One of the most frequent questions I receive is how I treat my kids’ eczema. Both Arlo and Lark have eczema. James and I also have eczema and it is often considered a genetic disease, though the true cause of eczema is unknown. It’s also less common in adults, but James and I both have flare-ups still from time to time.
Lark presented with eczema within her first month of life. I knew what it was immediately, because of my own history and stories from my mom about my own childhood, but I didn’t quite understand the magnitude of the problem, i.e. the relationship between food allergies and eczema. Well, I knew that foods could aggravate it, but being that I was breastfeeding, I didn’t initially consider that cause until I learned that food proteins can pass through breast milk, specifically dairy for us. Arlo also presented with eczema within his first month of life and with him, I made immediate dietary changes since I had the experience and knowledge form Lark’s infancy. I also found that pediatricians are reluctant to diagnose eczema, both times brushing ours off as ‘baby acne.’ It took several appointments and referrals to allergists for some doctors to recognize it and be able to treat them properly. It started as tiny bumps that spread over time and became red, inflamed and weepy. Lark’s was so bad before we adjusted diet and skin care, that it would often break open and bleed.
In the collage below, you can see a bit of Lark’s eczema. They aren’t the best photos, but you can at least see what we were dealing with. Luckily, we caught the food allergies before it got much worse. Top left and middle were when she was around 3-4 weeks old. Top right is her hand, which would crack and bleed and we dealt with this until she was around a year old, often bothered by hot weather and would crack and bleed. Bottom left was the only photo I could find of the back of her knee, which was her worst spot for eczema. They would also crack and bleed and become very weepy. Bottom middle and right were from recently when her eczema flared up during a round of illness and too many antibiotics. I searched for photos of Arlo’s eczema, but I couldn’t find any. We caught his so much earlier though, so it didn’t get as bad. But they both have dry eczema patches on several parts of their bodies all the time. Their skin isn’t as smooth as typical baby skin.
Lark was officially diagnosed with food allergies around 5 months old, Arlo around 6 weeks old with the official testing done around 6 months old. Both kids have food allergies, environmental allergies and Lark has asthma. All of these diseases are closely related.
I wanted to give a brief history of how their diagnoses came about before I talk about what we do to treat it, since it can be a fairly involved process, depending on how their skin is at any given time. I also thought it best to give an overview of what exactly eczema is, since some may not know the specifics. So I gathered some info below to illustrate exactly what eczema is, how it’s triggered and how it’s related to other allergic diseases.
Eczema described as a skin irritation that causes dryness, itching, redness and occasionally weeping and crusting. Eczema is very common affecting 10% of the population and most commonly occurring during the first year of life. Other names for eczema include atopic dermatitis, dyshydrosis, and allergic dermatitis. There’s also a condition known as Seborrheic Dermatitis, which affects to scalp. Often called “cradle cap,’ which both of my kids had pretty severely and it’s a condition that affects myself as well. It causes flaking, itching, scabbing and oozing on the scalp. Totally attractive, right?!
Eczema is technically not a “Skin Disease”. Eczema is an immune system disorder caused by over-reaction to allergic triggers. Allergy at the lung system level is called asthma, and at the eye level is called allergic conjunctivitis, and at the skin level is called eczema. The symptoms of the skin are important, but you also have to consider the root cause. What’s causing the reaction. Eczema is more or less a symptom and you must treat the root cause in order to keep it under control.
Allergic response is an immune system over-reaction to an external trigger (usually in the form of a protein, or other molecule, called an antigen) that comes into the body through the nose, mouth, skin, etc. Common antigens related to eczema include dairy, wheat, tree pollen, pet dander, dust and mold. For us, weather and temperature can also affect it. Mine flares up most with changes in seasons, same for my kids.
According to researchers, up to 15% of children ages three to 18 months diagnosed with atopic dermatitis, have an allergy to one or more types of food. The most common food allergies in children are milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat and soy. People and kids with eczema are also more likely to develop asthma and allergic rhinitis.
So now that you know the goods (or bad, I guess), let’s get to our 3-step treatment plan!
