As a mom to an “eczema baby’ myself, I know the struggle of doing everything in your power to help their eczema. The late night google sessions searching for the best ingredients for eczema, the half used bottles of cream that did nothing or irritated them, the incessant itching and discomfort that disrupts both of your sleep, and the constant “helpful suggestions'' from strangers, like “you should really try some cream on him” or “it must be gluten.”
It can be super difficult, especially if you are trying to stop their dependence on steroid creams, to find lotions, baby wash and cream that don’t irritate their sensitive skin. Even more of a needle in a haystack is finding natural products for eczema that actually help.
So what natural ingredients can be helpful for eczema? What should you be looking for in a natural eczema cream for your baby or child?
In this post I will teach you what I have learned over the last 9 years treating eczema in my practice as a naturopathic doctor about which ingredients are good for eczema, and which ones aren’t the best.
But before we dive into the best ingredients for eczema, let’s explore what eczema actually is.
Eczema is an inflammatory condition of the skin. It causes the skin to become itchy, red, scaly and flaky. It can be either dry, or weeping. Common areas to get eczema are: in the elbow creases, behind the knees, hands, ears and eyelids, face and abdomen.
The exact cause of eczema is still unknown. But we do know that some people have a genetic predisposition to developing eczema because they have a loss of function mutation in their filaggrin gene.
What this means is the filaggrin gene produces a protein that is in the outermost layer of the skin, the epidermis. If you do not have as much of that protein in your skin, it makes it harder for your skin to maintain its barrier.
Think of your skin like a coffee filter. Your skin is semipermeable, so it should let some things in and some stay out. In people with a filaggrin gene mutation (which increases your risk of developing eczema), it's like their coffee filter has tears in it. This means things get in through the skin that shouldn’t, and you also lose more moisture through the skin, resulting in dry, flaky skin,
A child is more likely to suffer from eczema if one or both parents have it, or if they had it as a child. Children with allergies and asthma also have a higher risk of developing eczema.
Rates of eczema in children have also been on the rise. In the 1990’s, only 8% of children had eczema, now 15-30% of children under 5 have eczema. And 5% of those children suffer from what is classified as severe eczema. Eczema is also much more prevalent in North America than in other parts of the world.
Foods and environmental exposures can be triggers of eczema, which could explain some of the rising rates of eczema and the difference in eczema rates around the world.
Once you’ve identified some potential triggers for your child’s eczema and are ready to start treating your little one's skin, it’s important to explore which ingredients can be helpful and which may not be.
The following are some of the best ingredients for eczema relief:
Aloe Barbadensis leaf juice is the liquid that is extracted from the leaves of the aloe plant. It has been recognized for centuries for its medicinal purposes, and has been used topically for burns and irritations. It has a cooling effect on the skin, which can relieve the feelings of burning and itching.
Aloe is very hydrating, which can help relieve dry skin from eczema. It is anti-inflammatory, which helps with itching and redness, antibacterial and antifungal to help reduce the risk of secondary infections.
Safflower oil comes from the safflower plant that is grown in California and the Canadian Prairies. It is a great oil for skin care because it is not an allergic oil (like the nut oils) and is high in linoleic acid, which helps maintain the skin’s barrier. This is one reason it’s among the best ingredients for eczema.
It soothes dry an inflamed skin, and contains high levels of vitamin E. Safflower oil has also been shown to aid in wound healing.
Shea butter is a plant based fat that is extracted from the nut of the shea tree that grows in Africa. Shea butter is a superstar in the skincare world. It is so nourishing and versatile that it is used in all different kinds of applications from creams and lotions to hair care products. Shea butter is high in oleic acid, stearic acid and linoleic acid, melts at room temperature and easily gets absorbed into the skin to provide moisture.
It is a fantastic choice for eczema prone skin because it helps increase moisturization, is anti-inflammatory, aids in wound healing and contains many vitamins and antioxidants. Vitamin A is high in shea butter and it has been shown to help with eczema and dermatitis.
It also helps to relieve itchy skin, which is all too common with eczema. Shea butter has traditionally been used to help with eczema and diaper rash.
Goldenseal is a herb from the buttercup family that grows across North America. It is a herb that has many applications because it has so many properties. It is best known for being antibacterial and anti-yeast.
Goldenseal is one of the best ingredients for eczema. It has wound healing properties, is anti-inflammatory, and astringent. Astringent means the drying of fluids, so it is helpful for weeping eczema.
When most people think of echinacea, they think of it helping with colds and flus, but its properties extend well beyond just that. Echinacea is a beautiful pink/purple flower that is found across most of North America.
Echinacea is a hidden gem for skin and one of the best ingredients for eczema. It is antibacterial and antiviral which can help reduce the risk of getting an infection when eczema causes the skin to be open. Echinacea has been shown to be able to increase your skin’s own moisture levels by increasing the amount of ceramides in the skin. Like goldenseal, it has astringent properties which makes it particularly helpful for weeping eczema.
Calendula is one of the most commonly used herbs in skincare and one of the best ingredients for eczema. It is a beautiful orange flower that is also known as a marigold. They are native to many parts of the world. Calendula is so widely used in skincare products because it has a variety of benefits for the skin. It has been used traditionally to soothe eczema, dermatitis and dandruff.
