Eczema is a very common childhood condition. In fact, 30% of children will experience eczema at some point in time, usually before they are 5 years old. But while eczema is common, healing eczema can still be an overwhelming process - especially if you want to know how to treat eczema without steroids.
Many parents feel stuck in the cycle of: apply steroid creams for 2 weeks, the eczema gets better, stop applying the steroids, and it comes back as bad or worse than before.
Parents of kids with eczema often find themselves looking to get to the root of the problem, instead of the bandaid solutions steroids provide. If you are looking to avoid the dependence on steroids, or want to try some natural solutions before your child progresses to needing steroid treatment, keep reading to learn more about how to treat eczema without steroid cream.
In this post, we’ll cover:
- Why steroids are used to treat eczema
- Treating eczema without steroids
- Identifying eczema triggers
- Gut health
- Supplements for eczema
- The worst ingredients for eczema
- Using a non-steroid eczema cream.
But first, let’s get a little refresher on what eczema actually is.
What Is Eczema?
Eczema is also called atopic dermatitis, and it is a skin condition that can make the skin red, itchy, weepy and inflamed. The cause of eczema is not yet known, but there are some genetic predispositions to be aware of.
If one of the child’s parents has or had eczema at any point in their life, for example, the child’s risk of eczema increases. Eczema, food allergies and asthma are also all grouped together in the category of atopic disease. Having one of these three conditions increases the risk of having the other two.
Eczema is also thought to be linked to a lack of a protein in the skin called filaggrin. People with eczema have less of this protein in their skin which leads to the skin having a compromised barrier. Skin is drier, and more prone to develop eczema.
While the symptoms of eczema can vary, children with eczema often suffer greatly from being itchy. The itchiness is one of the biggest concerns with eczema as the scratching can lead to the skin getting infected, and it often impacts the child's (and their parent’s) sleep. If their eczema is severe, weeping skin can become a problem. As children get older, having eczema can also lead to them becoming self-conscious about their skin.
Eczema is trying for the whole family. And the common use of steroid creams to heal eczema can play a big role in the stress surrounding eczema.
Why Are Steroids Used to Treat Eczema?
Eczema occurs because of a leaky skin barrier, usually due to the lack of filaggrin protein, and an overactive immune response. This overactive immune response leads to inflammation of the skin. First line treatment for eczema is typically topical corticosteroids.
Steroids are used to treat eczema because they help to reduce inflammation in the skin, and suppress the overactive immune response that is happening in the skin. Babies and children are often started on a 0.5-1% hydrocortisone if they are presenting with mild to moderate eczema. If a child has more severe eczema, they will be prescribed stronger steroid cream or an immunosuppressant like protopic or elidel.
However, there are times when steroids may not be the best or only option and it may be worth looking into how to treat eczema without steroids.
When to Consider Treating Eczema Without Steroids
Many cases of mild eczema can be managed by sticking to a quality, non- aggravating skincare routine. Because people with eczema often have less of the protein filaggrin in their skin their skin tends to be drier. Dry skin leads to an increased susceptibility for eczema. It is very important for anyone with eczema to keep their skin well moisturized.
In some cases of mild to severe eczema, children may experience the “rebound effect” of steroid treatment: they us the steroid cream for 1-2 weeks, their eczema gets better then it comes back as bad or worse then before.
In these cases, it is a wise idea to do more of a deep dive into discovering their eczema triggers to help break this cycle. Natural solutions for eczema, like non-steroid creams can be transitioned to while figuring out eczema triggers. This approach gets to the root of the problem to treat eczema without steroids, instead of using the “bandaid” solution approach that steroids often provide.
Can You Treat Eczema Without Steroids?
The quick answer is yes. The goal of treatment is to avoid the dependance on steroids, not to avoid the use of steroids altogether. Steroids have their place, and can be used to help calm flares while in the process of figuring out the individual cause of your child’s eczema.
So what causes eczema? There are several factors that may be at play, so it’s important to take some time to explore all of them when you’re exploring how to treat eczema without steroids.
Identify Baby Eczema Triggers
There are many common triggers for eczema in babies and children. One of the first things that is often suggested if your baby or child is suffering from eczema is to change their laundry detergent. I also suggest setting your washing machine to a double rinse to make sure no soap residue is left on their clothes.
Food triggers also play a big role in eczema in babies and kids. Some of the top food triggers for eczema are:
Less common, but still relevant triggers can be: avocado, banana, rice and oats.
Food triggers can be identified by removing them from the diet for 3 weeks and tracking to see if there is an improvement in eczema. If a baby is being breastfed, these trigger foods will also need to be removed from mom’s diet.
