As an adult, struggling with a skin condition can feel incredibly frustrating. As a parent, watching a little one suffer with painful, dry or itchy skin can leave you feeling very helpless.
Your first port of call might be a doctor or dermatologist to get a firm diagnosis, but parents are increasingly turning to social media and websites in their search to find solutions for their child's painful skin. So, what's the correct course of action? Should you be using medicated creams on your baby? Or are there equally effective natural solutions?
Seeking medical advice is crucial when dealing with any visible change on the surface of a child's skin - if only to rule out a life threatening condition such as meningitis. In the case of meningitis, bacteria multiply in the bloodstream and release poisons. As the infection progresses, blood vessels might become damaged and this can cause a visible skin rash that looks like tiny red, pink or purple pin pricks. Skin conditions can closely resemble one another, so whilst you might think you're dealing with eczema, it's important to get that confirmed to ensure you're not missing something more serious.
Children's Eczema Medical Treatment Options
Once you have a diagnosis for your child's skin condition, it's important to consider all treatment options before deciding on the route you wish to go down. Many of the topical solutions offered by GPs, don't necessarily work to treat the condition, rather they reduce the redness and inflammation associated with eczema. Getting to the route cause of the problem is vital to long term healing.
Doctors will very often suggest a topical steroid cream such as hydrocortisone, but before you apply a treatment such as this onto a baby's delicate skin, I would implore you to do your own research on the potential long term side effects and implications.
It's very important to make it clear that corticosteroids work by suppressing the inflammatory reaction on the skin during use. They do not cure the condition, and once parents discontinue use, a rebound exacerbation of the condition may well occur.
Children, especially very young babies, are particularly susceptible to the side-effects that come with using topical steroids. If you absolutely have to use them I recommend using them very sparingly and certainly avoiding their use on delicate or very thin areas of skin. Topical Steroid Withdrawal is a serious concern and one that your Doctor should address with you in detail.
Diprobase or E45 Creams
Another important factor doctors and dermatologists will often highlight when treating children's eczema is keeping skin moisturised and adequately hydrated.
You might be offered thick, cream emollients such as aqueous or diprobase creams. Usage instructions for these creams commonly suggest applying to dry skin areas as often as is required and massage thoroughly into the skin. Whilst these heavy lotions can often feel like a godsend, what you're actually doing is creating an unbreakable cycle. Your babies skin feels dry, you apply the cream. The cream blocks pores and stops skin from absorbing moisture in the air, skin gets dry again, you apply more cream and so on and so forth.
The primary ingredient in Diprobase or Aqueous Creams is commonly petroleum. This might be labelled on the product as;
- Liquid paraffinum
- White paraffin
- Soft paraffin
- Paraffinum liquidum
- Mineral oil
However it's labelled, this ingredient is essentially highly refined petrol! Serious concerns have been highlighted over the past few years around the flammability of these emollients. New guidance surrounding the use of paraffin-based moisturisers was released in December 2018 by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. Following some horribly tragic deaths, this new advice issued warnings around the easy ignition of clothing, bedding, dressings and other fabric that have dried residue of an emollient product on them.
I would always urge serious caution in adults when using these creams and most certainly in children.
Whilst Vaseline has long been marketed to parents as being suitable for treating babies chafed skin and nappy rash, this stuff is literally petroleum jelly! Baby Vaseline has a 98% concentration of petroleum as opposed to the adult formula which contains 100% - either way, I would not recommend it. Whilst Petroleum is very good at 'locking in moisture' this preventative barrier also stops skin from breathing. This can create the illusion of moisturised, hydrated skin, all the while suffocating your pores. What you're actually doing in the long run is drying out a baby's skin by keeping out air and moisture.
Furthermore, a study published in Pediatrics in 2000, found that low birth weight infants treated with petroleum jelly were more likely to develop the fungal skin condition systemic candidiasis, since the blocking of pores creates a warm, moist place for fungi to grow.
For a more gentle, yet nourishing, natural treatment, you might like to try my Skin Saviour Balm. With natural botanicals including Grape Seed and Indian Frankincense, this is perfect for use on babies skin, without leaving a heavy, greasy residue. For a more intensive treatment, I'd recommend my Intensive Overnight Balm. Formulated to protect against external aggressors, this blend of bisabolbol and ginger extract can prove helpful to reduce irritation and redness on babies skin.
