Ninety percent of baby eczema occurs on their faces — the chin, cheeks, forehead and sometimes the scalp. Although chronic eczema in babies’ faces can linger into their toddler years and beyond, it’s most common in their first six months. Unpredictable outbreaks and cycles of itching and scratching are exhausting for your little one and exasperating for parents — but troubleshooting treatment can be a minefield. Should you use low-dose topical steroids or swear them off? Keep a food diary...for how long? Will bathing help or hurt? It's a frustrating process and one we hope to shed light on to help parents understand and treat their baby’s eczema.
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What is eczema, exactly?
Eczema is a mystery. To date, there is no cure for the patches of dry, itchy, rough and sometimes oozing (or “weeping”) skin that can crack, especially when scratched or rubbed — which babies do, especially at night. Severe cases can blister or become infected and form a yellow crust, a traumatic experience for babies and parents. skin).
Eczema is an umbrella term for an inflammatory response that surfaces as a skin rash.
Inflammatory responses are our bodies’ way of sending us an SOS alert that something deeper is going on internally.
Atopic dermatitis is the most common type of eczema, affecting 13% of all children under the age of 18 in the United States. Atopic refers to conditions related to the immune system and dermatitis refers to inflammation in the skin. Effectively managing eczema in babies faces means digging for the root cause(s) underlying the condition, which we detail below. Or, skip ahead to our best creams for baby eczema.
What causes baby eczema flare-ups?
Eczema in babies’ faces, especially if it’s on the cheeks, likely has a lot to do with drool (wah, wah). But food, allergens, skincare products and stress (yes, even in babies) can play a big role in eczema flare-ups. Genetics is also a factor. If a parent is dermatitis-prone, their children are more likely to develop eczema. Asthma, allergies and eczema are also all linked to inflammation. If you have one condition, research suggests you may be more prone to the others.
When your baby has an eczema flare-up, cross-reference the below list of triggers for possible clues to its underlying cause.
We cannot stress this one enough. Our gut is intimately connected to how (and how much) inflammation shows up in our bodies. Common food allergens like eggs, soy, nuts, dairy and shellfish are linked to as many as 50% of eczema cases in kids.
Tip: We suggest getting an allergy test or keeping a food diary to identify possible food allergy triggers.
“We do know that in kids and babies, food allergies like eggs, soy, milk, shellfish, peanuts are 30-50% of the reason for their eczema. It’s mainly food.”
-Dr. Katie Hu, MD
UCLA East/West Integrative Medicine
If your baby isn’t eating solid foods yet, they could still be ingesting them through breastfeeding. Keeping a food diary for mom might provide useful insights, but we won’t lie — this can be a long and challenging process, especially given the reality that reactions to food can change when either mom or baby’s environment changes.
“If it comes in a bag or box, don’t eat it.”
Processed food has to be shelf-stable for years which requires preservatives. Those preservatives cause impurities that your body then needs to detox and eliminate. If you eat a lot of packaged foods with preservatives then you're adding a lot of chemical stress on your body and it will eventually wear down and burn out. Eliminating these types of food as much as possible is a good first step to a healthier food lifestyle for mom and baby.
There’s a whole world of dust mites, pet dandruff, seasonal pollen, mold and microbes out there that can lead to eczema. Similar to the gut-inflammation connection we see between eczema and foods, the link between skin inflammation and respiratory allergens warrants consideration in your investigative work.
Eczema-triggering irritants like synthetic preservatives, sulfates, betaines, synthetic fragrances, petrochemicals, and other harsh chemicals are all-too prolific in products ranging from soaps and shampoos to detergents and disinfectants. Double-check your labels and when in doubt use only plant-based cleansers and creams that have been ultra-purified to remove contaminants.
“Eczema is a sign the body is overloaded.”
-Dr. Katie Hu, MD
UCLA East/West Integrative Medicine
Impurities accumulate over time because our bodies are working ever-harder to eliminate them in a world increasingly full of them, which increases inflammation and can lead to an overload.
Climate & Environment
This is huge because, unlike diaper rash, eczema thrives in very dry conditions — whether those conditions are outside and fueled by intense heat or cold or inside and fueled by the heater or air conditioner. Dry air pulls moisture out of the skin, setting the stage for baby eczema. That’s why flare-ups can be so much worse during seasonal changes, especially fall into winter, or after periods of high winds when all those allergens above are on the move
Stress might not be the root cause but it’s often an indirect cause that can make eczema symptoms worse, even in babies and kids. Family dynamics, like stressed-out parents, high-pressure expectations at school, or fitting in with classmates can increase your little one’s anxiety. In some cases, parental fixation on the eczema can cause a stress response in the child, increasing the inflammation. Sometimes the best approach really is not to over-worry.
