To bathe or not to bathe every day, that is the question. Some medical professionals recommend infrequent bathing as they suspect that soap dries out the skin, which makes eczema symptoms worse. Others, however, are for frequent bathing--at least once a day--as long as: it’s with pH-balances soaps (this type won’t aggravate eczema symptoms), the skin is gently patted dry afterwards, and slathered with moisturizer. So which do we follow?
Recent research seems to support the idea that bathing every day may not be so bad, provided that parents moisturize their kids immediately after the bath.
“We wanted to examine the studies that have been published on the topic and see if there was agreement on just how often children with eczema should be bathed,” said lead author Dr. Ivan Cardona from the Maine Medical Center in Portland of the extensive research review, performed by doctors affiliated with the American College of Allery, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) and published in the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
Their review found that frequent bathing with harsh soaps and hot water, then aggressive drying afterwards, do make eczema symptoms worse because they remove protective oils and dry skin out. Plus, knowing that getting eczema-irritated skin wet causes a stinging sensation in some kids, making parents and doctors more hesitant to get behind bathing.
On the other hand, researchers found that there are benefits to daily bathing. It can be done as long as it’s with lukewarm water, a gentle pat to dry and followed by an “occlusive” moisturizer within three minutes. An “occlusive” moisturizer keeps skin hydrated by sealing in water and oils, essentially creating a protective layer. This whole process is called “soak and smear” and is found to be most effective when dealing with eczema, according to the review.
“The smear [or seal] part is really the most important element, because unless moisturizer is applied immediately… the skin is likely to dry out even more,” said Dr. Neal Jain, senior author and an allergist.
Based on their own experience with patients, the authors noted that aggravated eczema symptoms caused by frequent bathing was more related to the use of harsh soaps and failing to moisturize afterwards, rather than having frequent contact with water.
Having said so, they also note that more research is needed to find out more on the subject. Their research is not the final word on the matter, but will hopefully provide support in future studies.
The cause of eczema, a general term for medical conditions that can cause redness, itchiness and dryness of the skin, is still largely unknown, but experts say that it can be triggered by environmental factors and irritants. With this, prevention is still better than cure. The best way to keep eczema far away is to keep your child’s skin irritation-free.
For babies, Dr. Jamie Isip-Cumpas, a pediatrician from Parkview Children’s Clinic in Makati, recommends keeping to soap-free and fragrant-free cleansers. Choice of clothing is important, too. “As much as possible, look for cotton,” says Dr. Isip-Cumpas. “It’s really about trying to find the most natural material and staying away from synthetic fibers.” Look for the same qualities when buying blanket, towels, burp cloths and other pieces of fabric your baby regularly comes in contact with.
Dr. Isip-Cumpas stresses that eczema is a chronic condition that will not go away without medication. Parents should consult with a pediatrician as soon as they notice a rash or redness in their child’s skin.