Let’s face it. An itchy baby is a fussy baby… and no one wants to see their child in discomfort. But the good news is that baby eczema is both common and treatable. Check out our top tips for identifying baby eczema, understanding causes and triggers, and discovering common treatments that help your child (and you!) manage symptoms and find relief.
What Causes Eczema in Babies?
It’s completely natural to wonder why your baby has this itchy, frustrating skin condition. As with adult eczema, the exact cause of newborn eczema in little ones is unknown and the types of eczema can vary. Eczema can develop due to a combination of genetics and environmental factors. We also know that children who have a family history of eczema, asthma, or seasonal allergies are more likely to develop eczema. It’s also thought that problems with the skin barrier and an imbalance of bacteria in the skin microbiome could be at play.
Baby Eczema Risk Factors
Babies may be at increased risk of developing eczema if they:
- have a family history of eczema, allergies, asthma, or hay fever
- have existing food allergies
- have been exposed to environmental allergens, skin irritants, and tobacco smoke
- have a filaggrin gene mutation that impairs the skin barrier and makes it harder for the skin to retain moisture
- were delivered via Cesarean section. Children that pass through the birth canal receive a bacterial transfer that colonizes the skin microbiome and reduces eczema risk.
How Eczema can Develop Over Time in Infants
The average onset for baby eczema is at three months, though it can occur at any time before age two. Babies generally develop eczema on their cheeks, and it can progress to the forehead, scalp, and chin. Baby eczema can appear wet and weepy. Babies ages 6-12 months can develop eczema on their elbows and knees. Eczema in toddlers can occur on the hands, ankles, and creases of the elbows and knees.
What Does Baby Eczema Look Like?
Infant eczema, like adult eczema, appears as patches of dry, flaky, discolored skin. Eczema can show up anywhere on your baby’s skin, but it is most common on the cheeks or in the creases of the elbows and knees.
It sounds pretty straightforward, but sometimes eczema is confused with other common baby skin conditions like cradle cap and neonatal or infant acne, so let’s take a look at how they differ:
Baby Eczema vs. Cradle Cap
Cradle cap is another common condition that can cause flaking skin, so it’s important to be able to distinguish between eczema and cradle cap. Luckily, if you take a look at the color and location of your baby’s dry skin, you should have no problem identifying the correct condition.
Eczema typically appears as red, pink, purple, gray or brown, depending on your skin tone. Cradle cap results in white, yellow or brown flakes that appear greasy and scaly. Cradle cap also typically occurs on the scalp, behind the ears, on the eyelids and eyebrows, or on the sides of the baby’s nose.
Baby Eczema vs. Baby Acne
20% of newborns have neonatal acne, which is a type of acne that typically develops around two weeks of age. As with eczema, baby acne causes sensitive skin. However, instead of flaky, dry patches, neonatal acne appears as little bumps or pimples, commonly on the face, neck, chest, or back.
Neonatal acne also appears before a baby is 6 weeks old, while eczema typically begins between ages 3 and 6 months. If you believe your child has baby acne after six weeks of age, be sure to see your pediatrician or a pediatric dermatologist.
At-Home Baby Eczema Treatment
Once you’ve determined your child’s dry, itchy rash is eczema vs. other skin conditions, there are steps you can take to help soothe the skin and minimize flare-ups. These treatments hold true for any baby’s eczema, regardless of where it’s occurring on their body, be it their face, neck, or arms and legs.
As you probably know from your own experience with dry skin and rashes, scratching only makes things worse. When your baby scratches their eczema, they put themselves at risk for infection. That’s why it’s important to keep their nails trimmed and filed and prevent scratching as much as you can.
You may want to try onesies or shirts with built-in mittens to cover your little one’s fingers that reduce their ability to scratch. Most parents find that traditional baby mittens are too easy for the baby to pull off and pose a choking hazard. While using clothing with built-in mittens, you can rest assured the covering will stay snuggly on your baby’s hands.
Keep Your Baby Cool
Both heat and sweat can contribute to eczema flare-ups and make your baby’s itching worse. Avoid overusing blankets and dress your little one in breathable cotton clothing.
You may also want to keep bath time short and only use lukewarm water to keep your baby's body temperature cool.
Identify Your Baby’s Triggers: Things That Can Make Infant Eczema Even Worse
Eczema is often exacerbated by environmental factors, some of which can be minimized to help reduce flare-ups. Potential triggers of your baby’s eczema could be:
- Fabrics — Wool is a major irritant. Nylon and acrylic materials may also irritate.
- Soaps — Harsh soaps and bath products (like bubbles) can dry the skin or contain irritating fragrances. Avoid laundry products with fragrance also.
- Common allergens — Common allergies seen in children with eczema include dust mites, pet dander, and grass pollen.
- Foods — Some experts may recommend cutting out common allergens such as cow’s milk or peanuts from your diet if you are currently breastfeeding. If you suspect food may be playing a role in the health of your baby’s skin, consult with your allergist, pediatrician, or a pediatric dietician.
- Excessive heat — Getting hot and sweaty can cause or further inflame your baby's skin. This can be especially difficult to avoid in the hot summer months, but keeping an umbrella and hand-held fan on hand can help.
Once you've identified your baby's triggers, do your best to minimize exposure.
Repair Dry Skin with Gladskin's Eczemact™ Soothing Cream for Babies and Kids
Moisturizing immediately after your baby takes a bath is an important part of managing dry, eczema-prone skin. You’ll want to choose a fragrance-free cream or ointment and apply right after bath time.
Gladskin's Eczemact™ Soothing Cream for Babies and Kids is gently formulated for children with dry skin associated with eczema-prone skin. It’s oat-free, steroid-free, and safe for babies ages 3 months and up. Plus it contains Micreobalance®, Gladskin’s patented smart protein that restores balance to the skin microbiome.
When to Call Your Doctor
Lifestyle adjustments can be helpful in managing your child's symptoms. However, if you’re finding that your baby’s eczema isn’t getting better or is still causing them discomfort after you've made some changes, it's time to see a healthcare provider. Make an appointment with your child's pediatrician or a pediatric dermatologist to receive an accurate diagnosis and discuss treatment options.
Another instance in which you should call your doctor is if you notice that your baby’s eczema is weepy or oozy, appears yellowish or light brown, or forms a crust on top of the affected area. This might be a sign of a bacterial infection.
The Path to Managing Baby Eczema
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to eczema, but by better understanding the skin condition, you can help manage your child's symptoms. And always remember: you’re not alone on this journey. In fact, parents and caregivers like you are opening up about their frustrations with infant eczema and how they finally helped their babies stop itching. Look for local support groups and check out the National Eczema Association to find more resources for parents and caregivers.