Best way to treat baby eczema – what worked for us
Update! This blog post on the best way to treat baby eczema was first published in December 2018. Nearly 2 years on, there have been a lot of changes. Hannah is now a toddler, and her eczema has improved hugely. At the time of writing, she is now *almost* eczema free. This may be down to time, however I’m sharing below some updates on things which may have helped, as well as what causes baby eczema flareups for Hannah.
Now I planned to write this blog post about nine months ago. However the reason it’s taken so long is because I’m not quite at the place where I hoped to be with Hannah’s eczema.
I was hoping to write a really happy post about how I managed to cure Hannah’s eczema, sharing all the tips with you. But of course, like many things in life, it didn’t quite work that way. It’s also made me realise that as a mum, I can’t fix everything, try as I might.
I now know that waiting for that perfect day when Hannah’s skin is eczema-free and she no longer has the urge to itch, may take a while.
Eczema is a condition that can take years to clear up, with many children naturally growing out of it. There are so many factors which cause and exacerbate the condition. One day Hannah’s skin might be great, then teething, illness or a dietary reaction would flare it up again.
However, at the time of writing we have made some really good inroads with Hannah’s eczema, and her skin is in the best condition it’s been. So I’ve decided to document Hannah’s eczema journey thus far, and share what treatments, creams and dietary advice we’ve been following, as it may help others.
A head’s up… this article is LONG, because basically this has been my life for the last few months.
Best way to treat Baby Eczema – a couple of disclaimers
Before I go on, I have to mention that (obviously) I am by no means an expert. I’m not a doctor, dermatologist, and I’m definitely not a dietician. Check out my food section if you’re in doubt. So please bear that in mind when you’re reading the tips and advice.
I’ve sought advice from my GP, multiple mums, and consulted privately. However, different things for work different babies so it’s important to do your research and see what works for you and your little one.
The other thing to be aware of is that, frustratingly, there are a million variables which can cause and contribute to baby eczema. And it’s such a subtle condition that it’s almost impossible to detect the exact cause.
And one final thing…
Unlike lots of other diseases (though I HATE that term), eczema is a relatively new and little-known phenomenon.
One thing I learned along this journey is that GPs, dermatologists, dieticians and naturopaths all have differences of opinion when it comes to eczema. The dermatologist believes that it’s a completely skin-based condition that can only be resolved with the use of steroid cream. The dietician attributes eczema to an immune system response. The GP usually says it’s dry skin that just needs a thick helping of cream.
I spoke to lots of experts and decided the only way forward was to go with what felt right for me and Hannah. Consequently, it was a combination of dietary adjustments, creams and some handy tricks, which helped.
But essentially, eczema is a minefield and hugely stressful for most parents. So if you’re currently dealing with an itchy baby, I hope this post helps.
Update! The ‘experts aren’t always right!
Update! In hindsight, speaking to so many different experts only confused matters as I received conflicting information. Now, I look back and wonder whether some of the information, particularly advice I received after a private consultation wasn’t right for treating Hannah’s eczema. I’ll explain in more detail below.
Treating Baby eczema – an itchy b*tch of a condition
Hannah’s eczema was diagnosed when she was about seven months old. We noticed first that she’d be itchy while eating and at night time.
I was told by my GP that she’d likely grow out of it, and in the meanwhile we should apply a prescribed emollient generously. The emollient we were given – Cetraben – didn’t work for Hannah. In fact it made her skin flaky, even the areas that were previously baby soft.
She wasn’t overly itchy at this point, but her skin was very dry.
Whilst weaning, we detected that she had a dairy intolerance as she’d break out in an itchy heat-rash after eating dairy. This was confirmed with a blood test.
For context, Hannah (thankfully) doesn’t have severe eczema. But she had a stubborn patch on her neck and behind her knees. As the neck is constantly exposed, easy access meant that Hannah would scratch a lot.
