Stacelynn Caughlan, Cl.N, CH, RNCP
The four-step approach for baby soft skin. When parents visualize their unborn child, they usually picture soft, perfect skin, smooth and unblemished.
When parents visualize their unborn child, they usually picture soft, perfect skin, smooth and unblemished. But the growing reality for many parents is helping their child cope with irritating and sometimes disfiguring skin disorders. Conditions such as eczema, diaper rash and even the more benign cradle cap are on the rise.
Although parents have found ways to temporarily suppress symptoms, many are determined to resolve their child's skin condition altogether. The following four steps may do just that. They may take more effort than suppressing the symptoms, but the reward is seeing, once again, that perfect skin on your child.
If your child is suffering from itching or pain, first try offering immediate relief. Constant scratching will inevitably cause further irritation and possibly a secondary problem such as a bacterial or fungal infection.
Camomile, plantain and calendula are frequently used for skin conditions. All are soothing and healing, and calendula has the added benefit of being antifungal. They can be used in an oil, cream or salve, or prepared as an infusion (tea) and used as a wash.
Vitamin E is soothing and aids healing. It can be added to lotion or applied by itself.
Evening primrose and borage oils can reduce inflammation and relieve discomfort. Topical applications are ideal for infants who have difficulty taking these supplements internally.
Rescue Remedy cream can bring quick relief to raw and irritated skin.
Catnip, passionflower, skullcap, camomile and valerian are herbal nervines that will help your child relax and lessen the pain and itching. Children may have difficulty sleeping when their skin is itchy and sore, but sleep is vital in helping the body heal itself. Parents often use over-the-counter pharmaceuticals such as Benedryl for relief and to induce sleep. A combination of the above herbs has proven an effective substitute.
Bach flower remedies will address the emotional component of a child's skin condition. Stress and anxiety are common triggers and, until addressed, will continue aggravating the skin. Life changes such as starting daycare or school, moving to a new house or the arrival of a new sibling often correspond with flare-ups. The remedy Walnut helps a child cope with change, and Holly can address jealousy. Other remedies may be useful, depending on the child's needs.
Supplement the Diet
When working with children and their parents, I often hesitate to ask them to start eliminating things from the diet. It can be extremely difficult to feed children a restricted diet if they are already picky eaters. Occasionally the problem can be more simply resolved with the addition of what may be lacking.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are critical to the health of our skin. Breastfed babies obtain their EFAs through breastmilk, so nursing mothers would do best taking additional supplements such as evening primrose, borage or flax seed oil. Both bottle-fed and breastfed babies can absorb evening primrose or borage oil directly though their skin. Older children can get their EFAs from foods such as nuts, seeds, flax seed oil and leafy greens.
Probiotics, commonly known as acidophilus, will help support the child's immune system and combat fungal (yeast) infections. Many parents are directed to apply strong antifungal creams to their child's skin. But addressing why the body is unable to resist the infection in the first place is paramount. If your child has ever been treated with antibiotics, you will likely witness a greater susceptibility to fungal infections until probiotics are re-established in the gut.
Colourful fruits and vegetables, whole grains and vegetable proteins will provide the nutrients needed for cell growth and immune functioning. Mothers should also consider breastfeeding for as long as possible, especially if their child is susceptible to skin problems.
Garlic is effective in combating infections including those that are fungal. Include plenty in your child's diet. Hummus, garlic bread, sauces and dips are great vehicles for fresh garlic.
Food sensitivities and allergies are common among sufferers of skin disorders. Dairy, wheat, corn, egg, soy, citrus fruits and chocolate are the most common triggers. An elimination diet is usually necessary to detect which foods, if any, are causing problems for your child. Breastfeeding mothers should consider altering their own diets as well.
Dairy seems to be the most common culprit and is often the first to be tested. Once a food has been completely eliminated, observe any changes in your child's skin. Occasionally a child may be sensitive to more than one thing, and detective work becomes more crucial. Don't be surprised to see other changes once the offending foods have been eliminated. Symptoms such as respiratory problems and digestive upsets may also disappear.
Refined foods and sugar are nutritionally unnecessary and detrimental to your child. Easily converted into simple sugars, refined grain products such as white rice, bread and pasta may contribute to an overgrowth of yeast. These foods also offer negligible amounts of nutrients and do not support the body's healing processes.
Environmental sensitivities and allergies are harder to avoid but important to identify. Second-hand smoke, animal dander and household cleaners are easy to eliminate and control for most households. Other concerns such as mould and dust are harder to avoid. Air purifiers are a good step toward control. Avoiding potentially allergenic soaps, shampoos, perfumes and laundry detergents is especially important.
Vitamin C, taken regularly, will promote healing and support the immune system. It should be taken in conjunction with bioflavonoids for optimal utilization.
Zinc, vitamin A and beta-carotene will protect against infection and aid in healing. Foods rich in zinc include soy beans, wheat germ and pumpkin seeds. Vitamin A and beta-carotene can be found in egg yolks, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe and apricots.
Soups, teas and water will keep your child hydrated, moisturizing the skin from the inside out and aiding the body in eliminating toxins and waste material.
Fresh air and moderate amounts of sunshine will help the skin heal itself and stimulate the body's healing capabilities. Choose clothing that is breathable and non-irritating. Hats in particular can aggravate scalp conditions if they trap moisture or restrict air flow for too long.