By Kristen Chandler
Summertime means beach trips, pool fun, longer days and even more reason to eat ice cream and popsicles. But if your child deals with eczema, summer also could mean more eczema flare-ups.
What is Eczema?
Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a chronic skin condition. It occurs when skin is dry, and bad flare-ups can result in a very itchy, red rash. The exact cause of eczema is unknown, but it can be inherited genetically as well as be triggered by environmental factors. The eczema rash itself is not an allergic reaction, but some allergens, including food, may cause a flare-up or indicate an existing allergy.
Before my son was diagnosed with food allergies, he had bad eczema flare-ups, usually on his face and stomach. When we found out he was allergic to beef and we cut it from his diet, his eczema cleared up significantly.
Eczema usually occurs in children, and many children who have eczema will have fewer flare-ups as they get older. However, depending on the triggers and if you are genetically predisposed to it, eczema can show up at almost any time. Common places for eczema rashes include the face, the back of the knees and the bend of the elbows. My son’s worst spots were his face (especially in winter and summer) and his stomach. My daughter’s flare-up patches were always on the backs of her knees.
Treating and Managing Summer Eczema
Oftentimes, extremely cold or hot weather will trigger eczema. Furthermore, extensive sweating will irritate the skin, making eczema rashes worse. So it’s therefore common to see eczema flare-ups during the summer.
Although a lot of children will have fewer flare-ups as they get older, there is not a cure for eczema. It can be treated and managed, though. Eczema can also be very uncomfortable. My son used to scratch his patches while he was asleep, until they bled.
Here are a few tips to help manage your child’s eczema this summer:
Avoid triggers. If it’s a certain food, laundry detergent, lotion or something else that is causing the flare-up, stop eating or using it. A few months ago, my daughter had a flare-up on her cheeks. Since she is now a “tween,” she has decided she needs to wash her face like I do. It didn’t take me long to realize that, although she was using a hypoallergenic face wash, it was drying her skin and had caused the eczema flare-up. I told her to stop using it, and after about a week of discontinuing use and putting Aquaphor on her cheeks, the eczema cleared up.
If you or your child is prone to eczema, keep the skin moisturized to prevent drying. Be careful, though—some lotions may contain alcohol or perfumes that will irritate skin and cause a rash or make an existing one worse. Try to avoid using antibacterial soaps, and use moisturizing soaps instead. If someone in your family has a milk allergy, do watch out when buying moisturizing soaps, because some may contain milk! Also, be careful if you use hand sanitizer. Using it too much can dry out your skin and trigger a flare-up.
Two of my favorite products to treat and prevent eczema are Eucerin cream and Aquaphor. Eucerin is a thick cream that’s good for moisturizing dry skin, and it doesn’t irritate already dry patches. I’ve found that Aquaphor is more efficient than Vaseline when it comes to already existing eczema patches, especially on the face. I stocked up on both several months ago using digital coupons and was able to get tubes of Aquaphor for about $1.50 each and the jars of Eucerin for about $3.00 each. If you use a dermatologist, keep a watch at their front desk or in the exam rooms—a lot of times they will have paper coupons for these products as well.
Prevent skin from drying out. When my kids were younger and their eczema would flare up, the doctor suggested that I only bathe them every other day, because too much bathing could dry their skin out. Of course, now that they are older and it’s summer, and they will more than likely be outside getting dirty and sweating daily, they really need to bathe every day. So try shorter showers instead of long soaks in the bathtub. Using lukewarm or cool water instead of hot will also help. If you do choose to get a bath, try an oatmeal bath for skin that is already irritated and a sea salt bath to prevent flare-ups.
For an oatmeal bath, cut the foot off an old pair of pantyhose and fill it with ¼ cup of oats. Tie it on the faucet of the tub so that the water soaks through the oats while it’s running. You can also grind the oats into a fine powder and add them directly to the bathwater. You can buy packs of oatmeal bath treatment (I know Aveeno makes them), but I always preferred to make my own.
