Atopic eczema (also called atopic dermatitis or just eczema).

by James Hubbard, MD, MPH

Whether called eczema, atopic dermatitis, or atopic eczema, or it’s just dry, itchy skin, it’s all going to be treated about the same when you can’t get medical help. And it does need to be treated. Because the problem can go beyond a mere nuisance if, in a typically unhygienic disaster, the wrong type of bacteria ever gets in one of those cracks or scratches and causes a bad skin infection.

The American Academy of Dermatology has a new post and video on tips for children with eczema (atopic dermatitis, aka atopic eczema). I think the tips are good for anyone with any sort of dry, itchy skin.

The Academy gives the usual advice, like not using scented soaps or lotions, washing new clothes before wearing them, and using mild detergents, but some of the tips that stand out for survival are:

  1. To prevent cracked skin, use an unscented, thick cream or ointment twice a day. If you have time, trial and error is the best method to find which one works best.
  2. Petroleum jelly (Vaseline) works well as a moisturizer by holding in the moisture already in your skin.
  3. If you’re using a topical steroid on scaly spots, apply it first. Then cover it with the moisturizing cream or ointment.
  4. To avoid infection, cut your child’s fingernails short and smooth. For bedtime consider gloves (white cotton is a good choice—no dyes to irritate).
  5. If some areas look infected, try adding bleach to the bath water, but no more than twice a week. Mayo Clinic’s website recommends a half-cup of bleach to a full tub (forty gallons) of water. I calculate that out to about a half-teaspoon of bleach per gallon of water. Soak for five to ten minutes. Don’t dunk your head, and keep it out of your eyes. If you do get it in your eyes, you’ll know. It stings. Irrigate it out immediately for about five to ten minutes (or until the stinging goes away) with some of your drinking water.

The Academy of Dermatology doesn’t mention it, but aloe vera is another good, soothing moisturizer for eczema.

In addition, some studies have shown taking evening primrose oil can help eczema. They think it’s the gamma-linolenic acid in the primrose oil that helps, so you can try gamma-linolenic acid alone (500 mg twice a day) or the evening primrose oil capsules—3,000 to 4,000 mg in divided doses three or four times a day.* As always, ask your doctor before starting as either of these supplements can have interactions with other medications. And I would never start any supplement or herb on your child before checking with his/her doctor.

What about your family? Does anyone have trouble with dry, itchy skin? What have you found that works?


Photo by Care_SMC on Flickr.

*Disclosure: The links to the supplements are for examples only, not endorsements. They’re also affiliate links, meaning that someone associated with this website will receive a commission if you buy anything through them.

(Subscribe to updates below.)