Marci Cornett, also from Organico Bantry, writes in place of Hannah Dare this month
It’s excruciating to watch your little one struggle with eczema, or just sensitive skin in general. It affects her mood, her sleep, her quality of life — that’s a lot for a little person to deal with. But there are ways you can help improve her symptoms — and her life —during a flare-up. Let’s look at health tips, natural products, and actions you can take to comfort your child.
Start by looking around your home — you may be surprised to find more abrasive products and triggers for eczema flare-ups than you’d expect. First, make the switch from conventional, petrochemical-based cleaning products, air fresheners, detergents and bathroom supplies to gentler, natural alternatives. Those labelled ‘hypoallergenic’ and ‘fragrance-free’ will be kindest to your child’s skin. Pop into Organico and we’ll point out some great natural brands to replace your conventional products.
As you scan your household for irritants, think about everything that touches your child’s skin, fabrics included. Bedding and clothing made of coarse fabrics, wool or polyester can be rough on sensitive skin. Soft natural fibre, especially cotton, is a better option. And if the air in your home gets very dry, a humidifier can help supply the extra moisture her skin needs.
In terms of treatment, acupuncture, which you wouldn’t normally associate with a child, has helped many kids find relief from eczema symptoms. It’s known to reduce itching and inflammation and improve relaxation and sleep. Call into Organico and we’ll be happy to provide the names and addresses of therapists.
When it comes to diet, be careful about eliminating foods in search of eczema triggers: it’s not recommended by experts and it can unintentionally lead to poor nutrition. Unless you’re certain your child is allergic to a specific food, it’s much better to keep her on a well-rounded, vegetable-rich diet. See the food allergy section on www.irishskin.ie/eczema/ for more information.
However, having said that, there is a strong association between eczema and gut health. This could be because a weakened immune system causes a vulnerable skin barrier (which causes eczema), as well as a permeable gut barrier, (which leads to digestive disorders). A study, published on www.sciencedaily.com, showed that kids with eczema tend to have a greater diversity of gut bacteria than non-affected kids, and their microbiomes contain bacteria strains more typical of those found in adults. This is where a children’s probiotic, which can help populate your child’s gut with immune-boosting bacteria, could make a big difference.
If you’re looking for something to immediately soothe and moisturise irritated, itchy skin, a 10-15 minute soak in a warm (not hot!) oat bath can be really effective. The lipids in oats replenish oils and reduce dryness while beta-glucans deeply moisturise and antioxidants calm redness and itchiness. It’s easy to make an oat bath: hang a fine mesh bag filled with oats over the tap so the bath water passes through it. Once the bath is full, squeeze the bag to extract all the oat tincture. Let your child relax in the milky water —it’s just as good for her nervous system as it is for her skin.
Because her skin is so sensitive, you’ll want to avoid scrubbing during bathtime. And avoid soap, which can aggravate eczema, in favour of a gentle therapeutic cleanser formulated for delicate, irritated skin. The (Irish-made) Doctor Mahers Vitalize Cleansing Bar is a great choice, packed as it is with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich seaweeds, oils, and plant extracts that soothe and repair.
After bathing, you can apply aloe vera leaf gel, preferably straight from a plant, to any inflamed areas. The gel’s antioxidants, polysaccharides, and anti-inflammatory properties can help stimulate the healing and regrowth of her skin. Be sure to do a 24-hour patch test if she hasn’t used aloe vera before.
Your child’s skin needs special care that a normal lotion just won’t provide, but an emollient (a type of moisturiser that softens and smoothes scaly skin and prevents moisture loss) is up to the task. Apply the emollient soon after she leaves the bath using long, sweeping motions that follow the direction of her body hair. We recommend Pure Potions Salvation Ointment, which coats the skin with a protective layer of nourishing oils.
For use during and after bathtime, Weleda make lovely products that can bring relief to babies and kids with sensitive skin. Their calendula range harnesses anti-inflammatory properties to soothe discomfort. The white mallow range is cooling and restorative for baby skin that’s hypersensitive. Both lines feature nappy change creams, which are a must-try for babies prone to rashes and flare-ups.
There’s also the Salcura Bioskin Junior range which consists of natural hair and skin products made for kids who have all sorts of skin conditions, eczema included. Their Outbreak Rescue Cream specifically targets flare-ups and doesn’t contain steroids or harsh chemicals.
You can find all of these products at Organico in the shop (open Mon-Sat, 9:15-6) and at www.organico.ie. We do want to point out that if you have any reason to suspect your child’s eczema is severe, abnormal, or infected, it’s time to see a doctor.
If you feel frustrated by how unfair eczema is for your child, remember, you’re not helpless — you can act to comfort her, help alleviate her symptoms, and set a great example for her to always be proactive in the choices surrounding her health.