Atopic dermatitis (AD), the most common form of eczema, affects nearly 10 million children in the United States. Babies have sensitive skin that is prone to becoming dry, and they’re even more prone to inflammation and irritation when they have eczema. Finding the right products to keep your child clean and comfortable while preventing flare-ups can be challenging. Fortunately, experts and MyEczemaTeam members have some recommendations for baby soaps formulated with eczema-prone skin in mind.
Here, we will explore what goes into the best soaps and cleansers for little ones with eczema — and which ingredients to avoid. We will also provide examples of products recommended by members of MyEczemaTeam or backed by eczema experts.
As always, consult your child’s dermatologist or pediatrician before incorporating a new product into their skincare routine, even if the product has been approved for use with eczema.
Babies’ skin is slightly acidic at birth — it has a pH of 6.4. (Normal skin pH for adults is around 4.7, according to one study.) Maintaining a more acidic pH level helps the skin preserve moisture and protect against infection, allergens, and other irritating substances. Soaps, however, are basic (alkaline), with a pH of around 10. This high pH can throw off a baby’s natural skin pH balance.
Standard soaps can also be very drying. Soaps are generally made with harsh chemicals that deplete the skin’s moisture and natural oils, essentially stripping away its moisture barrier. Therefore, experts recommend avoiding traditional soaps during baby’s bath time and washing with only water or gentle cleansers in the first month of life.
As parents know, however, young children can get messy. Avoiding soap entirely may not be possible. To protect your child’s skin from eczema flare-ups, you’ll want to use a gentle cleanser that cleans but doesn’t dehydrate your child’s skin or strip away its protective barrier. Here are a few things to look for when shopping for soap.
One study found that washing two times a day with a traditional alkaline soap damages the skin barrier, leading to dryness and irritation. That’s why experts recommend using synthetic cleansers for babies rather than soap-based cleansers. These cleansers are made with synthetic detergent, or syndet for short. Syndet bars or liquids are a good choice for cleansing, thanks to their mildness and hydrating properties — both of which are beneficial to dry, eczema-prone skin.
The primary ingredient of syndet bars is surfactant — a compound that lowers the surface tension in a liquid, allowing it to act as a detergent. Unlike traditional soaps, syndets have a neutral or slightly acidic pH, making them less irritating to the skin. These cleansers may also contain moisturizing (emollient) ingredients to help hydrate and protect your child’s skin and its natural barriers.
The ingredient glycerin can counter the drying effects of soap by acting as a humectant, a substance that preserves moisture. Humectants are used in lotions, soaps, and even food.
Glycerin also actively draws moisture from the atmosphere to your child's skin. This is what causes natural soap to appear to “sweat.” It has the same moisturizing effect on the skin.
Although many natural soaps contain glycerin, it’s important to note that naturally made soaps are only a good option as long as they aren’t heavily fragranced or colored with dye.
The National Eczema Association (NEA) examines ingredients and testing data to determine whether certain products are suitable for people living with eczema. The NEA’s Seal of Acceptance program helps people with eczema and other chronic skin conditions choose products that are less likely to cause allergic reactions or exacerbate symptoms.
Even if you find a cleanser for your baby that appears to have the right ingredients, it’s a good idea to check whether the NEA has approved it for people with eczema. Additionally, if you’re having trouble finding the right cleanser, visit the NEA’s website to find products that have been tested and approved by the NEA for eczema-prone skin in children.
Now that you have an idea of some of the ingredients and properties found in good baby cleansers for eczema, let’s take a look at some of the ingredients you may want to avoid.
Like syndet, sulfates are surfactants, meaning they attract both oil and water. Thus, they’re commonly used as foaming agents in soaps, shampoos, and detergents. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is one particular type of sulfate.
Although sulfates are good at cleansing, they can also strip the skin’s natural oils, causing dry skin, irritation, and sometimes allergic reactions — even in skin not affected by eczema. It’s a good idea to opt for sulfate-free soaps for your baby’s eczema-prone skin. Look for soaps labeled as "SLS-free."
More than 2,500 different types of chemicals can go into making a fragrance, so manufacturers often just list “perfume” in their ingredients. This makes it hard to pinpoint the specific chemicals in a soap that may cause irritation.
An estimated 1 percent to 4 percent of the general population is sensitive to fragrances, while as many as 15 percent of people with contact dermatitis have fragrance sensitivities. A baby’s particularly sensitive skin may be aggravated by even natural fragrances. For this reason, it may be safer to opt for soaps with their ingredients listed so you know exactly what you’re getting. Avoid products with dyes and fragrances, and stick with simple unscented cleansers. One MyEczemaTeam member whose child has eczema recommended, “Use gentle, fragrance-free cleansers.” Simply put, bland and simple is better.
If you’re looking for a body wash or cleanser that will hydrate your baby’s skin without aggravating eczema symptoms, the following are some nonprescription options that have been formulated with a baby’s sensitive skin in mind.
Aveeno’s Soothing Hydration Creamy Baby Wash With Oat is formulated with colloidal oatmeal — an oatmeal-derived extract that has been classified by the FDA as a skin protectant. This oat extract can help soothe eczema-prone skin and relieve itchy skin. One MyEczemaTeam member recommended using this cleanser and moisturizer “immediately after bathing, leaving some water droplets on your son’s skin to lock in moisture.”
This liquid body wash is formulated with colloidal oatmeal and prebiotic moisturizers. It contains no parabens, phthalates, sulfates, artificial colors, or artificial fragrance. It was developed by pediatric dermatologists and is approved by the NEA.
“CeraVe baby products worked great for my daughter when she was a baby,” wrote one MyEczemaTeam member. With a formula designed by dermatologists, CeraVe Soothing Body Wash is made to cleanse and calm your child's skin. Ingredients include three essential ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and omega oils, which CeraVe says are intended to restore skin to its healthy, natural state. The soap also has no parabens, sulfates, or fragrances, and it’s accepted by the National Eczema Association.
As noted by the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology, there are several other nonsoap cleansers available that are free of SLS. Some NEA-accepted, SLS-free cleansers include:
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What cleansers do you use for your child with eczema? Share your thoughts in the comments below or by posting on MyEczemaTeam.