Eczema, a skin condition that affects young infants and causes many problems, is generally thought to be a genetic issue. New research, however, says that many lotions and oils used on infants during the early weeks could increase the risk in infants who are already predisposed.
In the 1940s, only 4 percent of infants were reported to have eczema, now the number is closer to 25 percent. Some of that increase may be the common lotions, oils, and even soaps that are used on infants during the early weeks. Professor Richard Cork, head of academic dermatology at the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Sheffield University, says infants who are already predisposed to eczema suffer an increased risk of the condition because of these typical baby products.
‘These babies are born with a defective skin barrier, which means that their skin can be sensitised — made prone to an allergic reaction — much more easily if the “wrong” treatments are used,’ says Professor Cork.
‘The outer layer of the skin, called the stratum corneum, provides a barrier which normally prevents the penetration of irritants and allergens.
‘But in babies who are predisposed to atopic eczema, this does not work as effectively, allowing loss of water from the corneocytes (cells in the skin), which shrink and allow cracks to open between them, so irritants and allergens can penetrate, leading to lesions from eczema.
‘The use of soap on the skin leads to a further deterioration of the barrier, because it breaks down the cells which are still forming in babies’ skin.’
Many baby products today contain harsh soaps and detergents and synthetic chemicals that may affect infants’ skin more so than products from 60 years ago. Even the prescription medication used to treat eczema may actually make it worse. According to Professor Cork, the common treatments prescribed were actually designed to be alternatives to soap and can be just as damaging to the skin.
Eczema typically appears on infants at around 2 months of age. Having eczema can lead to other health issues for infants and children, such as psoriasis, asthma and food allergies. Margaret Cox, chief executive of the National Eczema Society, says there needs to be more awareness for parents on just how to care for infants’ skin.
Professor Cork advices parents to avoid lotions, soaps, and creams that contain perfumes and dyes. He also, however, warns against organic and natural baby products that do not contain some sort of preservative. Bacteria can set into these products and get into any cracks or open places in the skin. He plans to publish more information later this year on which products he feels are dangerous for infants. – Summer, staff writer
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