As any mum with an itchy baby will know, seeing my bubba scratching incessantly was heartbreaking. So as a mum obsessed I did all I could to relieve her eczema. And whether it’s one particular thing or a combination of everything, Hannah’s skin has really improved. Here’s what I did:
Update! What causes baby eczema flare ups: hot weather!
We found that what causes baby eczema flareups for a Hannah is hot weather! Despite the common view that the radiator and central heating causes baby eczema flare ups, I haven’t noticed Hannah’s eczema getting worse in winter.
Foods that can trigger eczema (And natural ways to treat baby eczema)
Having confirmed the cows milk allergy/intolerance, the first thing we did was eliminate dairy from Hannah‘s diet. As I was nursing and there may be a chance of me passing dairy on through my milk, I eliminated dairy from my diet too. That was tough. It’s only when you eliminate dairy that you realise how it’s in practically everything. Even the most unsuspecting product – like crisps – will have milk powder.
So I’ve been miserable and hungry for months.
Anyway, we swapped regular milk for oat milk, and have recently gone onto soya milk as it has more calories and nutritional value than oat milk.
Now I’m a little on the fence still as to how effective my dairy exclusion has been for Hannah’s eczema. For weeks I saw no improvement, and it was only when she turned one that her skin really started to clear up. My dietician is also unsure as to how necessary it is for me to exclude dairy. But the advice has been that for some nursing mums exclusion helps improve baby eczema, and for others it doesn’t. Still confused? Me too.
To make up for the lack of dairy, I’ve been having some vegan alternatives such as vegan cheese (Violife isn’t a bad option) and Coco Collab coconut yoghurt. But I’m sorry to say, vegan cheese works OK in cooking, but it’s no substitute for the real thing if you want a cheese sandwich.
To make up for the potential lack of calcium, both Hannah and I loaded up on our leafy green veg. I also incorporated tinned sardines into our diet as they’re loaded with calcium and bone-strengthening minerals (if that sounds gross to you I’ll share a recipe which is delicious!).
Hannah now has soya milk as her main milk drink. Also, at the time of writing, there’s great news to report on the Allergy front, as she is able to tolerate cooked milk in various stages. I now offer Hannah dairy-based products and I haven’t noticed her eczema flare up or get worse. So the theory that dairy causes eczema flare ups doesn’t apply to her.
I stopped excluding dairy from my diet after about three months I didn’t notice any effect on Hannah’s eczema whilst I was still nursing. So in conclusion, I don’t think that excluding dairy whilst breastfeeding made any difference to Hannah’s eczema.
Regarding the advice I received during my private consultation, i’m not sure if all of it was the best way to treat baby eczema or allergies. Essentially the advice was to cut out everything she’s allergic to. However, I’ve since found that giving her the small amounts of dairy she can tolerate seems to have helped her outgrow her allergies, and the dairy she’s been having hasn’t made her eczema worse.
Another thing I’ve been doing lately is making my own bone broths. These boiled meat fluids are nutritional powerhouses and their gelatine is said to strengthen bones. I’ve been mainly drinking this myself, and I’ve stirred some broth into soups and daal for Hannah. She won’t drink it like I do, but I’m still working on getting her to like it.
I also saw a naturopath privately. She seconded the dairy elimination, and also suggested a probiotic called Symprove, which can be taken by babies in tiny doses. The aim of the probiotic is to strengthen Hannah’s digestive system. I was told that the dairy-free probiotic is different to standard off the shelf yoghurt-types as the body absorbs it as a probiotic, rather than mistaking it as food.
Finally, I read a book called The Eczema Diet. This was mainly aimed at adults with the condition, and the dietary suggestions are pretty restrictive, but it’s had some rave reviews. I took a few titbits from it. Mainly that papaya is a superfood in the fight against eczema, pear is an eczema-safe fruit and dairy and wheat are trouble-makers. The book also concluded that meat broths are amazing for eczema-prone skin.
