Eczema 101

May 15, 2014 at 12:00 p.m. ET

When it comes to treating dry, itchy skin like eczema, you want to reach for relief for your child as soon as possible — which often means buying over-the-counter ointments. But which lotions work the best?

Mother putting lotion on baby |
Photo credit: Radius Images/Radius Images/Getty Images

Before you dump big bucks into trying to figure out which moisturizer soothes the pain away, get schooled in eczema 101 and discover affordable, mom-approved salves for dry skin in kids.

What is eczema?

Also known as atopic dermatitis or atopic eczema in its most common form, "eczema in children is an inflammatory immune response which creates red, dry, scaly, itchy skin," explains Dr. Lawrence Samuels, chief of dermatology at St. Luke's Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri. And, while 10 to 20 percent of infants and three percent of adults and children in the U.S. are affected by eczema, according to WebMD, most infants outgrow the condition by the time they are 10 years old. This ultra-dry skin condition can appear anywhere on your child's body, but infants are most commonly affected on their face and scalp, while older kids frequently experience it on the face or behind the knees, hands, feet or wrists. You can spot the affected areas by a very dry, thickened appearance that can even change your child's skin's pigmentation, sometimes accompanied by oozing and crusting.

The good news is that this medical condition can be controlled with proper treatment.

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How to reduce eczema

It's frustrating to watch your youngster suffer from eczema, especially knowing that doctors aren't exactly sure what causes this severe form of dry skin in kids. But it's believed that your child's immune system is over actively responding to irritants and eczema is usually found in families with a history of allergies or asthma. Here are a few tips to help your child avoid flare-ups.

  • Slather on the hydration, advises pediatric dermatologist Dr. Michael Shapiro of Vanguard Dermatology. "The best way to reduce eczema is to hydrate the skin with ointments and creams twice a day."
  • Prevent your child from getting too hot or too cold, both in and out of the bath.
  • Ask your pediatrician to prescribe an allergy test to pinpoint possible triggers. "In certain children, food may be associated with eczema flare-ups," cautions dermatologist Dr. David Bank of The Center for Dermatology. "If there is an association noted, be sure to stay away from the offending ingredients. Common foods include eggs, milk, soy."
  • Avoid contact with coarse or rough materials.
  • Dr. Shapiro suggests moisturizing your youngster's skin right after baths or showers to lock in the hydration.
  • Steer clear of household products that contain harsh soaps or detergents.
  • Be aware that upper respiratory infections and colds can trigger eczema in children.
  • Limit bathing, reveals Dr. Shapiro. "Parents must remember, water is not their friend, and washing every day may not be the best for every child's skin conditions. Sometimes it's better to wash every other day, and make sure the water is warm, not hot, and never longer than 10 minutes."
  • Reduce stress, which can cause the dry skin in kids to worsen.

Sadly there is no cure for eczema at any age, but the good news is the condition isn't contagious. Your child's pediatrician can prescribe a medicated ointment to help manage flare-ups, but there are a few tried-and-true over-the-counter moisturizers moms love.

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Over-the-counter ointments and lotions to treat eczema in kids

Suspect your child's itchiness is eczema? Then it's important to seek the advice of your pediatrician. "Controlling the itch prevents scratching, which damages the epidermis and can create sores which can become secondarily infected," explains Dr. Samuels, so hydrating your child's skin ASAP is key. Moms swear by these over-the-counter ointments, lotions and moisturizers to treat dry skin in kids.

Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream

Cetaphil |

Photo credit: Cetaphil

Packed with humectants, emollients and occlusive agents that don't block pores, the long-lasting moisturizing quality of this over-the-counter cream makes it a favorite with moms and pediatricians like mine. Also available in lighter formulas, but for eczema-prone skin, this one was recommended by our pediatrician and seems to work the best with my kiddos.

Eucerin Baby Eczema Relief

Eucerin |

Photo credit: EucerinUS

Clinically proven to provide instant relief that lasts, the oatmeal, Ceramide-3 and Licochalcone-infused formula targets eczema flare-ups in a moisturizer specifically crafted for little sufferers. "I have a daughter age 13 with severe eczema. I use a few over-the-counter moisturizers, including Eucerin. It's really great when I don't want to use the steroids on her," shares Zenobia Dewely of

Exederm Baby
Eczema Care Products

Exderm |

Photo credit: Exederm

With a complete line of eczema-targeting moisturizers, oils, washes and shampoos made just for kids and babies, these products boast all the things they don't contain, from lanolin to phthalates. For Serena, blogger at, Exederm tops her list of over-the-counter lotions for her brood. "For my daughter with eczema, I love Exederm. This gentle formula has no fragrance, color or dyes, parabens, lanolin, formaldehyde and other known skin irritants." Ideal for children of all ages, Exederm also bears the National Eczema Association 'Seal of Acceptance' with a score of 5 out of 5.

Aquaphor Baby
Healing Ointment

Aquaphor |

Photo credit: Aquaphor Healing

Aquaphor makes a baby line of over-the-counter ointments, washes and shampoos that offer gentle soothing, care and relief for your baby's cracked or raw skin. "My 18-month-old has bad eczema. We're huge fans of Aquaphor for him — we've tried a number of products and Aquaphor works best," shares Heather Serignese, of Glastonbury, Connecticut. "His pediatrician also recommended lathering him up with the Aquaphor while he's in the tub — it makes him very slippery but helps seal in the moisture." The fragrance-free, non-irritating product is also recommended for soothing drool rash and diaper rash.

Before you choose any treatment for dry skin in kids, be sure to consult with your pediatrician about your child's skin condition. While this information is not meant to replace professional medical advice, these over-the-counter ointments and lotions could help give your youngster relief in the moment.

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