Ointments for Eczema Treatment in Children

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Moisturizers are one of the more popular and most effective treatments for eczema, both to prevent and treat eczema flares. But with so many different moisturizers on the market, it can be difficult to determine which are best.

What Is Eczema?

In general, eczema (also called atopic dermatitis) is caused by problems with the skin barrier. If the barrier is weak or damaged, it becomes dry and itchy. These leads to further damage and increased sensitivity, itching, dryness, and inflammation. Sometimes people with eczema do not have enough filaggrin, a protein that helps skin create the barrier that protects the body from the environment.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), eczema often runs in families. Children with eczema may also have other allergic conditions, such as asthma, seasonal allergies, and food allergies (although foods do not cause eczema).

Helping skin heal and retain moisture is crucial for stemming progression to more serious issues (such as infections or possible sensitivity to allergens) in this common condition. Occlusive ointments, such as petroleum jelly, can help ease discomfort. They can also help address dryness that affects the skin barrier (since dry skin gets cracked). Heal the skin's barrier and symptoms will ease.

Effective Ointments

The best way to ease eczema symptoms is by supplementing the skin's own natural composition of ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids. Ingredients that help calm itching and inflammation, frequently oat-based, are likely to be helpful as well.

Ask your child's pediatrician what they recommend. You can also check the National Eczema Association's list of children's products. To be listed, products must not contain any ingredients that could worsen eczema.

Avoid allergens (such as nut-based ingredients), as well as alcohol and sodium lauryl sulfate, or SLS. While they're common in product formulations, they are skin irritants.

How to Apply Treatments

In addition to choosing the right moisturizer, you have to use it properly to control your child's eczema. Most importantly, don't use hot water in your child's bath or shower. Hot water can make dry skin worse and make healing more difficult.

Additionally, follow the "three-minute rule:" put moisturizer on your child's skin within three minutes of getting out of the bath or shower. This quick response helps to trap the moisture from the bath or shower into your child's skin before it has a chance to evaporate.

To get the full benefit of a bath plus moisturizer, it can also help if you gently pat your child's skin dry, so that it is still a little damp when you apply the moisturizer. Vigorously drying the skin with a towel may irritate skin and make the moisturizer less effective.

Ointments are most effective. Creams are a reasonable option during the summer when thick greasy ointments are uncomfortable.

Parents and children sometimes prefer creams and lotions because they seem to be easier to apply, but an ointment is best at trapping moisture into your child's skin.

In addition, avoid soaps. If you need more than just water, use a non-soap cleanser, such as Dove Sensitive Skin Unscented Beauty Bar, Aquaphor Gentle Wash, AVEENO Advanced Care Wash, Basis Sensitive Skin Bar, CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser, and Cetaphil Gentle Cleansing Bar.

How to Use Moisturizers 

In addition to applying your child's moisturizer immediately after a bath or shower, it can also help if you:

  • Use a fragrance-free moisturizer that is in ointment form.
  • Avoid moisturizers that contain alcohol and SLS: they can be drying or irritating.
  • Continue to use a moisturizer every day, even when your child's eczema is under good control.
  • Apply a moisturizer several times a day, not just after baths and showers.
  • After your child goes swimming, be sure to rinse them off and then quickly apply a moisturizer.
  • Consider using wet dressings or wet-to-dry dressings right after you moisturize your child's skin when they have hard-to-control eczema flares.
5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Eczema in babies and children.

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. How to treat and control eczema rashes in children.

  3. Elias PM, Wakefield JS. Therapeutic implications of a barrier-based pathogenesis of atopic dermatitis. Clin Rev Allergy Immunol. 2011;41(3):282-95. doi:10.1007/s12016-010-8231-1

  4. American Academy of Dermatology. How to treat eczema in babies.

  5. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Skin care tips for individuals with atopic dermatitis (eczema).

Additional Reading

By Vincent Iannelli, MD
Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.