Have you ever had an oral procedure or surgery or had a sore throat and been advised to gargle salt water? Or have you been told to soak a sprain in salt water? Salt water is an anti-inflammatory. Long periods of time in salt water may cause your skin to dry out, but short dips in the ocean or a salt bath using natural dead sea salt can help eczema. However, if your child has a bad flare-up and the salt stings, you may want to reduce the amount of salt you use, or their time in the bath. You may even want to hold off taking a salt bath until the eczema has cleared up some.
Wear light, loose clothing. Try to avoid materials that may be itchy and irritate skin, like denim. You will want to stay cool anyway, so the lighter the material, the better. Tight clothing can rub against patches and irritate the skin more, so looser clothing is best.
Try to minimize sweat. I know—it’s summer, it’s hot and your kids are going to sweat. But that sweat can also irritate existing patches of eczema or cause a new flare-up. If your kids are going to be outside for long periods of time, try to keep them as cool as possible. Get them to sit in shaded areas as much as you can. Take an umbrella to the pool or beach. Take a tent to that softball or baseball tournament. Keep a cold towel on the back of their neck. When they do sweat, try to soak it up with a towel instead of letting it dry on their skin. This is extremely important for places like the back of the knees and bend of the elbows, which are prime eczema areas.
Watch your child’s diet. If you know a certain food has triggered your child’s eczema, avoid it. But don’t go avoiding foods unnecessarily. Only do this if you can link a specific food to the flare-up. If you suspect an allergy that has not yet been diagnosed, talk with your doctor.
There are foods that will help keep skin from drying out and potentially minimize flareups. Omega 3 fatty acids have been known to help reduce rashes. Foods rich in Omega 3s include: chia seeds, walnuts, spinach and fish. If you don’t think your child is getting enough Omega 3s in their diet, talk to your doctor about taking a fish oil supplement. Foods that contain quercetin, like apples, broccoli, cherries, kale and walnuts, may also help with flareups.
Eczema Tips for the Pool
I know that one of my favorite summer pastimes is taking my kids to a family member’s pool. I get reading time in while they play in the water. However, sometimes pool chemicals can irritate skin and make eczema flareups worse. But don’t worry, you don’t have to avoid the pool altogether. Here are a few suggestions for tackling the pool if your child has eczema:
Use a moisturizing sunscreen. You would think that sunscreen would already be moisturizing, but now that they make the spray kind, you should always check. Also look for hypoallergenic sunscreen, and steer clear of sunscreen that has added perfume or dyes. Here are a few suggestions:
- COSRX Aloe Soothing Sun Cream SPF50
- Supergoop! Sun Defying Sunscreen Oil with Meadowfoam SPF 50
- Thinkbaby Safe Sunscreen SPF 50+
- EltaMD UV Broad Spectrum SPF 46
- Vanicream Sunscreen SPF 35 Sport for Eczema/Sensitive Skin
In addition to using a moisturizing sunscreen, have your child rinse off after they get out of the pool and moisturize again with lotion. If you use a public pool, or a private pool that is not your own, find out when they add chlorine and change out chemicals. Don’t swim right after chlorine has been added, because that may irritate skin even more. If your child has irritated patches of eczema, you may want to avoid the pool until it has cleared up or isn’t as bad.
Treating a Really Bad Flare-up
If you’re treating your child’s eczema naturally at home and it doesn’t seem to be working, or the eczema worsens, contact your doctor. A topical steroid cream may be needed to help treat it. My son’s eczema was so severe at times when he was younger that his doctor ended up having to prescribe him a steroid cream to help clear it up. On the other hand, we have been able to manage and treat my daughter’s flare-ups without the use of a steroid cream. But every child and case is different, so please consult with your child’s doctor.
How do you manage your child’s eczema during the summer? Do you have any specific tips or products that have worked well for you? We would love to hear from you in the comments!