When my oldest was an infant, my nurse practitioner/pediatrician suggested that I limit my intake of milk and wheat as long as I was breastfeeding. This made a very big difference, and when my daughter started eating solid foods we immediately noticed her eczema would get worse if she had milk or wheat. It was the same for all my kids, until they were about five years old. Around that age the sensitivity seemed to go away. (Yogurt and cheese did not bother them, but ice cream did.) Though we limited their intake of milk and wheat at home, it was difficult when visiting or attending any social functions, so after a snack at church or a visit to relatives, the kids would have a flare-up. (Note: if I were doing this all over again, I would send the kids with a different snack. I was so concerned about them fitting in and not being That One Odd Kid With Her Own Snack. Now I look back and I think of the rash they had every week, and I don't think fitting in was worth it. My middle child would draw pictures of herself with "itchies" on her legs.)
I quickly learned to avoid any soaps/shampoos/lotions/sunscreens/hand sanitizers that contain sodium laureth sulfate--but I think all public restroom soaps have this ingredient. Their eczema also flares up if they sit in the grass outside or if they visit people in different parts of town, so it seems to be connected to dust or pollen.
To treat the outbreaks, I make a bath salt treatment. It is
5 drops calendula essential oil
1 drop tea tree oil (optional)
2 tablespoons jojoba oil (or almond or olive)
1 pump natural soap (Jason's lavender satin shower is great; so is California Baby Shampoo)
1/2 cup epsom salts.
Put the oils and the soap in a small bowl and then add the epsom salts. Mix. Add to the bath after all the water is run. Soak for at least 25 minutes. Note: this is what I use in a regular bathtub. For an infant tub I would make about a third of this, and I'd skip the tea tree oil. None of the measurements need to be exact. I don't keep measuring spoons in the bathroom. :)
By the way, some doctors recommend that kids with eczema don't bathe often. I have found this advice to be completely wrong for my children. Daily baths are best--long soaks in very warm water. If you can find California Baby Lavender and Tea Tree Shampoo, it makes a great body wash. Vitacost no longer carries it, but I think Whole Foods does, and I've heard it's at Target.
When the kids have an outbreak that seems to be due to playing in the grass or other outdoor allergens, a helpful over the counter oral medicine is Zyrtec, but it seems that if they take it too many days in a row they get nosebleeds. I try to limit its use to three days at a time, and only if necessary.
We have a cortizone cream with aloe in it that is helpful for really awful outbreaks, or if they just won't stop scratching long enough to heal up. The cortizone cream without aloe made my youngest daughter scream. I won't use cortizone constantly though. Melaleuca's Renew lotion is great for eczema, but my youngest daughter said it "stings" and she convinced the older children that it stings also (they'd used it every day since birth....and suddenly they wouldn't use it!).
A very helpful treatment is Aloe Life Juice. This is a liquid that they drink. The kids love it. For awhile when their eczema was really bad, they drank an ounce of Aloe Life Juice every day. I mixed it with apple juice at first, but then they decided they like it plain. I buy the cherry or papaya flavors. Look for it at Vitacost.com.
Two years ago we finally beat the eczema. My friend shared a smoothie recipe with me, and it contains omega oils. We'd tried the gummy bears with omega oils, but they were not effective. The smoothie worked. I added aloe to it most days (it's good for digestion) and I sneaked in some celery--they couldn't taste it, but it adds another vegetable to their diet. The best news is that the kids LOVE to drink this. I added protein powder, so this either accompanied their breakfast cheerios, or made a great mid-morning snack.
Omega Oil Smoothie for Kids
3 TBS Flax Oil
3 TBS Orange Flavor Cod Liver Oil
6 TBS Aloe Vera Juice
4-8 ounces water (or 1 cup kefir or yogurt)
3 TBS Rice Protein powder (watch the ingredients on protein powders. Some are soy-based, an ingredient I try to avoid.)
8 frozen strawberries (or some fresh or frozen peach slices, mangos, or blueberries)
20 drops Grapefruit Seed Extract (optional: this is not for eczema, this is an immune booster, helpful for allergies)
1 or 2 stalks celery (in chunks)
Blend in a blender...till blended. The blender can't always cope with the frozen fruit and the celery all at once, but once the fruit and everything else is blended, I add the celery. Sometimes I add a shake of cinnamon or a drizzle of honey. If your kids are used to really sweet drinks like koolaid or soda pop, you may need to add honey or agave nectar or a spoon of jam.
Serve in a glass with a straw.
After seeing such great results with the smoothie, I was impressed with these healthy oils. About a year later, I went on the Flat Belly Diet and I had such wonderful weight loss with its focus on monounsaturated fats. Because I had nuts and hummus and pesto and olives and avocado in the house for me, the kids ended up eating them often too, and suddenly their eczema was gone. Gone!
A month ago I noticed the my youngest either had a new outbreak of eczema again, or she just had really really dry skin. I made sure I included a monunsaturated fat at each of her meals, and I served a lot of popcorn with olive oil (the light-tasting kind that is lighter only in taste). I also made the bath recipe for her. It didn't take long for her skin to improve.
I wish I'd known about monounsaturated fats sooner! They've made such a difference in my children's skin. I've even put olive oil directly on my children's skin. Be careful if you're doing this with an infant...she'll get so slippery!
Note: almost all the ingredients in both recipes can be purchased at vitacost.com.
Update, July 2013: I had to go gluten free in 2012. We've changed our diet to use more veggies, very few grains, and whole fat milk. We eat more real food. The kids haven't mentioned their eczema in months.
Be aware that eczema can be a indication of a gluten intolerance. Lots of things can cause eczema, but keep this one in mind. If your child develops other health problems later, it can be helpful to add up all the little things and find that one big issue that just might solve most of them.