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Your guide to dry skin and atopic eczema

Dry skin and atopic eczema (atopic dermatitis) are conditions that cause the skin to become itchy, red, sore, dry and cracked.

Dry skin and atopic eczema are more common in babies, often developing before their first birthday. Some babies might only have small patches of dry skin, but others may experience red and inflamed skin all over the body.

Atopic eczema is usually a long-term condition, although it can improve significantly, or even clear completely, in some children as they get older.

Newborn baby

The causes of dry skin

The cause of your child’s dry skin is difficult to establish. It’s known that genetic factors play a part (eczema can be an inherited condition), but other common triggers, such as irritation from soaps and detergents, over heating at night, stress, the weather and exposure to certain foods, pets, grass and tree pollens, may cause dry skin too.

Your health visitor may ask you to keep a food diary to try to determine whether a specific food makes your baby’s symptoms worse.

Dry skin can be very itchy, causing your child to scratch, and this can be particularly problematic at night, leading to disrupted sleep, not just for your child but the whole family.

Treatment options

While dry skin is a common condition, every child’s skin is different and it’s important to understand the specific triggers that can cause your child’s skin to flare up, as well as the treatments that work best for them.

Dry skin can be treated with creams or lotions for washing and moisturising the skin, so ask your health visitor or pharmacist for advice on the best options. If using an emollient to wash and moisturise the skin, use the product every day and throughout the day, even when your child’s skin has cleared. This will prevent the dryness returning.

When bathing your baby, don’t use any soaps or detergents if they are suffering from dry skin, and avoid using shampoos or baby washes on any baby under the age of one as these could lead to them developing dry patches of skin.

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Page last reviewed: 25-05-2022

Next review due: 25-05-2025