I’ve always known my daughter has sensitive skin. She’s prone to getting sunburned easily, has dry skin often and reacts quickly to things that have harsh chemicals. Since she was a baby, she has had several reactions to external irritants that have resulted in an Eczema breakout. What is Eczema? It’s most easily described as an inflamed (i.e. puffy or raised), itchy red rash that is commonly found on the back of knees and elbows. It’s common in children 4 and under and many kids will eventually outgrow it. Babies and toddlers who present with eczema also tend to get outbreaks on their face, trunks, arms and legs. The worst part about eczema is that it can be horribly itchy, which causes you to scratch and release more inflammatory agents, which cause you to itch and scratch and continually damage the skin. It can be painful and hard to heal, which is pretty much the worst when you’re a parent trying to help your child. Here are a few pictures of a recovering bout of eczema from my 3-year old:
In the top photo, the rash is all but gone but the scratch marks where my poor toddler clawed because of the itching are still healing. You can see on the bottom picture there are still patches of raised skin in the crook of her elbow that are starting to scab.
Ok, now that you know what eczema looks like, let’s talk about ways to treat and avoid further outbreaks!
1. Avoid Topical Products With Lots of Chemicals
There are many things that cause eczema outbreaks, but I’d venture to say the majority are caused by external exposure to irritants. For my daughter, the number one issue is sunscreen- which I’m glad I figured out before summer is in full swing. I’m not going to use the brand name of the worst culprit, because I use it personally for myself and it works great and I don’t think it’s fair to say that it’s an awful product across the board. However, I know for a fact that it’s just a little too harsh for my eczema-prone daughter. That being said, take note of any products you use, and how long after you apply them your child experiences a bout of eczema. Everyday products like soaps, lotions, sunscreens and shampoos can be extra drying but also contain chemicals that just don’t react well to sensitive skin. And in case you’re wondering about the sunscreen, I’ve found several products whose main ingredient is zinc oxide (that can be found at Walgreens not some weird website that you have to wait to receive) which is just as effective, if not more, than modern sunscreens. I recommend looking into Vanicream or Coppertone Sensitive.
2. Use Dye and Fragrance Free Detergents
You may not even think about your laundry detergent having an effect on your skin, but for eczema-prone kids it can definitely be a factor. Swap our your detergent with the lovely smell for a fragrance and dye free version that has less irritants. There are many brands that make not only detergents, but dryer sheets as well. If you’re kids are having non-stop breakouts of eczema, consider taking out all their sheets and laundry and doing a wash in the new detergent to rid their clothes of any lingering irritants.
3. Keep Nails Trimmed
As you saw by the top picture above, incessant scratching can make eczema look and feel worse. Until the inflammation dies down, your toddler will want to scratch to relieve the itching. Keep their nails trimmed so that even if they do scratch, they won’t tear the sensitive skin and prolong healing.
4. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is a great product for eczema because not only does it pack tons of moisture but it has healing properties as well. The best time to apply is straight out of the bath, while the skin is still wet. Before drying, liberally apply coconut oil and then pat dry with a towel. I also apply anytime the skin is looking inflamed again, and often times my daughter will wake up the morning following the bath and coconut oil application and her skin looks almost completely healed! You can buy coconut oil on Amazon or find in your cooking aisle.
5. Avoid Heat
With summer on the horizon, it’s almost laughable to say stay out of the heat. But hot environments can cause and prolong breakouts, and make your child feel miserable. On particularly hot days (you know, when the heat almost feels prickly) try and stay indoors to avoid sweating and an outbreak. To further prevent sweating, try and dress your little one in loose clothing that allows good airflow. Only give warm (not hot) baths and don’t make them long ones. The hot temperature can dry out skin which makes eczema feel even worse!
This list of ideas is not meant to circumvent advice from a medical practitioner. It’s always best to talk to your dermatologist about serious skin issues.