Eczema is the culprit responsible for dry, itchy skin that affects upwards of 20% of all U.S. children <National Eczema Association>. We most often associate eczema with the dry winter months. So why is it that some people see more flare-ups when the weather turns warm? How should we treat baby eczema in the summer?
First, it helps to know what causes baby eczema in the summer months. There are four main causes, all of which need to be considered in baby eczema treatment:
- Heat. When the weather heats up, so do we. And heat can make dry, itchy skin feel even worse.
- Moisture. Moisture actually zaps the water right out of skin, so wetness, whether from perspiration or frequent dips in the pool, can contribute to eczema flare-ups. Pools with chemicals in them are particularly drying. Also, clothing that is wet from perspiration or the pool can rub and aggravate already irritated skin.
- Harsh skin products. People with eczema have sensitive skin by definition so layering on skin products with heavy fragrance or harsh chemicals can further irritate the skin. Be careful of what you are putting on your baby’s skin, including sunscreen.
- Seasonal allergies. As the weather warms up, the pollen from trees and flowers reaches its peak. People with seasonal allergies and sensitivities to pollen and ragweed are more likely to see an increase in their eczema.
Now for the symptoms of baby eczema. Eczema usually appears in the first five years of a child’s life. It rarely appears at birth, but a baby can show signs as early as six weeks old. The areas on the body where it appears varies by the baby’s age:
- Less than six months old – For babies less than six months old, eczema usually appears on the face, most often on the cheeks and forehead. It can also be seen on the scalp.
- 6 – 12 months old – Babies six to 12 months old most often show signs of eczema where they crawl, particularly on the elbows and knees.
- Children two years old and up – Eczema first appears in different places on children two years old and older. It is often seen on the creases of the elbows and knees, the wrists, the ankles, and hands. It can also be found on the eyelids and the mouth.
Eczema looks like dry, rough and sometimes red, scaly, irritated skin. The biggest clue that it is eczema, though, is that it is a stubborn rash and will come back when other rashes clear up.
Okay, so now that we know why it happens and what it looks like, how can we cure it? This is a good news, bad news situation. The bad news is that there is no cure for eczema. Children with eczema may grow out of some of its severity, but they will likely face some level of eczema throughout their lives. However, the good news is that is treatable and some may say, preventable. Here’s what you can do to prevent and treat baby eczema during the sticky summer months:
- Stay cool. In the evening, keep your air conditioning on a cool temperature to keep your baby from sweating at night, or use a fan. Also be sure to dress your baby in light cotton pajamas. Besides being so cute, cotton absorbs perspiration and is less irritating to the skin. During the daytime, try to keep your baby out of the heat as much as possible.
- Go chemical free. With sunscreen, that is. Babies six months and older can use sunscreen. Be sure to look for a sunscreen without chemicals so sunscreen is not irritating to your baby’s skin. Chemical free sunscreens use the active ingredients of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which act as physical barriers to the sun’s harmful rays.
- Rinse after swimming. Be sure to rinse irritating chemicals from pools off of your baby to help prevent irritation. Just rinse with clear water and apply a cream or ointment moisturizer.
- Bathe daily. A nighttime bath is not only a good practice for rinsing off the day’s grime, but it also helps babies wind down for nighttime sleep. Babies with eczema still need a daily bath to keep germs at bay. Keep baths short (less than 10 minutes) and use warm, not hot, water so they are less drying.
- Keep on moisturizing. You might think that you can skip the moisturizer when the air is humid, but this is a myth. The best prevention for eczema is to keep the skin hydrated so continue to use a moisturizer each night. We recommend a cream moisturizer on a daily basis. At the first sign of any dryness or irritation, bump up from a cream moisturizer to a hydrating ointment. Ointments are emulsions (mixtures) made with 80% oil so they are the most moisturizing. A trick to making them feel less greasy is to apply them when the skin is still damp.
- Call in the experts. If your baby has red, irritated skin, you can use a low dose over the counter 1 % hydrocortisone cream to help calm the skin. If the inflammation or irritation doesn’t improve within a couple of days, don’t hesitate to call your dermatologist or pediatrician. He may have a prescription for baby eczema treatment that can help your little one feel better in no time.
Don’t let your baby’s eczema be the reason you dread summer. Instead, enjoy this special time of year. With a little prevention, you and your little one can enjoy these long, lazy days eczema free.