Now that Baby A is four, I’m glad to say that she is pretty much free from the eczema that had plagued her since infanthood. When she was a newborn, I made the mistake of using soap on her when plain water would do. This dried up her skin and exacerbated her condition, particularly during hot seasons.
I still vividly recall the heartache as I surveyed her red angry skin, at an age when it should have been at its best. And the sight of her crying in agony and yanking hard at her hair, unable yet to articulate her frustration, was more than I was able to bear. For years, at least twice a week, I had to answer questions like: “What happened to her?”, “Why is she scratching?”, “Why don’t you try (insert solution)?” or “She’s got (insert diagnosis).”
The fight against eczema was an uphill task, but we decided back then that we were not going to use steroid creams as far as we could help it. While they provide quick relief, they do not get to the root of the problem. Furthermore, steroid creams are known to thin out the skin after prolonged use. Thinner skin leads to increased sensitivity, which means more outbreaks. So if we formed the habit of turning to steroid creams for every little rash, we’d be setting ourselves up for long-term dependence.
Steroid creams still, however, play an important role in relieving patients with extremely bad eczema. Since Baby A’s condition was not extremely severe, I had the allowance to research and try non-steroidal options.
And so began our journey of trawling through countless methods and products touted to work (but mostly did not). Four years on, I’ve updated my list of things that worked for Baby A’s moderately severe eczema. If you have an itchy and scratchy bub like I did, I hope this saves some legwork.
Creams, Potions and Lotions:
1. Emu Tracks Emu Oil
This was recommended by my aunt who has been working the medical field for decades. While this product only came in at the tail-end of our war with eczema, I saw that it did quickly kill off the remaining flare ups. I applied this to Baby A’s dry scalp before shampooing and on her skin after bathing. Right after this, her scalp stopped flaking.
2. Physiogel Cream
There is a good reason why this is one of the star products for eczematous or sensitive skin. I am using the normal version instead of the AI (or Anti-Inflammatory) version as I do not see a difference between the two. Baby A’s skin absorbed it like a sponge and I loved the difference in her skin after that. Given its cost, I have found that it is more economical to ask a friend to lug it back from Hong Kong for me.
3. Earth Mama Angel Baby Bottom Balm
I can’t say enough about how this product has helped Baby A from infanthood. I am still using it today for the occasional heat rash and it works a treat!
There was a season when along with eczema, Baby A started having horrible diaper rash. Commonly-used brands like Desitin, Desitin Extra Strong and Sudocrem did nothing for her. I warmed a dallop of this amazing balm between my hands and applied a thick layer before diapering. It formed a nice waterproof healing barrier on her skin. By the next diaper change, I had gotten my smiley baby back!
With lavender and calendula essential oils as main ingredients, the calming scent also soothed my nerves whenever I was stressed at the sight of yet another wave of rashes. I suspect this balm repels mosquitoes too, since it carries so much lavender essential oil.
1. Aveeno Baby Products
I ended up sticking to this brand and its line of products (especially the shampoo) throughout Baby A’s infanthood. Other brands, even organic ones, had her scratching furiously within minutes after a bath. They used to be only available online but the good news is that you can now buy them in Singapore.
2. Aquaphor, Baby Gentle Wash & Shampoo, Fragrance Free
Aveeno was great, but the drawback was that there wasn’t a head-to-toe product available back then (there is now, but I have not tried it yet). I had to work with 2 bottles and juggle a slippery baby. The shampoo stung Baby A’s eyes when I wasn’t careful. So when she grew old enough to stop using baby-specific products, the search continued for a mild head-to-toe wash. Of all the brands we tried (Pigeon Baby Wash 2 in 1 being a close second), Aquaphor topped our chart. It checked all the requirements on my list: Fragrance-free, soap-free, tear-free and dye-free. Most importantly, there was no scratching at all after her bath.
Definitely the cheapest but one of the most effective methods (credit to my Mum for mooting the idea). It’s the perfect excuse for a day at the beach. Baby A gets to build her sandcastles, and then we head for the water with a swimming ring. Both of us hang on to the ring and float her for a good 15 minutes, scooping seawater over her back, neck and arms and carefully over the scalp, avoiding the eyes. Then it’s rinse off and pat-dry. Right after each session, the eczematous patches peeled off, leaving baby-smooth skin beneath. We found it best to do this around 4pm on a sunny day (if the waves are not too strong). At this time the sun is not too hot and water’s nice and warm.
