My relationship with eczema began while I was a student in elementary school. I keenly remember the greasy but, fairly effective ointment that I used to slather onto my elbows, to prevent myself from raking off my skin and getting nasty blisters and scars. As I got older, the flare ups got less frequent. But, even as an adult, stress or even a change in climate could trigger the itchy bumps to report for duty and scream for attention. So, I certainly know the torment that can be unleashed on persons with this skin condition. Still, my personal familiarity with eczema wasn’t enough to brace me for the moment when my pediatrician pointed out the rough skin under my 3-week-old’s eyebrows. ‘Devastation’ is the flimsy word my mind draws for to convey what I felt.
Eczema on a baby could either be just newborn sensitivity or a genetic ‘thorn in the flesh’ (as in my case). But, whatever the case, the itchy skin horrifies any new parent – especially if they know what it feels like. I didn’t allow my soul to soak in the despair for too long. After using the specially blended ointment, her doctor had prescribed for 2 weeks, Mwalimu’s skin was restored to its original itch-free and baby-soft state. The doctor usually prescribes moisturisers and corticosteroids, but long-term use of topical steroids can actually damage the skin. Therefore, I needed to find ways of managing the condition to ensure there was no repeat. After all, I had walked this path before and I knew what I had to do. So, after a series of trials and errors, I found a routine/strategy that has been working – even one year later. Along the way I came to understand that moisture is a friend, heat is an enemy, and friction does the damage. So, I’ve committed to keeping the skin hydrated and cool, while doing as much as possible to prevent rubbing and scratching.
I strongly recommend that you limit the frequency of your baby’s baths. We know that water is the best source of moisture, but less is more, because both the hot water and soap strip the skin of its natural oils. So, whenever you are giving your baby a bath, please try to avoid soaps. I have never used soap on Mwalimu – instead, I keep a stock of emulsifying ointment and emulsified bath bars (made from a blend of paraffin oils). If you are able to use soap substitutes or soap-free cleansers, then bath time should be your baby’s favourite time, and you won’t have to worry about her getting dried out skin. If , for whatever reason, you need to give your baby a bath sooner than planned or preferred, then a proper wipe down with a wet washrag or sponge will do the job.
Whether he was sitting in a tub or got sponged down, once your champ has had a bath, always moisturise and seal. If you didn’t use an emulsifying ointment for the bath, ensure that you use water-based moisturisers on your little one’s skin and follow up with plant oils (like coconut or olive), or plant butters (like cocoa or shea) – which are great for trapping the moisture into the skin. These are also great for giving your baby a full body massage. They moisturise the skin and the rubdown is therapeutic.
Maintaining cool and moist air around your baby is essential. Whether indoors or outdoors, a hot environment can lead to sweaty or parched and miserably itchy skin. When your baby sweats, it attracts lint which can irritate the skin. Plus, when the sweat evaporates, some of the skin’s moisture and naturally occurring oils disappear with it. So, ensure that a fan or air conditioner is running if natural breezes aren’t available. It definitely helps to keep your little angel in loose clothing, that’s made from natural fibres, as well. Plus during bath time, luke warm water is best. Hot water may feel soothing against irritated and blistering skin, but it has a similar effect to being hot and sweaty, and as such, would only worsen the skin’s dryness. So, warm water is good, but not too warm. I cannot forget how the rashes tend to get hot and feel like the skin is burning, so I know that your bambino will find a cold compress extremely soothing.
When you watch your sweet, princess using her tiny fists to enthusiastically scrub her face or your charming prince scouring his chubby feet with the blanket in his crib – the frustration can ache indescribably. This is why mittens, socks, frequently trimmed fingernails and toenails are supremely important. Even after baths, pat the skin dry instead of rubbing with the rag or towel. Any kind of rubbing or scratching of the itchy skin will cause irritation and can lead to oozing blisters, nasty scabs, ugly scars and painful infections. Just soothe your little one and distract him or her from the discomfort so as to hinder the friction. In addition, all irritants have to be identified and avoided. These include, but are not limited to, perfumed and dyed cosmetics, bath products and laundry detergents. Dietary allergens, like dairy and eggs, are also likely triggers, so it is wise to do some amount of elimination, and increase your baby’s intake of fruits and vegetables.
However, in spite of our best efforts, sometimes our little ones will still have eczema flare ups. When this happens, it is important that, as their primary caregivers, we remain calm and try to reduce or eliminate any stressors in the environment that can aggravate this painful condition. If your child has been scratching away, Aloe Vera gel can be very soothing, when applied to the affected areas. Witch Hazel has anti-inflammatory properties, so as soon as I see a rash coming up, I daub some of the diluted astringent onto the skin. Baking Soda is really calming when added to the bath water. So, try these remedies when all else fails.
No one could look at Mwalimu or myself, today, and tell that either of us have had to seek medical help and prescription drugs for eczema. The key to living with sensitive skin is not loading up of meds nor covering up with long sleeves. It all comes down to avoiding the triggers and soothing the flare ups. I always say, I manage eczema – it doesn’t manage me!
Have you found any other helpful tips for managing eczema without the steroids?
Didan Ashanta is a natural living enthusiast who blogs at DidanAshanta.com. A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in Tokyo with her husband and 1-year-old daughter.