As a parent, it can be heartbreaking to see your children suffering daily from skin sensitivity. It can also be impossibly frustrating to not know what’s causing it. Nonetheless, according to the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology, eczema — also known as atopic dermatitis — is a fact of life for 1 in every 5 children under the age of two.
One of the most distressing aspects of this form of skin sensitivity is the ‘scratch-and-itch’ cycle that perpetuates the reaction: when the skin’s protective barrier is damaged, the sufferer becomes more susceptible to allergens and irritants. Once the skin is irritated, chemicals are released that make the skin itchy. If the skin is then scratched, more chemicals are released and the itch worsens. Even as an adult, not to scratch seems like an impossible act of self-restraint. But for a child? Not a chance.
Many parents look far and wide for a way to stop their child’s eczema — creams, lotions, clothes made of non-irritating fabrics — all to no avail. But what if the cause of your skin irritation was under your nose this whole time? Or, more specifically, in your laundry cupboard?
Eczema in Children
Most eczema in children develops between the ages of 2 and 4, with the most severe symptoms usually found in the creases of elbows, behind the knees, across the ankles and even on the face, ears and neck. Although some children will outgrow their eczema, many will take it with them into adulthood. And even if they do outgrow it, this fact is often of little comfort at the time.
Contact with allergens will often worsen the child’s experience of eczema, and many offending substances are common household items — such as soap, water and cleaning chemicals — that are hard to avoid. In particular, children with skin problems will often be more prone to laundry detergent reactions, and the longer the exposure, the more severe the symptoms. As these chemicals strip the skin of its protective barrier, eczema begins develops more frequently.
Two Types of Skin Reaction
Your child’s skin irritation will fall into either one of two categories:
- Irritation: The red, itchy rash will develop as soon as the child’s skin comes into contact with an irritant — for instance, a prickly sweater. If the rash falls into this category, it will go away shortly after the sweater is removed.
- Allergic Contact Dermatitis: This form of skin irritation exhibits the same symptom — a red, itchy rash — but the cause will be less obvious, as it will neither appear with immediate contact nor disappear when the irritant is removed. If laundry detergent and/or fabric softener are behind your child’s rash, you may not notice the symptoms for up to a week, as the immune system takes time to recognise allergens, and it can take multiple instances of exposure before the skin will react.
A quick way to determine whether or not the rash is being caused by your laundry detergent is to check under your infant’s nappy, where clothing doesn’t touch the skin. If the rash is there, then it’s not caused by detergent. If it’s not, you may have found your culprit.
Getting Rid of the Skin Rash
While there’s nothing good about your child suffering, at least if the skin irritation and sensitivity is being caused by harsh laundry detergents, the problem is comparatively easy — and cheap — to fix.
Allergen avoidance or minimisation is essential to stopping your child’s eczema flares. If the laundry detergent is a prime allergen, then the most effective and immediate action would be to stop using supermarket detergents and softeners — which contain artificial fragrances, dyes and enzymes — in favour of something all-natural and organic.
If your child suffers from skin irritation, then it is also well-advised to wash store-bought clothing before they wear it. New clothing often carries formaldehyde releasers, which is known to trigger skin irritation and sensitivity. Alternatively, there are a huge variety of organic baby clothing brands in Australia which are perfect for children with sensitive skin, not to mention affordable. Aster & Oak and Purebaby are a couple of our tried-and-tested favourites.
1 in 5 Australian children under the age of two suffer from eczema, a recurring and nasty form of skin irritation. This red, itchy rash that results from a break-down of the skin barrier is made worse through contact with allergens and irritants, and perpetuates itself in a nasty scratch-and-itch cycle.
The harsh chemicals contained in common laundry detergents frequently act as irritants, seeping into clothes during the wash cycle and sitting against your child’s skin upon wear.
Although skin irritation that results from contact with allergens is not immediately obvious, it is easily fixed by simply removing the allergens. If your child is reacting to your laundry detergent, the irritation can be stopped by switching to an all-natural, organic baby laundry product that doesn’t contain any of the offending chemicals.