What if you’re strapped for time? Grab an empty 2L bottle and get The Husband to wade into the water and fill up the bottle. The water may look murky at first, but leave it to stand and the sand will settle, leaving water that is surprisingly crystal clear and cool to the touch. You can now decant this to warm water in the bath for a sea salt soak at home!
2. Aloe Vera Plant
I mean the plant; not the processed by-product packed nicely in a tube and sold in shops.
I use it because it works wonders! You basically slice the leaf in half along the flat side and remove the skin, leaving a clear, gel-like centre. Then we rub its sticky juice onto the skin and leave it for five minutes before rinsing. If it stops feeling “slimy,” press with your thumbs to release more juice. I also like to give my daughter a small piece so she can have fun feeling its texture and squishing it in her little fist.
3. Aveeno Baby Eczema Bath Treatment
This was what I used for Baby A during infanthood. Each sachet in this box contains colloidal oatmeal in powder form. The contents are scattered in bathwater and Baby A soaks in for 30 minutes. Not that she’s complaining—she gets to have deep conversations with her favourite rubber ducky!
The downside of this treatment is that it is time-consuming. I found it challenging to even do this once a week.
1. Traditional Chinese Medicine
Baby A was also seeing a TCM doctor for constipation. During one session, we mentioned her eczema in passing. The doctor immediately linked this with her digestive issue. She explained that when the body fails to detox properly (southwards), the accumulated toxins could exhibit itself in skin flare-ups. We mixed Baby A’s meds with water and some maple syrup to make it more palatable. Thankfully she was not averse and responded well to it. She also loved the infant tui-na sessions that followed each consultation, and so did we. Because we observed lifted moods, better appetite and sounder sleeps after each session. Most importantly, we began to notice how smoothing bowel movements helped her skin condition. We have since become more conscious about giving her more fruit and vegetables at every meal.
In line with keeping good intestinal health, we started Baby A on Lactobacillus GG. This strain of probiotics is unlike the strain you find in cultured milk drinks or yoghurt. It survives the harsh acidic environment of the gastric and gets to the intestines where it is meant to proliferate and do its work. Here is a chart I found detailing its benefits:
It is one of the easiest to administer too: Once a day, the tasteless powder within the capsule is stirred into milk or drinks for the unsuspecting Baby A. I must warn that this is rather expensive—more than SG$2 per capsule if you buy it locally. But if your eczematous child has issues with digestion as well, this could be well worth a try. There was massive improvement in my daughter’s condition after the second dose.
Other tips on caring for your infant’s sensitive skin:
- Newborns do not need soap; just plain water will do. Unless using a bath treatment, limit bathtime to 5 minutes. Shower if she’s able to stand up on her own steadily. Avoid products that contain sodium lauryl sulphate as they dehydrate the skin.
- Pat the skin dry rather than rub with a towel. Rubbing takes away the film of moisture deposited by your specialized bath product on your bubs.
- The most ideal time to apply moisturizer or do bath treatments is right after shower, when it is most receptive and absorbant. Makes for a slippery bub, I know, (be careful not to drop him when he wriggles!) but you can feel the difference in your baby’s skin after all that goodness is absorbed.
- The best time to apply oils is about 20 minutes before bathing so that it has time to work its way into the skin. The excess can be washed off during shower time. And if your baby has really dry, flaky scalp like Baby A, you could warm a tiny smidge on your fingertips and massage that onto the scalp before blow-drying. Be sure to use good quality oils.
- During bath treatments, use a thick hand towel and plaster it to the back of your child like a cape. Now holding the edge of the towel, scoop the bath treatment over the top of the towel and allow it to wicks through. This keeps the skin warm and soaked.
To any mummy whose little one suffers from eczema, you deserve a big hug for patiently and lovingly walking your baby through this stage of his life!
The next time you feel discouraged by the sight of yet another outbreak, remember that you’re not alone. Together, we’ll get through this parenting thing.