A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

What’s happening to my baby’s skin?

baby with cute face getting first hair cut

With proper treatment like petroleum jelly or a prescribed topical steroid cream, eczema flare ups will usually improve within two weeks of treatment.

There’s nothing quite as soft and smooth as a baby’s skin—unless that baby happens to have eczema.

Often appearing before a child’s first birthday, eczema, or atopic dermatitis, can cause the skin to be red, dry, scaly and itchy. These patches can occur anywhere but often appear prominently on the crease of the forearms and face

Eczema is very itchy, so an infant can make it worse by rubbing the affected skin against bedding or carpeting. It can get so intense that a child, along with his or her parents, cannot sleep and scratching can lead to a skin infection.

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Moisturize, moisturize

While doctors can’t cure eczema, they can help control it. The best weapon, in many cases, is plain old petroleum jelly, known by the brand name Vaseline. That’s the word from Marshfield Clinic Dermatologist Clayton Green.

“Bathe a child using a mild and unscented soap like Dove. Don’t dry the skin before you slather on the petroleum jelly. Really grease the skin up,” he advised.

Most children with an eczema flare will be better within about two weeks of proper treatment. If your child is not, contact a dermatologist who will examine the child and get a history.

Topical medication may be necessary

If petroleum jelly is not effective, the child’s doctor may also prescribe a topical steroid cream for use on the area of skin irritation. Topical steroids are safe when used correctly.

The two most important things to remember with a topical steroid are to use the strength of medication prescribed that is appropriate to the body site being treated and only apply medication to areas where there is eczema.

Eczema basics

Here are three take-away messages for parents:

  • Eczema is not contagious.
  • Moisturizing the skin is a critical first-line treatment and long-term maintenance treatment.
  • Prescribed topical steroids are often effective for treating irritations that are not helped by moisturizing with petroleum jelly.

Talk with your child’s pediatrician or dermatologist if you are concerned about symptoms of eczema.

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