Baby eczema or atopic dermatitis is a common problem, affecting an estimated 1 out of 10 babies(1). The symptoms are dry, scaly, red patches on your baby’s scalp and face (especially the cheeks), that may spread to her arms and legs, and that normally appear when the baby turns 2 or 3 months old(2)(3). Don’t be alarmed though – even if you think your little one has eczema, the problem is very treatable, and many babies simply outgrow it.
First, let’s look at why babies get eczema. People used to think that babies were born with fully developed skin, but it turns out that this thinking is wrong. We now know that your baby’s skin is thinner than adult skin, with a skin barrier that is still developing and with a tendency to lose water faster than adult skin(4).
All of this together leaves baby skin more vulnerable to dryness and bacteria, which then leads to conditions like baby eczema(5). It has also been found that there may be a hereditary component; if mom and dad have eczema, baby is more likely to get eczema as well(6).
Here are some tips to help your baby through this very common but still uncomfortable skin condition:
Use a baby moisturizer
After bathing, apply a gentle, irritant-free baby moisturizer with colloidal oatmeal. This helps to improve the skin barrier function and retain moisture in your baby’s skin(7). We recommend a soothing moisturizer like Cetaphil Baby Eczema Soothing Lotion.
Dress for comfort
Choose loose clothes made of cotton to prevent your baby’s skin rubbing too much against her clothes and becoming irritated. And be sure to use a mild, fragrance-free detergent when washing(8).
Address the itch
Baby eczema can be very itchy, even preventing some babies from sleeping. Your baby may end up scratching the dry patches, making the rash worse or even leading to infection. That’s why it’s really important to try and alleviate the itch by using a gentle moisturizing lotion with itch-soothing ingredients(9). Also, be sure to prevent harmful scratching by trimming your baby’s nails and using mittens(10).
Check the ingredients
While herb and plant-based products have become popular even in baby care, extracts and fragrances that are present in these cleansers and lotions can be irritating. Instead, choose products that are especially designed for sensitive baby skin, like Cetaphil Baby Soothing Wash(11).
Give your baby short baths
Give your baby short, 10-minute baths with lukewarm water – aim for 100°F/38°C(12) – using gentle cleansers made specifically for delicate baby skin. When done, pat dry with a clean towel, and remember to use a baby moisturizer or baby oil to help lock in moisture.
Check the heat and humidity
Heat can be a stressor, and can cause baby eczema or atopic dermatitis to flare up. Be sure that your baby isn’t covered in too many blankets, and that the temperature in her room is comfortable. Around 65°F (18°C) is ideal(14). Some parents also opt for a humidifier in their baby’s room to add moisture to the air and hydrate thirsty skin(15).
Consider calling a doctor
If symptoms get worse, and especially if blisters and a yellowish crust appear on your baby’s rashes, it may be time to call a doctor. Baby eczema can sometimes lead to infection, which may require antibiotics(16).
Remember that baby eczema, while it can be upsetting to see on your infant, is very common, and is one of the most treated skin conditions among babies. With these steps above, you’ll help your baby feel more comfortable and ease her symptoms.
2 Bieber T. Ann Dermatol 2010;22(2):125–137
4 Telofski LS, et al. Dermatol Res Pract 2012;2012:198789; Walters RM, et al. Skin Pharmacol Physiol 2016; 29:111–118
5 Stamatas GN, et al. Int J Cosmet Sci 2011; 33:17–24
7 Simpson EL, et al. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2014;134(4):818–823; Lee HJ & Lee SH. Allergy Asthma Immunol Res 2014;6(4):276–287; Sawatzky S, et al. Skin Pharmacol Physiol 2016;29:148–156.