How to treat eczema in babies and children

Remember your last mosquito bite? Trying not to scratch an itch is the hardest part – it can drive you mad. For children with eczema, itchy skin can be a constant torment. But the good news is that it doesn't have to be a nightmare.

We asked Dr Rebecca Hayes, clinical lead at Doctor Care Anywhere and dermatology specialist, to give us her best advice on managing and treating eczema in babies and children.

Your child's skin will feel a lot calmer if you read on, and so will you!

What causes eczema?

Skin produces natural oils. These oils 'glue' together dead cells, forming a protective outer layer. This layer keeps moisture in, and keeps foreign bodies out.

Eczema occurs when the body produces too little oil. There isn't enough to hold the skin's protective layer together. Microscopic cracks appear – a bit like sun baked mud. Irritants and infection can then enter the skin, causing redness, oozing, crusting - and, of course, itching.

Why do I need to know this?

If you know that a lack of skin oils causes eczema, then you know how to treat it – by replacing the skin's natural oils with moisturisers.

Different parents find that different things work for their children - it's always worth talking to other parents, and your doctor, about various methods that are available. In the meantime, these are some things that will help combat the dreaded itchy, sore skin.

What is the best way to treat eczema?

Moisturise, moisturise and… moisturise! This is the most fundamental aspect of treating and preventing eczema. It can be difficult and time consuming to do but unless you get this right you won't get to grips with treating eczema.

Which moisturiser?

Any - whichever one you or your child likes the most. It doesn't have to be expensive, in fact the simpler the better. A very simple, scent-free emollient is highly recommended - there are lots of these available: E45, Double Base, Diprobase, Epaderm, Aveeno, Dove and Nivea.

The greasier the moisturiser the better – but it does make it less practical. The solution is to use a variety of basic moisturisers. Apply a really thick greasy one such as Epaderm or even Vasoline at night. It can absorb into the skin overnight. If you can manage it, also reapply in the morning.

If a thick heavy moisturiser is just too greasy to apply during the day, then switch to a lighter one such as E45.

A good tip is to have big tubes of moisturiser in the bathroom, and then smaller tubes of cream in your handbag or nappy changing kit. That will remind you all to apply it throughout the day.

How much and how often do I apply moisturiser?

As often as you can. Aim to apply a thick moisturiser such as Epaderm at night and in the morning. Then after that, every 2-4 hours during the day a less greasy one such as E45.

One tub of 500g Epaderm should be used up within one week for a baby or child

When you apply the moisturiser, you should be able to see your finger mark through the lotion you have applied. You need to apply it thicker than you think!

What should I wash with?

There are moisturising washes available and marketed for eczmea such as Oilatum and E45 bath oil, which you can use if you wish, but there is limited evidence as to how useful they will be. They can also make the bath slippery so be careful. Instead, you could use a tube of Epaderm or Aqueous Cream before bathtime, apply to your child's affected areas then rinse off with water.

What about steroid creams?

Sometimes steroid creams are needed to settle down inflammation. There are different strengths of steroid creams ranging from mild to very potent. If you have a young child, you should always consult a GP first. Using a steroid cream for a prolonged period of time can cause complications and side effects.

For adults, you can get a mild steroid cream over the counter, such as hydrocortisone. You can use this sparingly for up to one to two weeks, but if it doesn't help then you should seek advice from your GP.

Never put a bandage or cover steroid cream on the skin unless advised by a doctor as this makes it more potent.

An estimate of how much cream to use for each affected body part

fingertip unitHand = 1 fingertip

Arm = 3 fingertips

Foot = 2 fingertips

Leg = 6 fingertips

Face and neck = 2.5 fingertips


Fingertip Units: how to apply steroid creams

The aperture of every single steroid cream tube is the same. Measure how much steroid to apply by squeezing the cream out of the tube onto the index finger. From the last crease to the tip = one fingertip unit.

Your GP should be able to tell you how many finger tips is needed for the affected area and for how long.

If you are applying cream to your child, use your child's fingers to measure the amount. A mother's fingertip will be too large for a small baby so by measure the length of your child's finger as this will give you the right estimate of how much to apply.


This content has been supplied by


Last updated: over 1 year ago