Our son has suffered from eczema since birth, and we have found out in recent weeks that it’s down to several allergies. I have spent so very many hours taking him to the GP, visiting the allergy clinic, researching eczema online and trying a huge range of treatments, that I felt I ought to share some of what I have learnt.
As so many people (quite correctly) told us, eczema is ever so common in infants and not something to worry about on its own. The trouble is, as our boy’s eczema continued to worsen and remained uncontrolled, he was in great discomfort and we were hugely stressed yet I felt embarrassed to return to the GP about something as ‘everyday’ as eczema. I didn’t like to make a fuss, which is what I should have been doing. So I would encourage you not to feel too concerned about a little eczema and itching, but equally to follow your parent’s instinct if something doesn’t seem right. Look out for sore creases of the skin, and dry patches on the hands, face and neck. Our crunch point came when baby’s sleep was being affected by his itching.
I’ve put together a few ideas below of things I would recommend trying out or looking into if you’re worried that your baby’s eczema is not being well-managed. I’m not a doctor, so do take your child to a professional, but these tips are worth trying out in the meantime:
1. Change your laundry detergent and skip the conditioner.
Your laundry products are one of the first things your GP will question. Our GP and the allergy nurse both recommended Fairy Non-bio, so that is what we use. There are so many alternatives though, some of which are more ‘natural’ as they contain no perfumes. I have personally found laundry detergent made from soapnuts is a pleasant, natural alternative. I have also read rave reviews for the Eco-egg, which uses mineral pellets instead of soaps and harsh perfumes. You should most definitely drop the fabric conditioner, and I also always pop an extra rinse cycle on after the normal wash cycle (as recommended by the allergy nurse). I noticed at one stage that baby’s eczema was all over his body apart from his face and nappy area – and those sore areas were all the parts that his clothes touched, so I fully believe in the importance of laundry habits.
2. Do you have a family history of atopy (eczema, asthma, hay fever)?
This isn’t a tip exactly, just a question you should have an answer ready for. It’s also worth mentioning significant food allergies in the family, in my opinion, as our large family history of both atopy and food allergy (anaphylaxis, coeliac and more!) definitely played a part in the speed of our appointment, once referred.
3. If your baby has started eating solid food, try to keep a basic food diary.
It is a huge hassle, I know, because feeding babies is manic enough without trying to record it all too. However, I’d say a simple record of food eaten and if a reaction was noticed would be hugely helpful. Keep it on your phone or on a notepad you keep in the kitchen or on the dining table. Make a note of any other obvious connections too, such as in our case when baby’s eczema worsened after introducing formula. I felt from the beginning that our son’s eczema must be caused by something, and this is why allergy is worth exploring.
4. Alongside number 3, snap photos of any significant reactions.
I found it really helpful to be able to look back at photos on my phone, all dated, and refer to them. In fact, if keeping a written diary is proving difficult, you may prefer to take a quick picture of baby’s food tray instead. If that photo is followed by a reaction photo, you can see the pattern emerge. The pictures below show the ‘before and after’ of my son eating egg, taken around ten minutes apart. This was a particularly obvious allergic reaction (as it continued to worsen after the photo was taken), but you can hopefully see that it would be a useful tool in monitoring eczema and allergy.
I know parents of eczema babies who have had completely different experiences of bathtime. For us and most others, water irritated our baby’s skin so as his eczema worsened, we seriously cut back on the amount of baths we gave him. That’s fine; babies don’t sweat so they just need their faces wiped, hair washed, and their bits and bobs kept clean. However, once we had received more advice from experts, we were able to slather baby in his emollient (moisturiser) before his bath, and that now protects him from the water. We keep his hands busy with toys so he won’t scratch. Other people have told me their baby’s eczema is actually improved by regular baths, so I would recommend experimenting with the frequency of baby’s baths to see his reaction. If in doubt, don’t be afraid to bathe him less while you’re waiting to see an expert; it won’t hurt!
Don’t use ANYTHING on baby’s skin that is in any way perfumed. That includes a LOT of “gentle” products marketed for babies. They don’t need soap, they don’t need shampoo, they don’t need traditional baby lotion. Just use a doctor-approved emollient such as Diprobase Ointment or Epaderm to wash and moisturise baby. I won’t mention certain brand names but even well-established baby brands are not suitable for sensitive skin – even if the packaging claims so! If you need a shampoo for cradle cap, as our boy did, then wash baby’s hair over a sink so the shampoo doesn’t run down baby’s body. Our allergy nurse recommended Head and Shoulders and discouraged the application of oil.
A few further tips on eczema products:
We were told that any white-looking creams contain water, which is a known irritant to eczema, so when our little one was wailing as we applied his old cream, it was because it was stinging him. Awful thought, so I wanted to mention it. Additonally, it has been advised that eczema sufferers avoid aqueous cream as it can be an irritant (possibly due to the sodium lauryl sulfate it contains).
Baby should wear cotton clothing, and (as with any little one) it’s important they don’t get too hot. I have always avoided materials like denim and wool, and aimed to keep baby in layers of cotton instead. You know your baby best, and mine would rather be cool than warm so we use a low tog, cotton sleeping bag at nights. It’s easy to add a blanket if the night turns cooler but very hard to cool down an over-heated, itchy baby! Do follow official guidance regarding temperature, but this is my experience.
We like clothing from Frugi, which is organic cotton, and no chemicals are used in the whole production process. Baby is modelling a cute long sleeved vest and my favourite sleepsuit from Frugi below. Elsewhere, I have seen silk-based pjs available to buy, which are apparently helpful in controlling temperature and reducing eczema flare-ups. I haven’t tried these products so can’t comment but will just mention it. They are expensive, but can be prescribed.
As you are constantly holding, cuddling and feeding baby, you’ll need to stick to the same regime as your little one to some extent. Use non-bio laundry detergent, use fragrance-free soap on your hands and body (especially if you’re breastfeeding and baby is regularly pressed against your skin) and avoid scented moisturisers and itchy materials like wool. If you wear perfume, spray it behind your neck so it doesn’t touch baby. I haven’t gone this far, but there are more natural, salt-based deodorants that you may wish to use just to generally steer clear of nasty chemicals.
As the sun is now shining, I have recently been looking into suncreams that are suitable for eczema babies, and the consensus seems to be, as with a lot of eczema issues, it’s different for different people and is a matter of trial and error. However, I understand that SunSense Ultra 50+ is available on presciption, and the National Eczema Society also lists the following suncreams:
- E45 Reflective Sunscreen Sun Lotion SPF30
- La Roche-Posay Anthelios Spray SPF 50
- Nivea Sun Children’s Pure & Sensitive Spray SPF50
- Soltan Sensitive Hypoallergenic Suncare Lotion SPF 30
- SunSense Sensitive SPF 50+
Having asked around on Facebook support pages, I hear that eczema-friendly everyday brands include Avon and L’Oreal. The National Eczema Society factsheet on eczema and the sun says that, ‘Many people with eczema seem to find that mineral-based sunscreens are less irritating to their skin than chemical absorbers,’ so look out for this type. They also recommend not rubbing in the cream too enthusiastically as the rubbing itself can be an irritant. Of course, the best sun protection is for baby to be out of the direct sun and wearing a sunhat.
Now, there is a lot more I could say about eczema and allergy, but for now I think the points above cover the most important things to have considered when exploring the cause and treatment of your little one’s eczema. As I’ve stated, please do see a professional if you’re worried!
Have you got any eczema products to recommend? Any tips for controlling eczema? Have you had any experiences with awkward or sceptical doctors? Let us know!