Eczema can show up as crusty, flaky patches on your baby's skin, often during their first few months. It’s common and treatable. Many infants outgrow it.
Not sure if your baby's itchy, irritated rash is eczema? Your doctor can tell you for sure. These questions and answers can help you understand what to look for.
What Does Baby Eczema Look Like?
Eczema doesn't look the same on every baby. In babies with light skin, it usually shows up as patches of red skin. In darker-skinned babies, the rash might look purplish, brownish, or grayish. Eczema can be harder to see on babies with dark skin.
These patches are almost always dry, itchy, and rough.
Babies can get the condition just about anywhere on their body. Most often, it affects their cheeks and the joints of their arms and legs.
It’s easy to confuse baby eczema (also called infant eczema or atopic dermatitis) with cradle cap. But there are some key differences.
Cradle cap is much less itchy and irritated. It generally clears up by age 8 months and usually appears on the scalp, sides of the nose, eyelids and eyebrows, and behind the ears. See a photo of what cradle cap looks like.
It can run in families. If a parent has eczema, a baby is a lot more likely to get it, too.
Problems in the skin barrier, allowing moisture out and germs in, could also be a cause.
Eczema happens when the body makes too few fatty cells called ceramides. If you don’t have enough of them, your skin will lose water and become very dry. Read more on what causes eczema.
Does Baby Eczema Go Away by Itself?
It often does. Most children outgrow it before they start school.
It’s not common, but some kids will have eczema into adulthood. They may have times -- even years -- without the symptoms. But they may still tend to have dry skin. Get more information on kids, allergies, and eczema.
What Can Make It Worse
Each baby is different. But there are some common eczema triggers to avoid, including:
Dry skin. It can make a baby's skin itchier. Low humidity, especially during winter when homes are well-heated and the air is dry, is a cause.
Irritants. Think scratchy wool clothes, polyester, perfumes, body soaps, and laundry soaps. These can all trigger symptoms.
Stress. Children with eczema may react to stress by flushing. That can lead to itchy, irritated skin. And that, in turn, ramps up their eczema symptoms.
Heat and sweat. Both can make the itch of infant eczema worse.
Allergens. It’s not certain, but some experts believe that removing cow’s milk, peanuts, eggs, or certain fruits from a child’s food may help control eczema symptoms. Remember that your baby can get exposed to these foods if their mother eats them before they breastfeed. Find out the connection between food and eczema flares.
Give your little one's skin some TLC. That’s the first step in treating their eczema. Try:
Moisturizers. One with ceramides is the best option. These are available over the counter and by prescription. Otherwise, a good moisturizer, fragrance-free cream, or ointment such as petroleum jelly, when used several times daily, will help your baby's skin retain its natural moisture. Apply immediately after a bath.
A lukewarm bath. This hydrates and cools the skin. It may also ease itching. Make sure the water isn’t too hot! Keep the bath short -- no more than 10 minutes. To soothe itchiness even more, try adding oatmeal soaking products to your baby's tub.
Use mild, unscented body and laundry soaps. Perfumed, deodorant, and antibacterial soaps can be rough on a baby's sensitive skin.
Clean carefully. Use soap only where your baby may be dirty, such as the genitals, hands, and feet. Simply rinse off the rest of your child's body.
Dry off. Pat skin dry. Don't rub.
Dress for comfy days. To avoid the irritation of clothing rubbing on the skin, your child should wear loose clothes made of cotton.
Always wash new clothes before you put them on your baby. Use a mild, fragrance-free detergent.
To keep your little one comfy, don’t overdress them or use too many blankets. If they get hot and sweaty, that can trigger an eczema flare. Learn more about natural skin care for babies.
What to Do About Itching
Try to keep your baby from scratching their itchy skin. Scratching can make the rash worse, lead to an infection, and cause the irritated skin to get thicker and more leathery.
Trim their nails often, and then take the edge off of them with a file if you can. Some parents also slip "scratch mittens" onto their little one's hands. Others try long socks, tucked in under a long-sleeved shirt, so they're harder for a baby to remove. View a slideshow to get more eczema skin care tips.
Some over-the-counter products, such as hydrocortisone creams and ointments, target itching and inflammation. Check the instructions and don’t use them too long, or they can thin the skin in the affected area.
There are also medicines that need a doctor’s prescription, if other treatments don’t work.
When to Call a Doctor
Make the call if your baby’s eczema doesn’t begin to get better within a week of starting over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams. It may be time for a prescription medicine.
Also check with your doctor if yellow or light brown crust or pus-filled blisters appear on top of the eczema. This could be the sign of a bacterial infection that needs antibiotics.