Many things can set off your baby’s eczema including animal dander, pollen, scratchy clothes, tight clothes, high ambient temperatures, and even hot water. You can guard your baby against many of these usual triggers fairly easily, but water temperature is a bit more difficult and can make bathing a real chore.
That’s why Mustela has put together this guide to show you the best way to bathe your baby, how to dry their skin, and what to do after the bath to keep flare-ups at bay. First, we’ll turn our attention to the most common way to keep your baby clean: bathing.
Even though most of us enjoy a long soak in a warm tub after a hard day’s work, it’s not the best thing for your skin. We know that your skin isn’t the primary concern when all you want to do is unwind. Trust us, we’ve been there. Unfortunately, the hot water and the long soak times can harm the natural oils on your skin (the hydrolipidic barrier) that protect against harsh chemicals and other allergens. When the protective layer is weakened, allergens floating around in the air and water can reach your skin, dry it out, and cause microscopic damage.
Normally, adult skin is thick enough that the drying and damage from a hot bath are only temporary. But for a baby whose skin hasn’t developed completely, repeated hot baths can cause dry skin to stick around longer than it would for an adult. This is especially true for babies who suffer from eczema. The drying effect of the hot water and the trace amounts of dissolved chemicals found in most water can act as a trigger on sensitive skin and lead to a red, itchy flare-up. Ouch!
So, given that you need to keep your baby clean, how can you bathe your baby without causing an eczema flare-up? The simplest way is to monitor the water temperature. Bath water that doesn’t exceed the average body temperature (98.6℉) is best for preventing irritation to sensitive eczema-prone skin. For accuracy, we suggest purchasing a baby bath thermometer and use it to test the water temperature every time. That way you can be sure you haven’t crossed the line between fun water playtime and eczema-inducing soak. Some baby bath thermometers are even fun toys like rubber ducks.
Another precaution to take (to prevent bath-related eczema flare-ups) is to limit wash time to ten minutes when the water temperature is close to 98.6℉. If your baby just loves to play in the water, you can extend that time by decreasing the water temperature by a few degrees. Just remember that comfortable bath water for those with sensitive skin (like your baby) is between 97℉ and 98.6℉.
For the greatest peace of mind, we strongly recommend adding Mustela’s Stelatopia Bath Oil to the water every time. Two or three capfuls is sufficient, but even that small amount offers a lot of benefits. The bath oil will compensate for the drying effects of the warm water and soothe itching caused by flare-ups. And you can leave the oil on your baby’s skin when the bath is done so there’s no need to rinse.
If you prefer to wash your baby in the shower, the same three general rules apply—temperature, duration, bath oil—with only slight variation. Keep the temperature of the water at the low end of the recommended scale (97℉) and reduce the time spent in the shower to five minutes. Now you might be wondering, “Why is there a difference between a bath and a shower?” That’s a great question, and the answer is simple: the force of the water.
The impact of the water on your baby’s skin during a shower is relatively small. But sensitive skin can react badly to even the slightest pressure. Be mindful that your baby’s skin is still thin and that the pH hasn’t normalized yet. This makes it more susceptible to damage. Also, the temperature or the chemicals dissolved in water could set off your baby’s eczema. So, you can see why it’s important to do whatever you can to prevent bath-related flare-ups.
In regard to the third rule—bath oil—we recommend Mustela’s Stelatopia Bath Oil for added soothing and protection even if you choose a shower instead of a bath for your baby. Rather than adding a couple of capfuls to the water as you would when giving your little one a bath, simply use your hands to apply a few drops directly to your baby’s skin. Then just shower your baby as usual. There’s no need to worry about rinsing the oil off completely. The formula is specially designed for eczema-prone skin and gentle enough to use on the first day your baby is born.
Preventing eczema flare-ups doesn’t stop when your baby comes out of the water. You also need to be careful as to how you dry off your baby after the bath. Remember that some eczema-prone skin is sensitive to rough fabrics. Rubbing your baby’s skin with even a soft towel can trigger an eczema flare-up. To reduce the risk of post-bath skin irritation, pat your baby’s skin with a towel instead of rubbing.
So your baby is now clean and dry. That’s it, right? We just need to get them dressed? Nope, there’s one more step. To ensure the bathing and the drying don’t trigger an eczema flare-up, apply an emollient product like Mustela’s Stelatopia Emollient Cream or Emollient Balm minutes after washing your baby. Like the bath oil and the cleansing cream, these products work to restore your baby’s skin. Best of all, with repeated use, they can even stimulate your baby’s skin to produce its own oils. In the long run, that can normalize sensitive skin, reduce the number of flare-ups, and even get rid of symptoms altogether.