A guide to baby eczema

Printer iconPrint article
Brought to you by Tesco Babyclub and the Essential Parent Company: Experts in everyday parenting

Skin rashes in babyhood are common and can cause a lot of upset. Itchy, sore, red rashes anywhere on the body can be upsetting and distressing for your baby.

Genes and family history of allergies and eczema

Atopic eczema usually occurs when there’s a family history of allergies such as eczema, asthma or hay fever, and it affects over 12% of children. Take your baby along to your GP if you suspect eczema and get the appropriate treatment. Baby eczema can be quite difficult to treat. It usually starts in the early months of baby’s life but the good news is that usually children grow out of it.

What are the symptoms of baby eczema?

In white children, patches of red, dry and itchy skin on the face or behind the ears or in the creases of the neck, knees and elbows. In Asian and black children, eczema may not affect creases but may affect other areas.

Atopic eczema can lead to open sores on the skin, which leaves skin more vulnerable to infection from bacteria, viruses and funguses. If your baby’s eczema patches become infected, their doctor will prescribe appropriate treatment.

How do I stop my baby scratching?

If your baby scratches their eczema (and they probably will) it can become infected and worsen quickly, so it’s important to treat it quickly. Rather than using mitts on babies to stop them scratching, you can cut their nails short and keep them clean so they can’t scratch the rash, which would make it bleed and be more likely to get infected. Take your baby along to Baby Clinic as soon as their eczema flares up to get advice from your health visitor or GP on treatment.

How do I treat my baby’s eczema?

  • Bathe in warm water, not hot. Heat increases the itchiness
  • Avoid bubble baths and soap, which dry the skin. Use a soap substitute instead (you can get these prescribed from your doctor)
  • Avoid using perfumed products on your baby’s skin
  • Apply emollients frequently and liberally – don’t rub the cream in circles or up and down – use gentle downwards strokes
  • Apply emollient immediately after bathing as this will help trap the water under it and aid rehydration
  • Use a non-slip mat in the bath as emollients can make the bath slippery
  • Wash clothes just in water, or in the minimum effective quantity of non-biological, unperfumed washing powder. If you do use powder, give clothes an extra rinse. Avoid fabric conditioners
  • Wear cotton (100% organic if possible as these garments will not have pesticide residues on them) or silk next to the skin. Wool and man-made fibres can irritate the skin. Use cotton sheets and duvet covers in beds
  • Keep bedrooms cool – overheating makes eczema worse. Warm, moist environments also encourage house dust mites. (Eczema can also flare up in cold conditions, which can dry the skin, so try to keep the temperature ambient – not too cold or hot)
  • Keep pets out of the bedroom – animal dander can make eczema worse. Regular damp dusting and vacuuming will help to keep the dust levels down
  • Steroid creams can stop eczema from getting worse (this can happen very quickly so act fast). These are safe so long as they are prescribed by your child’s doctor and you follow the instructions carefully. However, they should be spread thinly, used sparingly and stopped when the redness disappears
  • Some doctors recommend washing bath toys in the dishwasher to keep them clean and using a spoon to get emollient out of the jar to avoid the natural bacteria on your hands contaminating the cream
  • Some eczema sufferers report that certain foods make their eczema worse and cut them from their diet – for example, dairy. Don’t make dietary changes to your baby’s diet without talking to your GP first. Cutting out important foods such as milk, dairy products, wheat or eggs should be recommended and supervised by a medical professional
  • Some eczema sufferers report that their eczema improves if they swim fairly frequently at the public pool. The suggestion is that the cleaning products in the water kill bacteria on the skin surface of some eczema sufferers and the eczema improves. However, some report it makes their eczema worse. This is because there are different types of eczema – so some respond well to chlorine and others respond badly. If you do take your baby to the public pool to swim, see how their eczema is affected and discuss this with your doctor.