Atopic dermatitis (also known as eczema) is a common skin condition in babies. It affects up to 25% of children, and an estimated 60% of people with eczema develop it during their first year of life. While there is no cure, dermatologists from the American Academy of Dermatology say most cases can be controlled with a customized skincare plan, which may include moisturizers, prescription medications and strategies to eliminate triggers.
Children with eczema have extremely sensitive skin, so a proper skin care routine can go a long way in easing your baby's discomfort and reducing flare-ups. It's also important to begin treating your child's eczema as soon as you notice it, which can prevent the condition from worsening, making it more difficult to treat."
Anna Yasmine Kirkorian, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist
To help manage your baby's symptoms and decrease flare-ups, Dr. Kirkorian recommends the following tips:
- Master your bathing technique. Bathing helps to eliminate dirt and other potential irritants from your baby's skin. When bathing your baby, use lukewarm water, and only wash your baby's dirty or smelly parts using a mild, fragrance-free cleanser. Avoid scrubbing your baby's skin, and limit your baby's bath to five to 10 minutes. Immediately after the bath, apply a fragrance-free moisturizer, keeping in mind that thick creams and ointments are generally more effective than lotions or oils. Moisturize your baby's skin twice a day or as often as necessary to achieve relief.
- Consider topical corticosteroids. Commonly used to treat eczema, these medications help reduce inflammation and symptoms, such as itching. Topical corticosteroids come in many forms, including ointments, creams, sprays and lotions. Work with your dermatologist to identify the best corticosteroid for your baby, and apply it immediately after your baby's bath before applying moisturizer. Since babies are more sensitive to corticosteroids than adults, follow your dermatologist's directions for the amount, duration and frequency of the treatment to avoid side effects.
- Identify and eliminate triggers. Everyday culprits can cause your baby's eczema to suddenly appear or worsen. Common triggers include bodily triggers, such as sweat, saliva and scratching; environmental triggers, such as tobacco smoke, dry air, pet dander, or pollen; or product triggers, such as clothing, laundry detergent, fabric softeners, shampoos or soaps (particularly ones containing fragrance) or baby powder or wipes. If you can identify your baby's triggers, try to find ways to eliminate or avoid them. For example, if you notice that your baby's saliva is triggering eczema on the face, apply plain petroleum jelly around your baby's mouth before feedings and naps.
- Consider bleach bath therapy. Bleach bath therapy is rarely used for babies; however, if your baby's eczema is difficult to control, it may be recommended by your dermatologist. Dilute bleach baths can help ease your baby's symptoms by reducing bacteria and inflammation on the skin. To ensure your baby's safety and avoid irritating your baby's already sensitive skin, follow your dermatologist's instructions for bleach bath therapy carefully.
"Children with eczema are more prone to skin infections, as eczema makes it easier for bacteria, viruses and other germs to get inside the body," says Dr. Kirkorian. "If you notice an infection on your baby's skin, such as pus-filled blisters, sores, or yellowish-orange crusts on the skin, or if you have questions about how to care for your baby's eczema, make an appointment to see a board-certified dermatologist."
These tips are demonstrated in "How to Treat Eczema in Babies," a video posted to the AAD website and YouTube channel. This video is part of the AAD's "Video of the Month" series, which offers tips people can use to properly care for their skin, hair and nails.