Known as the itch that rashes, eczema is one of the most common medical problems in childhood, occurring in up to 10 percent of children, and using emollients has been a mainstay of treatment. Emollients – skin moisturizers such as a petroleum gel – are applied through leave-on products, soap substitutes, and bath additives.

But a study released May 3 in BMJ shows that emollient bath additives simply do not help. Although there was evidence that leave-on emollients and soap substitutes were effective, there had been a lack of strong research on how well bath additives worked until now, according to the researchers.

In the study, a group of 482 children diagnosed with eczema were randomly split into about two even groups: one used emollient bath additives and the group did not for a 12 months. At the end, a clinical benefit was not found using bath additives as part of treatment.

Eczema is rough and red, and sometimes it breaks out in blisters called weeping skin found most commonly on the face and limbs especially on the inside of elbows and back of knees. The inflammation is inside the skin and is intensely itchy. Patients cannot stop from scratching and the damage to the skin comes from the scratching and especially from the child's own nails and  can cause permanent scarring in extreme cases. Even when transitory, it is ugly and very uncomfortable.

So what can we do for our kids with eczema?

  • Use warm water with mild soaps or non-soap cleaners to bathe your baby or just use warm water without cleansers if that works. Hot water makes eczema much worse.
  • Avoid perfumes and all scented products on your child.
  • Do not scrub or rub while drying them, just gently pat them with the towel.
  • Avoid "scratchy" clothes made of wool or some synthetics. Mainly use breathable cotton.
  • Apply moisturizing ointments such as petroleum jelly several times daily, especially soon after bathing. Your doctor may prescribe a steroid cream if the rash gets worse, but still use the moisturizers at other times during day.
  • Cool compresses applied gently help.
  • Keep child's fingernails short and smooth to avoid nail damage to skin.
  • Sometimes light gloves worn at night prevent scratching and skin damage.
  • Because eczema is associated with allergies and asthma, eliminate any known allergens from the house: foods, dust, smoke and pet dander, to start.
  • Have the patient drink a lot of water to add moisture to the skin.

Remember to use emollients or skin moisturizers even when the skin is looking better. This prevents reoccurrences. If emollient treatment fails, other options include topical and oral steroids, antihistamines or oral itch suppressors, or even antibiotics. Make sure to talk to your doctor about possible side effects of each option.