I still give Hannah wheat as she’s not allergic to it and I’m conscious of restricting her diet too much. I have tried the papaya but she’s just not interested. Thankfully she loves pears and I’m managing to sneak broths in here and there.
Best ointment for eczema treatment
Finding the best ointment for eczema treatment has been a bit of a sore spot for me. Mainly because I researched like crazy, and each time I came across a new lotion that promised to be a miracle worker, I was disappointed.
I initially just used organic coconut oil on Hannah’s skin. Coconut oil works a treat on me (I rave all about it here), and I wanted to keep things as natural as possible for my baby. But with increasingly dry skin, I eventually decided that she’d need something more heavy duty.
As mentioned, Cetraben didn’t work for Hannah. We were then prescribed another cream – Epaderm – without success. It seemed these thick, paraffin-based emollients just didn’t agree with her.
I then tried Childs Farm after reading rave reviews. Some parents had hailed Childs Farm as a miracle cure for eczema. To be fair, it softened most of Hannah’s skin a treat, so I bought bottles in bulk. But sadly it was too thin in consistency to make any real inroads on stubborn patches of eczema. And she was still itchy. It seemed that Childs Farm couldn’t help Hannah when her skin flared up.
I moved onto Pure Potions Skin Salvation Ointment, which again had rave reviews. The thick beeswax-base cream is said to soothe itchy skin. This fared much better than Childs Farm as I noticed Hannah’s dry patches softened within days. The Pure Potions ointment also helped Hannah’s scars heal quicker.
However, one problem with Pure Potions is that the thick wax does stain clothes slightly. But given that it’s by far the most moisturising for Hannah, stained clothes are a small price to pay.
When Hannah’s whole body was very dry, I used Pure Potions all over. Once her skin had softened and hydrated (Pure Potions worked its magic within a few days), I then used it mainly on her problem areas. I use Pure Potions less in the summer, as I find its thickness can make her skin feel too clogged. That’s where Aveeno comes in.
I resisted using Aveeno for a long time. Mainly because I had a stick up my ass about wanting to keep things natural. But once I tried it, I never looked back.
Aveeno, with its oatmeal base, helps both soothe Hannah’s skin during itchy moments, AND it softens her entire body. I have used their regular cream and baby emollient. And just now I’m trying their Aveeno Baby Dermexa baby night-time emollient, a thicker cream to help soothe skin at night, which is the itchiest time for most babies.
So after trialling a stock of creams, my current go-to’s are Aveeno for all over body use, and Pure Potions for the particularly stubborn eczema areas.
Catching the drool
A big factor which worsened Hannah’s eczema was teething. Not just the pain of it all, but the constant acidic dribble which soaked her whole neck area. Hannah was (and sometimes still is) a serious dribbler. I was going through up to a dozen bibs a day. Not even joking. But through this drooling process I’ve become something of a bib expert. So, for eczema babies, the best bibs:
- Have poppers instead of velcro (less likely to irritate)
- Are made from soft material rather than plastic
- Have more than one layer to catch the drool but keep the skin dry
- Can soak up dribble like a sponge
Make no mistake, I tried them all. We have a drawer full of bibs from Tomee Tippee, Primark, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Mamas and Papas to name a few. But by far the most efficient during Hannah’s extra dribble-y stage was the Mum2Mum teething bandana wonder bib. It had poppers, a handy teether on the end, but most importantly, a towelling material which held up to 1/4 of liquid. And yes we tested that threshold to the max.
So if you’ve got a baby with eczema who is also teething, get a good bib.
Best way to treat Baby eczema – break the itch-scratch cycle
Now all the creams in the world won’t help cure baby eczema if the itch-scratch cycle is in full swing. This is what I found hardest when Hannah’s eczema was at its worst. As her problem area was on her neck, it gave her easy access to scratch. So she’d feel itchy and scratch her neck. This would make her itchier and then she’d scratch some more. And so the cycle went on.
