Eczema is dry, red and itchy skin.
Dry skin, stress, and certain soaps can trigger eczema in babies.

What Causes Eczema in Babies

Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is a common skin disorder among children. The condition usually shows up by the age of five and is thought to affect 10% to 20% of children worldwide. Fortunately, eczema is easy to treat and most babies outgrow the condition by the time they reach early childhood. In the meantime, the key to effective treatment is to identify the causes and triggers of your baby’s eczema, so you can take the necessary precautions to prevent flare-ups and ease their discomfort. Let’s take a look at what causes eczema in babies.

What is Eczema?

Eczema is an easily treatable skin complaint that is especially common among infants and young children. It is a chronic, relapsing condition, meaning it comes and goes and cannot be cured. However, the symptoms are easy to control and most infants outgrow their eczema by the time they reach school age.

What are the Symptoms of Eczema in Babies?

Eczema is characterized by red, flaky patches of skin that may appear almost anywhere on the body, though it most often shows up on the cheeks, scalp and around the joints of the arms and legs. Affected skin may also be scaly, rough, crusty and oozing.

Eczema is very itchy and children with the condition will usually scratch and rub at the inflamed areas of skin.

Common Triggers of Eczema in Babies

Identifying and avoiding things that trigger your baby’s eczema is key for controlling the condition and keeping skin irritation to a minimum. The most common eczema triggers include:

Dry Skin

Low humidity and over-bathing can both dry out your baby’s skin, making it drier, flakier and itchier. Apply a gentle, unscented moisturizer to your baby’s skin after bathing to prevent dehydration and consider using a humidifier during wintertime (when the air is typically drier).


Emotional distress can worsen the symptoms of eczema in babies, possibly because stress causes the skin to become flushed and irritated. Of course, keeping a young child happy and calm all the time is an impossible task, but avoiding situations that you know will trigger stress can help to ease eczema in infants.

Exposure to Soaps, Detergents and Perfumes

One of the biggest triggers of eczema is exposure to irritants like heavily fragrant soaps, certain laundry detergents and perfumes. Only use mild soaps and detergents on your baby’s skin and clothes, and avoid using scented products to reduce the risk of flare-ups.


Heat and sweat can both exacerbate the symptoms of asthma, leading to more irritation and itching. Avoid overdressing your baby or using too many blankets to reduce the risk of them getting too sweaty.

Environmental Factors and Allergens

Recent studies have suggested that certain environmental factors (such as air pollution and exposure to allergens) may be responsible for triggering eczema in some people. The types of allergens that exacerbate eczema will vary from person to person and may be airborne or in food. If you suspect your baby’s asthma is triggered or worsened by a particular allergen, consult your family doctor for a thorough evaluation.

Possible Complications of Eczema

Though not generally a serious condition, eczema can potentially lead to complications if left untreated. These include:


Eczema can cause severe itching and constant scratching can lead to broken, damaged skin. This makes it easy for infection (caused by bacteria and viruses on the surface of the skin and under the nails) to set in.

Chronic Itching

Scratching at the patches of dry, scaly skin caused by eczema can make the itching worse. If this becomes a constant habit it may eventually lead to a skin condition caused neurodermatitis, in which the skin becomes thick and discolored.

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Sleep Problems

If your baby is bothered by itchy skin at night, the scratching can lead to disrupted sleep patterns (for both you and your child).

How to Treat Eczema in Babies

Avoid Triggers

The easiest way to keep your baby’s eczema under control is to avoid things that you know will trigger a flare-up. Keep your baby’s skin clean, dry and hydrated and avoid overheating, harsh soaps and stressful situations to keep inflammation to a minimum.

Apply Moisturizer Regularly

Moisturizing your baby’s skin several times a day is one of the best ways to reduce the likelihood of eczema flare-ups. The increased hydration helps to combat skin dryness, strengthening and repairing the outer dermal layers and helping to prevent outbreaks. Regular moisturizing can also reduce the itching and irritation associated with eczema.

Try an Oatmeal Bath

If your baby is suffering with the itch of eczema, an oatmeal bath can help to ease their discomfort. Add oatmeal soaking products to lukewarm water to soothe and hydrate dry, inflamed skin. When washing, remember to use a mild, unscented soap only on the hands, feet and genitals. The rest of your baby’s skin can be cleansed with clean, plain water.

Dress for Comfort

If your baby is dealing with an eczema flare-up, you can help to make them more comfortable by dressing them in loose, breathable fabrics. Light, cotton clothing will prevent the irritation caused by fabric rubbing against the skin and help to reduce overall discomfort.

Try Topical Medications

Topical medications (usually available in the form of creams and lotions) are often prescribed for children with mild symptoms of eczema. These can be highly effective for reducing itching and inflammation and may contain glucocorticoids, antihistamines, or anti-infectious agents. Consult a doctor, nurse or pharmacist for guidance on the best choice for your baby.

In Conclusion

Eczema is a common skin condition in babies and may have a variety of causes. The most common triggers of eczema in young children include dry skin, exposure to irritants (such as harsh soaps and detergents), overheating, stress and occasionally certain allergens. Identifying and avoiding the key causes of your baby’s asthma is the most effective way to reduce the itching and inflammation associated with the condition. Regular moisturizing, appropriate skincare and the use of topical medications can all also help to keep eczema under control.