Best cream for eczema in babies
One of the best things for baby eczema as far as topical relief goes is non-drying, plant-based cleansers and creams. Most cleansers, including shampoos, dry out the skin and strip it of its natural (and necessary) protective oils. This isn’t great for anybody but is particularly problematic for babies whose thinner skin is more sensitive and delicate than adults. All our plant-based baby eczema products are free of harsh chemicals, harmful contaminants and common allergens that can lead to eczema.
California Baby’s Eczema Shampoo & Body Wash
This steroid-free and unscented wash helps relieve itchiness and irritation with a soothing blend of moisture-sealing organic colloidal oatmeal, calendula and aloe vera. Formulated in-house without gluten, soy, dairy or nuts, our gentle baby shampoo and body wash won’t introduce common allergens to your baby’s skin. Use it during tubby time but remember to keep those baths short and the water lukewarm to avoid worsening the eczema with too much heat and water.
@this_little_nook, California Baby Mombassador
California Baby’s Eczema Cream
Formulated with coconut-derived emollients that lock in moisture and the same organic colloidal oatmeal and calendula, our eczema cream is our best cream for eczema in babies faces. Dab it on the cheeks, chin and anywhere the eczema is immediately after bathing to keep your baby’s skin calm and moisturized. Sticking to a regular bathing and moisturizing schedule is a useful way to manage baby eczema and prevent dryness.
Our water purification process and why it’s important
Seems counterintuitive at first, but water can be the dirtiest part of the product. Without thorough purification, water is prone to harbor bacteria and viruses. Water is, after all, the perfect environment (and carrier) for life. Contrary to the industry norm, we put our water through a multi-step chemical-free purification process instead of using harsh bactericides to kill bacteria. It’s called reverse osmosis and it goes like this:
Step 1: Filter
We first remove all the “big” stuff like dirt, dust, chlorine, etc. This step alone can include 3 to 5 different stages of filtration to reduce sediment, organic compounds and dissolved solids.
Step 2: Ultraviolet Sterilization
UV rays from sunlight kill microorganisms in water that filtration alone cannot catch. Water flows through the UV chamber optimized for the highest amount of UV energy to disinfect and inactivate potentially harmful microbes.
Step 3: Pasteurize
Our already-purified water is boiled to 150 degrees Fahrenheit and kept at that temperature for over an hour to kill any remaining pathogens that survived filtration and UV light. This step really sets us apart from other players in personal care because for most companies it’s too expensive and too time-consuming, reducing the number of batches they can produce in a day. For us, it’s money and time well spent.
Not only are we hyper-attentive to the purity of our water from the beginning, but we also check (and double-check) all our ingredients before adding them to the water. Raw and organic materials from the earth can also carry bacteria and contaminants that need to be intentionally removed. This matters for baby eczema in particular because too many products marketed “for eczema” haven’t gone through the necessary steps to remove those irritants that can lead to eczema in babies’ faces and bodies.
Managing baby eczema tips
We recommend an integrative approach when trying to understand the root causes of eczema and what to do about it. Topicals alone, especially steroids, won’t solve the underlying issues if other exposures to food allergies, environmental allergens, irritants, heat and dryness are still persistent. The shortlist below is our cheat sheet of things to try before tossing in the towel, but it is not a comprehensive look at baby eczema treatments.
Bathing and moisturizing tips:
- Avoid skincare products with harsh, irritating chemicals (synthetic fragrance, sulfates, betaines)
- Try shorter, lukewarm baths instead
- Air dry or gently pat the skin dry with a towel, rather than rubbing their skin dry
- Apply a plant-based moisturizer immediately after bathing while skin is still damp
- Moisturize the skin with a lightweight lotion 2-3 times every day
- Learn your baby’s eczema triggers so you can avoid them
- Get an allergy test or keep a food diary to identify possible food allergy triggers
- A patch test is your best friend - don’t use a product that you haven’t patch tested
- Sleep is restorative and healing - making getting more sleep a priority
- Dress your little one in cotton and soft fabrics (avoid rough, scratchy fibers and tight-fitting clothing). Organic cotton Q for Quinn's kids' socks can be a great choice for babies with sensitive skin.
- Use a humidifier in dry or cold weather
- Avoid rapid temperature changes and activities that cause over-sweating
- But do get that exercise in! Hello, tummy time and crawling everywhere
- Keep their fingernails short to prevent them from breaking the skin if they scratch
Eczema in babies and kids is on the rise along with autoimmune diseases and food allergies. More and more babies are coming into the world with toxins already present in their bodies, a reflection of our environment and culture. If their immune systems are compromised, their chances of experiencing eczema increase. Unfortunately, our exposure to pollution, petrochemicals and preservatives is only increasing. Now, more than ever, it is essential to choose plant-based eczema and skincare products for you and your little one.
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DISCLAIMER: The information contained herein should NOT be used as a substitute for the advice of an appropriately qualified and licensed physician or other health care provider. The information provided here is for informational purposes only.