Focus on Gut Health
Gut health and gut flora (the bacterial flora that is housed in our digestive system) can have a huge impact on whether or not someone develops eczema, and what severity it is.
A study from 2021 from King’s College in London UK showed that infants that experience eczema have more of the bacteria Clostridium sensu stricto in their digestive systems, then babies who do not suffer from eczema. Babies who are born by Caesarean have less diversity in their gut bacteria (but that this can be rectified with probiotics), and that early introduction of allergens accelerated the development of greater gut bacteria diversity.
Certain strains of probiotics have been studied to be beneficial for reducing eczema. Lactobacillus rhamnosus is the most well studied probiotic for eczema. It has been shown to help reduce the severity of itching with eczema.
Try These Supplements for Eczema
There are certain vitamins and minerals that can be helpful in eczema.
If your baby/child’s eczema is weeping and oozing then zinc is one to try. When skin is weeping and oozing, zinc is lost through that fluid. Zinc is helpful in skin repair and helps to modulate the overactive immune response that is present with eczema
Fish oil, especially one containing gamma linoleic acid (GLA) is also a good choice for eczema. Studies have shown that taking 2g of fish oil a day greatly reduced the severity of eczema in 12 weeks. Fish oil works to reduce levels of leukotriene B4, which is an proinflammatory mediator linked to eczema. Eczema has also been linked to a deficiency in delta-6-desaturase which converts linoleic acid to gamma linoleic acid (GLA), this is why supplementing with GLA is beneficial.
Vitamin D is another supplement that is good for eczema. It helps to modulate the immune response with eczema, reduces inflammation and promotes a better skin barrier.
Avoid the Worst Ingredients for Eczema
Skincare is an important part of managing eczema. Reducing exposures to ingredients that aggravate eczema is helpful for reducing inflammation and the immune response.
The top 3 offenders for worst ingredients for eczema are:
- Fragrance- It is irritating to babies and children with sensitive skin or eczema, and it is a hidden source of paraben and phthalates. Fragrances should be avoided not only in skincare products, but in all household products.
- Parabens- For people with eczema, there is a higher risk of allergic response if a product contains parabens and they also compromise the skin’s barrier.
- Phthalates- Exposure to phthalates while pregnant has been shown to increase the risk of asthma and eczema in children.
Use a Non-Steroid Eczema Cream
If you want to learn how to treat eczema without steroids, then it’s important to find an effective non-steroid cream. The key things to look for in a non-steroid eczema cream are ingredients that help to maintain the skin’s barrier and contain eczema-friendly ingredients that are anti-inflammatory, wound healing, anti-itch and antibacterial.
It is also a good idea to avoid creams that use nut oils (like almond oil) as children with eczema have an impaired skin barrier and this can lead to nut proteins entering through the skin and increasing the risk for food allergies.
The best non steroid eczema cream should include some of these ingredients:
- Safflower Oil- is a low allergen oil and is high in linoleic acid, which is often deficient in the skin of baby’s and children who suffer from eczema. Safflower oil is helpful for wound healing.
- Calendula- is a herb that has wound healing properties, reduces itching and helps to increase collagen production, which helps strengthen the skin’s barrier.
- Chickweed- is a herb that is anti-inflammatory, and contains vitamins A, B and C, which are beneficial for eczema.
- Echinacea- is a herb that is antibacterial and antiviral so it can help to reduce the risk of secondary infections from eczema being scratched. It also helps the skin to increase its own moisture levels by increasing the amount of ceramides present in the skin.
Get Started with Natural Remedies for Baby Eczema
Baby eczema can definitely be overwhelming, so where should you start if you want to explore how to treat eczema without steroids? The first thing I suggest trying is changing your laundry detergent to either Seventh Generation Free and Clear or Tide Free and Gentle, and setting your washing machine to have a second rinse cycle.
For foods, I generally recommend taking out the ones they are eating the most frequently from the list above and watching to see what happens with their eczema for 3 weeks.
If you are already using a steroid cream consistently it is a good idea to implement some of the suggestions above (switching laundry detergent and removing suspected food triggers) before stopping the steroid cream abruptly. It is best to complete the course for the steroid cream then slowly wean off of it.
Adding in a probiotic that is high in the strains of bacteria that are beneficial for eczema is a good next step.
Ready to treat eczema without steroids right away? I cover the step by step approach of how to manage eczema naturally in my Eczema Eraser Workshop.
In this workshop, you’ll learn:
- how to get a good skincare routine down
- what products to use
- how and what food triggers to eliminate
- how to reduce inflammation and calm their overactive immune system
- what nutrients are often deficient in eczema and ones that help with healing eczema
In the workshop I will also give you a full resource list of all my favorite products for eczema, from clothing to probiotics, to bathing routines, and more.