- Avoid Food Triggers – Really, avoid any and all external triggers, whether it’s environmental triggers, pet triggers, etc, but our first line of defense comes from diet. Both kids have food allergies. Lark is allergic to dairy, eggs, nuts, sesame seeds and mustard. Arlo is allergic to dairy and soy. Lark was primarily breastfed and at 6 months of age, after official diagnosis, I altered my diet to exclude dairy, eggs and nuts, which I continued until she was 14 months old when she self-weaned. Around 8 months old, I began supplementing with a homemade formula during the day while she was at daycare, since I was no longer pumping enough to sustain exclusive breastmilk diet. After these changes, her skin changed drastically, in a good way! The inflammation went down within days and all that remained were dry patches. Arlo’s eczema also cleared up (mostly) after switching from breast milk to a special formula that was considered hypo-allergenic (read: expensive and not allergy-friendly). Around six months, I also switch him to homemade formula similar to Lark’s version and his skin changed drastically as well. Whenever someone asks me about eczema or whether I think their child has eczema, my first response is to keep a food diary and try cutting out dairy, eggs and soy since those are common allergens for babies and can just irritate skin in general, even without actual food allergies. Cutting out foods from your own diet (if breastfeeding) and their diet (if formula feeding) is free and the easiest way to see if it is food triggering skin flare-ups. (I’m not a doctor, obviously, so it’s best to advise your doctor, allergist, naturopath, etc….though I tend to go rogue, myself)
- Bathe Carefully – Don’t bathe your kids every day. You’re probably like, “excuse me, what?!” But believe me, bathing your children less will do wonders! Some believe the water keeps you moisturized but it actually does the opposite! It strips our skin of it’s natural defenses and oils and actually draws moisture out of our skin. Our kids get a bath every 2-3 days. I do bathe them more often in spring/summer months, when they’re more likely to get dirty, but for the most part, we bathe more infrequently. Also use lukewarm water as hot water can cause flare-ups. Cooler water has actually caused Lark flare-ups as well, so mid-range is better! Go light on the soap…I know, the horror! I typically wash their hair, then use the leftover suds to lightly wash the rest of their bodies. I don’t scrub or use any type of rough items on their skin. I’ll sometimes include bubbles in their bath with specific soaps, but my belief for baths is LESS IS MORE!
- Use the right products – This isn’t cut and dry and there’s no right or wrong product. You have to find what works for you. I’ve tried natural products and your standard, beauty aisle products. I’ll share my faves below, but I’ve found one thing is true…the less harsh ingredients, the better! Also, lotions and creams that are considered emollients are great for eczema, because they create a protective barrier on the skin and allow it to stay moisturized and allow it to heal. One common example that most people have heard of is Aquaphor. I thought I was doing a really good thing for Lark as a baby by using Burt’s Bees products, until I realized most of their products contain buttermilk and/or soy, so I don’t use any Burt’s Bees products anymore (aside from their cute infant clothes!). I also like anything with Calendula in it for their skin! It’s anti-inflammatory and calming. It also smells really good! It’s best to avoid products with lanolin and gluten/wheat in them as well, since they can irritate the skin.
The next ‘phase’ of our treatment plan is the products we use. I’ve tried a wide variety of products and remedies on my kids and the ones I’ll talk about below are our favorites and ones that have worked for us! I’m going to separate it into two parts, the first being ‘natural’ remedies and the second being products we use.
Coconut oil – Coconut oil is an amazing source of moisture and nutrients for the skin. I use it right out of the jar for severe flare-ups and it’s the only thing that ever worked for both kids’ cradle cap, (or cradle crap, as I like to call it). I would douse their scalps with it, let it sit and then use a fine tooth comb to comb out the large flakes. It helped exfoliate while helping keep inflammation out and moisture in. It’s not always my favorite as a body moisturizer because it can be greasy, but I do use it this way on occasion. For my own scalp issues, I’ve used coal tar shampoos (like Neutrogena Dandruff shampoos, but I hate the smell and these aren’t the best for kids. A vinegar rinse can do wonders for adults as well, I do this often. I don’t recommend it for little ones because it can burn the eyes).
Oatmeal – Oatmeal is well-known for its anti-inflammatory properties. You can cut the foot off of an old pair of panty hose or tights, puts some oats in it (gluten free oats are probably best, though I don’t always use those. Oats don’t contain gluten, but can pick some up in processing), tie a knot like a balloon, and toss it in the bath! I like to mill the oats into a flour and put that right into the bath water. Soak in the oat bath for as long as you wish! I use this for flare-ups since it takes out the redness and itching and also leaves the skin really soft.
Baking Soda – You can also add up to a ¼ cup of baking soda to bath water to relieve itching. I typically do this if Lark also has hives, since they tend to itch pretty badly.
Calendula – Calendula is flower/herb that has healing properties and can also calm the skin. My mom once made us an infused oil using calendula petals and I used to apply that directly to Lark’s skin at her worst times. I should make some again, I just haven’t…a couple of products I will share have it as an ingredient.
Essential Oils – Since I’m sure I may get asked, I don’t use essential oils much on my kids’ skin. I’ve seen other moms have great success with oils, but my kid’s immune systems and skin are HIGHLY sensitive so I haven’t done much with that avenue as of yet, but I do occasionally add a few drops of lavender to bath water as well for its calming properties. I am not loyal to any specific brand, just do your research and be sure they’re reputable.
(Just a note…I was not asked to review or provide opinions on any of these products. I’ve not received any compensation, aside from the Theraplex products, and all opinions are my own after extensive use of all three. These are products I swear by!)
Cetaphil Fragrance Free Moisturizing Lotion – Cetaphil is moisturizer specifically made for sensitive skin. It’s been our daily lotion for both kids for quite some time. It does contain macadamia oil, so if you have an allergy to that, maybe be cautious. It doesn’t bother Lark or Arlo and it’s a very lightweight lotion that soaks in nicely. Free of lanolins, parabens and fragrances that can irritate sensitive skin. Non-comedogenic.
