My baby has eczema. It’s itchy, flaky, oozy, red and angry. What can I do to help?
At Earth Mama HQ we hear this question more and more often. “Eczema” is an increasingly common concern: as mamas gain a growing understanding about the potential toxicity of ingredients in baby care products they are looking for a natural medicine or treatment to soothe and heal their babies’ skin. As the world takes a greater departure from living the way our great grandmothers did, the personal care aisle is vast, varied and unregulated by the EPA. Great Grandma knew what she was using, but who knows now what’s in baby’s bath, lotion or oil!
Great Grandma got up in the morning, milked the cow, and tended the organic vegetable garden – organic wasn’t “in,” there was just no other way. She knew which herbs to harvest to comfort her family’s ailments, including chickweed, chamomile and calendula, which she then extracted into oils to make a healing poultice. Part of Great Grandma’s day was spent making soap — true soap to wash her family’s clothes and scrub behind their ears during their weekly baths. Sure she had to deal with rashes, but nothing like the skin irritations we see now.
Today, we’re often finding that the cause of those uncomfortable skin rashes may not be eczema (a catchall term for atopic dermatitis), which is a long-term skin disorder. Instead, that itchy red rash on baby’s cheeks, head, arms or legs may be contact dermatitis, an allergic response to a chemical irritant. Both can look similar, and the conventional treatment is often the same: Part One, discontinue the cause of the irritation, and Part Two, apply worrisome topical steroidal medications or petroleum based ointments.
Part One of that treatment makes sense, but Part Two introduces more irritating chemicals to the toxic soup. Wouldn’t it be great if the solution was just Part One, as simple as avoiding the contact dermatitis triggers or irritants? Common triggers can be food, wool or lanolin (the grease from sheep’s wool), or the strong chemicals in personal care products. One of the most common causes of contact dermatitis is found in many personal care products, including baby shampoos. Quaternium 15, a potentially toxic preservative was the focus of the EWG's No More Toxic Tub campaign, and other irritating synthetic additives like diazonlidinyl urea, cocamidopropyl betaine, and phenoxyethanol, swim in lotions, shampoos, soaps, and other products your family uses. And if the rash is caused by a response to an allergen, the itching and burning can deceptively show up as much as a day or two after exposure.
Before your child is diagnosed with chronic eczema and prescribed a steroid cream, first rule out contact dermatitis. Is it the newest food you just added to their diet? Could your perfumed laundry detergent be the culprit? Or is the problem the synthetic additives and detergents in the lotion or soap you’re using? Here’s a tip: Stop everything. We’ve heard time and again that many mystery rashes are dramatically improved when mamas stop using everything on their babies. Test-drive it yourself by not washing your little ones with anything but water for 2-3 days. Then, one by one, slowly add back only pure, organic soaps, oils, or lotions. Not adding chemical irritants on your baby’s skin is a dramatically simple way of finding out what they are reacting to.
The truth is, it's hard to tell which works the best - using products with pure, organic ingredients, or the fact that you're actually replacing the cause of contact dermatitis with clean products. Maybe the best natural treatment for your baby’s rash is subtraction. Very often, going back to the basics is a perfect way to demonstrate that less is more.
To be clear, we’re not doctors. And when in doubt, it’s always best to consult old Doc Robins and barter a quart or two of Bessie’s organic milk for his wise counsel. But after hearing so many testimonials, stories and reports, sometimes the best “natural medicine” is not what you use, but what you stop using.