It is a gentle yet powerful herb and is very helpful for calming eczema. It has wound healing properties, and is often used on wounds that have a lot of redness, pain or are difficult to heal. It soothes itching, and helps to moisturize dry skin. It also helps to promote collagen production, which helps keep the skin moisturized and aids in the speed of wound healing. Calendula is very gentle for sensitive skin, and is often included in skincare products for babies.
Although its name has weed in it, chickweed is very useful for the skin. Fun fact, it is one of the most common weeds found on front lawns, so you likely have some at your house! It is very valuable for eczema for a few reasons.
Chickweed contains many beneficial compounds for eczema including: Vitamins A, B and C. It acts as an anti-inflammatory, soothes itchy and dry skin, can help heal wounds, and gives a cooling feeling to the skin.
St John’s wort is a herb most people have heard about for helping to treat depression, but its uses extend far beyond that. St John’s wort helps to ease nerve pain, so it can be useful to reduce the burning and stinging pain of eczema.
In one study, a cream containing St John’s wort was applied to one side of the body and a placebo to the other for 4 weeks. The study concluded that the area that was treated with the St John’s wort cream showed an improvement in redness, scaling, crusting and skin thickening, and had less of a risk of skin infection. (Schemmpet, et al, 2003)
Oat extract is made from the oat straw, which is the stems and leaves of the plant, whereas oatmeal and oats are the seed of the plant. They are both the plant Avena sativa, but people who are sensitive to the oats (seed) are usually not sensitive to the leaves and stems (the oatstraw) because they contain negligible amounts of protein.
Oat straw is great for eczema because it is soothing, reduces itching, and helps place a moisturizing coating on the skin that helps severely dry skin. It has anti-inflammatory properties and is high in antioxidants.
There are so many do’s and don’t for eczema. Now that we’ve explored the best ingredients for eczema, here is a list of some of the worst ingredients for eczema.
Fragrance is irritating to any form of sensitive skin, but is especially aggravating to eczema. Did you know that any product that contains fragrance that is not an essential oil, contains parabens and phthalates, even if it is labeled as paraben or phthalate free?!
This is a loophole in cosmetic labeling in North America that allows manufacturers to keep their fragrance info as proprietary, meaning they don’t have to disclose if it contains parabens or phthalates and can still call their products paraben or phthalate free.
So what should you look for on labels? Look for products that do not say fragrance or perfume any where on the label, or are unscented.
It is best to avoid parabens in your skincare products because they have been shown to disrupt hormone levels, are detrimental to reproductive organs and increase the risk of cancer.
For people with eczema, there is a higher risk of allergic reaction to a product if it contains parabens because people with eczema have a problem with the integrity of their skin’s barrier. This means that the parabens are more readily absorbed into the bloodstream, triggering allergic responses, as well as the negative impacts listed above
Phthalates have also been shown to be linked to hormonal disruption, developmental and reproductive toxicity and an increased risk of cancer. Exposure to phthalates while pregnant has been shown to alter immune responses and increase the risk of eczema and asthma.
Phthalates have also been shown to aggravate atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, in children.
Short term use of steroids, or hydrocortisone cream can be helpful to get eczema under control. Where the issues arise is with long term use. This is for two reasons: the risk of thinning of the skin and topical steroid withdrawal from extended continual usage of steroids (this can be as short as two weeks in children).
In fact, eczema often rebounds worse than it was before once the steroids are no longer being applied. The use of steroids long term is a band aid solution, and it is not getting to the root of what is causing eczema. After all, common triggers of eczema are: food (dairy, eggs, soy), environmental (laundry soap, cleaning products) and stress.
Now that we’ve explored some of the best ingredients for eczema, you might have noticed one thing they all have in common: they come from nature. Unfortunately, many doctors don’t start with these natural solutions when it comes to healing eczema.
Instead, typical recommendations for treating eczema is to apply glaxal base, aquaphor and vaseline. For severe cases, steroid creams are typically recommended. All of these options have downsides.
Aquaphor and Vaseline contain either paraben and phthalates or petroleum ingredients. There are a few issues with petroleum ingredients. They are also a byproduct of the petroleum manufacturing process and often are contaminated with ingredients that are known to increase the risk of cancer. Steroids, as we’ve already discussed, can lead to thinning of the skin and even withdrawal symptoms of the skin.
Natural ingredients for eczema, on the other hand, bring so much to the table for helping eczema. As you have seen in the ingredient descriptions above, every ingredient has multiple ways that it helps. Whether that is by being anti-inflammatory, wound healing, anti-itch, anti-bacterial, moisturizing or helping reduce scaly skin.
When it comes to choosing the right product for your child’s eczema, natural options are the way to go.
When you focus on using the best ingredients for eczema, you get to take advantage of all the properties that they inherently have, without having to worry about the downsides of parabens, phthalates, and synthetic fragrance.
The best eczema creams and products will contain these ingredients we’ve discussed: things like Shea Butter, a non-nut oil (stay away from almond oil in creams), and herbs that can help the skin heal and reduce discomfort. My favorites are: Calendula, Goldenseal, Chickweed and Echinacea.
If you’re ready to take a more natural approach to your child’s skincare, start by switching to non-toxic skincare products. Our Skin Conditioning Cream is perfect for soothing dry, red, flaky skin and is packed with some of the best ingredients for eczema.
Need to learn more about managing your child’s eczema? In my Eczema Eraser Workshop I’m sharing my best tips to heal and prevent baby eczema based on my years as a naturopathic doctor and my own experiences managing my son’s severe eczema. Click here to register now.