Although nappies don’t cause eczema, they can trigger rashes or exacerbate itchy patches. Let’s take a closer look at how nappies affect babies with eczema.
Eczema is a common chronic condition in babyhood, which can be triggered by a combination of inherited traits and irritants affecting the skin. Even if eczema is not caused by what a baby is wearing or eating, those things can set off an itchy, uncomfortable flare.
So what’s the connection between nappies and eczema, in babies who are prone to the condition?
Where do babies get eczema?
Baby eczema generally develops on the face at first. It can move on from itchy, sore cheeks to the creases and folds of elbows and knees, and in more severe cases, can end up covering a good deal of the body. But, strangely enough, the nappy area is usually clear of eczema. Some people have speculated that this is because the area is protected from irritating laundry detergent residue on clothes, or that the dampness of the area is less conducive to eczema (which is primarily a condition of dry skin) but more prone to nappy rash.
In any case, a rash on the nappy area is more likely to be nappy rash rather than eczema - although this is not always the case.
What is nappy rash?
Nappy rash is not eczema; it is another kind of dermatitis, which is caused by wet skin getting irritated and damaged (and sometimes infected) by friction, wee or poo. It’s very common, and different babies react in different ways to cloth or disposable nappies. Nappy rash can appear as spots, rashes, sore inflamed skin, or weeping areas. Babies who have eczema may be more susceptible to nappy rash, if their skin is already more sensitive and/or less resilient, so may need more frequent changes and extra barrier cream.
Sometimes what parents use to clean the nappy area can trigger an eczema flare, rather than nappy rash. It could be that your baby’s delicate skin is irritated by the alcohol wipes you use, or a soap/SLS cleanser.
Some babies who are already prone to eczema can suffer patches of eczema where their nappies rub against the skin: at the cuffs of the legs or waist for example. It’s a good idea to be really careful about getting a good fit if your baby has eczema, making sure that the sizing is right and nothing is rubbing.
Applying plenty of Skin Salvation to any sore or rubbed areas can help protect the skin.
There’s no clear cut evidence for cloth nappies or disposables being any more or less likely to cause either nappy rash or eczema flares, so go with what works for you and your baby. If your little one seems to be reacting to one type of nappy, try a different brand; there are so many to choose from! It can be very helpful to talk to a washable nappy consultant like Cloth Bum Mum, who can advise you about what options you have.
Recommended products for babies prone to eczema:
Balmonds Skin Salvation
with hemp and beeswax
If you require medical advice we recommend you always contact your healthcare professional.
If you or someone you are caring for seems very unwell, is getting worse or you think there's something seriously wrong, call for emergency services straight away. For general medical advice, please contact your healthcare professional, this article does not contain or replace medical advice.
Do not delay getting help if you're worried. Trust your instincts.