any brand other than the one our dermatologist in Chicago sold. When we moved to Toronto they said we could keep ordering it or just use a mix of Sunflower oil and Coconut Oil. It is extremely messy, because it is an oil but really helped.
- Top Cream
- This layer seals it all in, I prefer Cetaphil, but CeraVe, Eucerin, Vaniply Ointment all work just as well, again make sure it is the tub of cream, not the pump.
We used to add Vitamin D to his bottles and now he gets a dropper of it every morning. Vitamin D is often used to help with skin conditions; it is a good vitamin for everybody especially those of us living in colder climates, or anyone that doesn’t expose their skin to the sun very often. Everyone in my family takes it, adults included.
Products to Avoid
After a lot of trial and error and slowly eliminating products that seemed to irritate his skin I have come up with a list of things I would avoid from the beginning if I were to do it over again.
- Infant detergent like Dreft, Purex baby, or Ivory Snow while sensitive for infants still irritated my son’s skin so we switched to Tide Free and Gentle (dryer sheets too) for him and then eventually I started washing all of our clothes in it since the irritants of regular perfumed Tide would bother his skin if I was holding him.
- Scented Lotions and Perfumes
- I also switched my own body lotion to Cetaphil when he was an infant and I held him more because I noticed he would get irritated by my lotion if our skin made contact.
- I made the mistake of treating his cradle cap with Mustela Foam Shampoo for Newborns, which was awesome and I would highly recommend it for cradle cap, but NOT for a child with eczema, it is perfumed and caused a lot of skin issues on the rest of his body.
- I had a plastic Baby Bjorn bib that rubbed up against his chin and irritated his skin, same with Sophie the giraffe and most chewable teething toys. So we switched to wood toys and some fabric covered ones.
- My other two kids had fleece blankets that they slept with as toddlers, but those irritated his skin so we went with the muslin ones from Aden and Anais.
It was a long slow road to having his skin clear up and it was finally looking better at about 15 months. This photo was taken when he was around 18 months and his skin was the best it had looked his entire life. Awww, so cute. (Excuse the messy clothes, but I was trying to use a picture that showed his skin.) He is now 2 ½ and we mostly use just the Cetaphil cream on him twice a day and still use non-perfumed detergents and body soaps.
Eczema can be a tough challenge to manage and just because he seems to be okay now doesn’t mean he will be that way for good. It is something he will have to manage his whole life but with the right guidance from his dermatologist, he’ll be just fine.
Do any of your kids have eczema or skin issues? What has worked for them? Do you know if they are tied to anything? Is there a connection to allergies in your kids at all? I’m curious to know what other people have done since it is so common in children.
*We also included Bleach Baths as part of our routine, nearly every other day when his skin was at its worst. I opted not to go into detail about that because the notes I have from my doctor say that it should only be done under the supervision of a health care provider. I don’t want anyone to have issues based on something I said. However, if it is recommended to you, it sounds terrifying but it works well, I think they should come up with a different name for it so it doesn’t sound so caustic. Anyhow, I am a proponent of Bleach Baths, but you should ask your child’s doctor before you try them.
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