Theraplex Products – Recently I discovered Theraplex products via Instagram. They were kind enough to send me some products to try. My favorites are the Clearlotion, which is an oil you spray on while wet, rub it in, then dry off. I’ve been using it on the kids’ legs, specifically, because they’ve been so dry lately. I’ve also been using the Hydrolotion, especially lately because Lark has been having some flare-ups due to infections/antibiotics. It’s such a nice consistency and doesn’t leave a greasy residue. If you’re wary of petrolatum and/or mineral oil, I urge you to do some research and read info from both sides of the aisle. There are a lot of myths surrounding these two compounds and their use in the cosmetic and skincare industries. Theraplex products are considered non-comedogenic, as they used the purest forms of these ingredients. Both Petrolatum and Mineral Oil are good for eczema because they create a barrier on the skin and lock moisture in while protecting the skin. I’m also a firm believe that skin needs time to breathe, so I don’t typically use ‘barrier’ products on a daily basis. Some products also contain Jojoba Oil and/or oatmeal, which are amazing for skin. I use these to ‘spot treat,’ they cost a bit more, but they will last me a really long time! They’re barrier balm has also been good for one of Lark’s really stubborn spots…around her mouth. It had that under control in just a couple of days by keeping it moisturized and protected.
California Baby Calendula Cream – This stuff is amazing, but also very pricey! I used it for Lark as a baby, but the price is just too high, in my opinion, for daily used. I can’t find it where we live either, but I should order some to have on hand! I used to by the 2 oz. version at Target and it ran about $19 (around $14 on Amazon). It’s vegan, smells great and has calendula, which I’ve already mentioned about 1,529 times in this post!
I moisturize after baths every time, alternating cetaphil and the Theraplex lotions. When I remember, I moisturize when getting the kids into their pj’s at night. When there’s flare-ups, I ‘spot treat’ with Theraplex emollient barrier creams or California Baby Cream. Lark also has a prescribed steroid cream, but that’s reserved for only the worst flare-ups, as it’s not safe for daily use.
Body Wash –
Cetaphil Baby Wash and Shampoo with Calendula – Again, specifically made for sensitive skin, Tear free, Paraben free, Colorant Free, Mineral Oil Free (if that’s an ingredient you avoid), and Hypoallergenic with calendula to nourish and calm the skin. Smells divine!
Eucerin Aquaphor Baby Wash – Same idea as the Cetaphil wash, but has chamomile and doesn’t have much of a scent. I used to use this exclusively, but it’s not a widely available where we live now.
That’s pretty much it for ‘soap,’ aside from the bar soap my mom used to make that contained oatmeal and lots of good, natural ingredients, but I don’t have access to that these days. You don’t see a lot of natural/organic products here and that’s not for lack of looking for one that works. I read ingredients on EVERYTHING! With allergies as severe as theirs, you have to be very aware of what’s in things. Every product I used on my kids’ very delicate is something I personally consider safe for our uses. I’ve found that a lot natural/organic products I’ve found contain similar chemicals and ingredients and I’ve yet to find a true, chemical-free option that keeps their skin under control and doesn’t cost a fortune. The search continues though, so if you have any suggestions, hit me with them! Eczema isn’t just your run-of-the-mill dry skin problem. It’s a big health issue for us and we do our best to find the best products we can to keep our kids from being red, itchy and in pain. These are the ones I’ve found so far that keep their skin happy, along with keeping their diets free of offending foods and being sure they eat plenty of healthy foods. The less processed foods, the better. Excess refined sugar can also aggravate health issues, including eczema and other skin issues. Any battle with health starts with what you eat. I also give my kids supplements to make up for places where food doesn’t give them what they need. Specifically probiotics which help heal the gut. The gut is related to food allergies and eczema in a big way and I really think it’s important to keep that in check. I’ll have a post soon about which probiotics I give to my kids, but I am convinced they are what got her eczema controlled again recently after her bad flare-up during recent illnesses (see collage above for a photo).
I get compliments from both the pediatrician and allergist at every check up for keeping their eczema under control, so I feel like I’ve found the right combination of everything to keep my kids inflammation and itch-free! But like I said at the beginning, healthy skin starts from the root, so be sure your kids are getting the proper nutrients through diet and supplements (if necessary) to promote overall wellness.
I hope this was helpful for others battling eczema. It’s stressful (and painful and itchy) sometimes, but there is relief! Both of my kids are pretty controlled, with mild flare-ups at times. Both can have severe flare-ups, but it’s typically caused by contact with offending foods. They always have dry patches, both on their legs and around their waist. Lark has two fairly large patches inside each elbow (eczema is common in creases and places that bend), but they’re both so much better than they were at initial onset! I’m pretty happy with our efforts and glad I have found ways around this awful condition!
You can also check out our YouTube channel here, where I share glimpses of our life with food allergies, allergies and asthma here: youtube.com/everylittlestory
*This post contains affiliate links, but only to products I truly love!! 😉