SLS in Aqueous Creams
What's more, petroleum is not the only potentially problematic chemical in these creams. A quick glance at Superdrugs Aqueous Cream list of ingredients reveals 'Sodium Lauryl Sulfate' which the National Eczema Society themselves highlight as a 'skin irritant in patch testing, and therefore an ingredient that should never be included in an emollient formulation'. Furthermore, this 2011 study confirms the negative effects of aqueous cream on the skin barrier are most likely associated with the presence of SLS.
Check the ingredients list in prescription and non prescription moisturisers, as well as shower and bath formulas and make an informed choice as to whether these are something you want to be applying to your child's skin. If the answer is 'no' there are much gentler, kinder alternatives that can work in harmony with their skin's natural oil production, to support healing rather than blocking pores preventing skin from breathing.
Kinder Eczema Alternatives for Children
WARNING: I recommend you speak with your doctor before changing a child's skincare treatment. New topicals should always be patch tested in small areas first.
So, if steroid creams and petroleum based moisturisers come with so many risky side effects, are there natural alternatives that might be better suited to a child's delicate skin? Absolutely.
Top Five Tips for Soothing Child's Eczema Itch
The most common frustration for parents trying to soothe a child with painful eczema is helping them to achieve relief from the intense itch. As an adult, itchy skin is irritating to say the least, but for very small children this must feel unbearable. Here are my top five topical tips for soothing the itch.
Bathe your child in oatmeal: This is a lovely, inexpensive recipe that you can make quickly and easily at home! Colloidal oatmeal baths have been shown to help relieve the dry, itchy and irritated skin caused by eczema. You can buy colloidal oatmeal online or at your local health store, or you can make your own from regular porridge oats. I would recommend this recipe for little oatmeal bags, which can also be used as a soft loofah to draw across a child's skin. Oatmeal creates a lovely milky bath and leaves babies skin feeling soft and nourished. Always run warm water in your child's bath - as opposed to excessively hot - and gently pat skin dry with a soft cotton towel.
Use a natural soothing spray: My Skin Soothing Spray is formulated using a blend of blackcurrant, ballon and sunflower oils. Our Swiss testing data yields fantastic results, showing the product to be as effective as steroids at reducing inflammation. This is a light, cooling formula, suitable for your child's delicate skin. You can store the bottle in the fridge if you like, to offer even more cooling benefits.
Make your own Calendula Mist: Marigold flowers (otherwise known as Calendula) have been used to promote healing and treat skin conditions such as eczema for centuries. The bright yellow petals of this beautiful flower can assist by reducing inflammation, eliminating bacteria and helping the skin to heal. This spray is wonderfully cooling for a child's irritated skin and works well on insect bites and sunburn.
100ml bottle with spray atomiser
METHOD: Carefully pour your Calendula Hydrosol and squeeze 30g of Aloe Vera Gel into the spray bottle. Secure lid and shake well. Use this spray generously on your child's skin as needed. Always patch test first and avoid contact with the eyes and other sensitive areas. Kept refrigerated it will usually last up to six months.
Increase your child's Vitamin D: Studies suggest that if your toddlers eczema flares during the cold winter months, a lack of Vitamin D might be their trigger. A quarter of all UK children are thought to be vitamin D deficient. Taking a children's Vitamin D supplement might be an option for older kids but if taking a vitamin is simply is not an option, using my Vitamin D Cream on little ones can help alleviate suffering during those dreary months of the year. My cream helps to better absorb and metabolise Vitamin D, so it's best applied on parts of the body most often exposed to fresh air such as face and hands - although it's gentle enough to be used all over. As always with sensitive skin, patch test on a small area first.
Massage in Coconut or Borage Oil: Natural oils have been used in children's skincare for centuries and the National Eczema Society report that a good number of natural oils have beneficial fatty acids that help to repair the skin’s natural barrier, which is defective in patients with eczema. Cold-pressed or 'virgin' oils are a preferred option, as these are extracted without adding heat. Some essential oils use chemicals added during extraction and these can produce irritating compounds, which should of course be avoided on sensitive skin.
You might like to try Virgin Coconut Oil on your child's skin. You can find a jar in the cooking aisle right beside the olive oil. Borage Oil is also of interest because it contains a substance called 'GLA' (gamma-linolenic acid). GLA is fatty substance found in various plant seed oils and commonly used for skin conditions including systemic sclerosis, psoriasis and eczema. Borage Oil contains two to three times the level of GLA than that in evening primrose oil, and whilst early research results are varied, this study confirms it might be useful in some individual patients with less severe atopic dermatitis who are seeking an alternative treatment.