One thing that really saved her skin was Scratchsleeves, which are essentially scratch mittens that are designed to stay on. Unlike regular baby mittens which constantly fall off, Scratchsleeves fit onto a baby like a shrug cardigan. The mitten part is cotton on the inside, and silk on the outside. The silk is designed to cool the skin on contact, so rather than making Hannah scratch more, it soothes the area of irritation. I put these mittens on Hannah at bedtime, which helps her sleep better as she doesn’t scratch herself awake.
Most importantly, the Scratchsleeves minimise the damage caused by scratching, which can result in broken skin and infections.
While of course the Scratchsleeves don’t cure eczema, they can really help a baby get through a very itchy phase. They are the one item I would recommend for any baby who is suffering with incessant itching.
Update! At around the age of 15 months, Hannah decided she no longer wanted to have her hands covered at night so Scratchsleeves no longer worked for us. If you have an older baby with eczema or an itchy toddler that doesn’t want to wear mittens, the below option might work for you.
I’ve since discovered Dermasilk pyjamas. As I didn’t want pyjamas that cover the feet or hands, I was advised by the team at Dermasilk to try their sample pieces that can be used on arms or legs. so I tried the Dermasilk on Hannah’s leg to cover the back of her knee where she does get eczema flareups and dry patches. I l lathered Aveeno cream on the area and covered it with the bandage-like Dermasilk tube. I did notice an improvement with her skin getting much softer. So I would recommend trying Dermasilk as a treatment for eczema flareups In babies and toddlers.
Now didn’t I say I’d tried everything? That right, as a mum-obsessed, I even changed our washing up power. I read about how detergents can really increase irritation in baby skin, even the non-bio versions.
So I went from Fairy non-bio to detergent-free Ecoballs.
These balls are environmentally-friendly, and work by somehow lifting dirt off clothes (can you tell I’m no expert?). And at 2p a wash, it’s pretty easy on the pocket too.
The downside? Ecoballs don’t do great when tackling stains. And they don’t have a fragrance.
Update! I’m now using the Fairy detergent all the time, and no longer use Eco Zone Eco Balls. I haven’t noticed Fairy liquid making Hannah’s eczema worse.
So did Ecoballs help relieve Hannah’s eczema?
In truth, I’m not sure. Hannah’s skin was gradually improving so I’m not sure how much the Ecoballs helped. I still use them, but have occasionally switched back to Fairy and not noticed a huge change in Hannah’s skin (i.e. increases dryness or irritation). However, mums of babies with severe eczema have sworn by it. So if you have a very itch baby, it might be worth a try.
Baby eczema – so what worked best
As I’ve said, we’re not eczema free so I don’t have a silver bullet. However, I have noticed that external factors play a huge part in making Hannah’s eczema worse. After having almost clear skin, a recent triple-threat of one-year jabs, teething, and a cold meant that Hannah’s eczema had returned.
My creams of choice are Aveeno and Pure Potions, Scratchsleeves have been a saviour, and we’re going to try Hannah with dairy in a few months to see if she’s outgrown her allergy.
So I’m sorry to say there’s no magic answer. With baby eczema, there are a tonne of variables, and different things work for different babies. I found this infuriating in the early days, as I wanted an easy answer. But that’s just it, there is no easy answer.
My best advice would be, try everything – look at your baby’s diet, review their creams, consider switching your detergent and invest in a pair of Scratchsleeves. Once you’re in a happy place with your baby’s skin. You can start switching things up, i.e. going back to regular detergent, reintroducing foods, to spot any culprit.
Do you have a baby with eczema? If so, what worked for you? Share your best tips in a comment below.
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About the Author
I’m not a makeup artist, chef, lifestyle guru or stylist. I’m just me. And like you, I’m trying to make the best of most things, only I’m sharing my warts-and-all thoughts along the way.