Eczema In Children

What is eczema

Eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis) is a chronic skin condition that affects between 15-20 percent of children.[1] It’s characterised by red, scaly and itchy skin, although small blisters can sometimes form and the affected area can weep clear fluid.

Eczema symptoms

The predominant symptom of eczema is an intense itch that usually gets worse at night. Sometimes, especially in children, itching can be so intense that excessive scratching causes the skin to bleed. Other symptoms include:

  • dry skin
  • red, scaly areas, particularly on the insides of the elbows and the back of the knees
  • scaly red or pink rash with crusting
  • watery fluid weeping from the affected skin
  • bleeding skin from scratching.

Eczema symptoms can vary in their duration and severity.

What causes eczema?

Eczema has a genetic basis whereby the integrity of the skin barrier is impaired. As a result, skin loses moisture and becomes dry and scaly. This makes it more sensitive to things that irritate the skin (allergens and irritants). This causes the immune system to produce an inflammatory response, making the skin red and itchy.

Eczema tends to run in families, and is linked to other allergic conditions such as asthma and hay fever. Children with eczema may also have other allergies including food and dust mite allergies.

It’s commonly believed that certain substances like soap, detergents and even foods cause eczema. However, these are known as ‘triggers’ because they can trigger a flare-up of symptoms. They don’t cause eczema.

Eczema in babies and children

While adults can get eczema, it’s most common in children. Most cases of eczema appear in babies aged two to six months. However, it usually disappears around six years of age.[2] Toddlers and young children can also develop eczema.

Infantile eczema — This usually starts within the first six months of life and occurs in around 20 percent of children under the age of two. Eczema may first occur on your baby’s cheeks, on the scalp or around the nappy region. You might also notice it in the creases of the elbows and behind the knees. Infantile eczema improves significantly between two and five years of age.

Childhood eczema — This can start from two to four years of age, or continue on from infantile eczema. It usually affects the creases of elbows, behind knees, across ankles and even on the face, neck and ears. Childhood eczema usually improves with age.

Common triggers

Eczema symptoms tend to flare up or worsen if your child is exposed to certain substances or situations called triggers. There can be different triggers for eczema in children, including:

  • dry skin
  • scratching itchy skin
  • excess saliva, especially when teething
  • viral or bacterial infections
  • swimming pool chemicals 
  • sand, especially from sandpits
  • some carpets or grass
  • animals or dust mites
  • allergens, such as pollen or mould
  • artificial colours and preservatives found in foods
  • perfumes, soap, and chemicals
  • woollen or synthetic fabrics
  • heat or very hot rooms
  • constant exposure to water and soap
  • stress, anxiety, or tension.
How to control and manage eczema in children

There is no cure for eczema. Treatment aims to reduce inflammation in the skin, reduce itching and heal the skin to prevent more flare-ups in the future. This is best done by:

  • Practicing good hygiene — Use lukewarm water to wash in, use soap-free washes, and pat skin dry instead of rubbing it.
  • Protecting the skin — Use eczema-friendly creams and lotions that help lock in moisture and protect the skin’s natural barrier, especially after bathing or washing hands.
  • Avoiding triggers — Avoid soap, detergent and other triggers that dry and irritate the skin, dress your child in cotton clothing, and ensure they don’t get too hot.
  • Treating flare-ups — Use ointments or creams recommended by your pharmacist or doctor.
  • Controlling itching — Use wet dressings or cold compresses.
  • Preventing and treating infection — Avoid scratching and breaking the skin, and use antibiotics to treat infection, if prescribed by your doctor.
When should you see a doctor?

Sometimes you may need to take your child to a doctor to develop an effective treatment plan. You should also visit your doctor if:

  • you think your child may have eczema for the first time
  • your child’s rash is weeping or bleeding
  • the rash does not respond to OTC medications
  • your child can’t sleep
  • your child is distressed or generally unwell, in addition to the rash
  • there are signs of infection (such as red, hot or swollen skin, fever)


Cetaphil’s Pro Eczema Prone Skin Restoring Body Wash and Pro Eczema Prone Skin Restoring Body Moisturiser, are gentle enough to use on even the most sensitive, young skins, to provide intensive, long-lasting hydration.


Within the Cetaphil range, only Cetaphil's Pro Eczema Prone Skin Restorying Body Wash and Pro Eczema Prone Moisturiser are indicated for symptoms of mild eczema.


  1. Eczema (atopic dermatitis) [Internet]. Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA). [cited 2017Apr16]. Available from: (accessed 6 May 2020)
  2. Eczema Association of Australia, Facts About Eczema